Scroll To Top

 Doris’s Day

 Doris’s Day


Susan Sarandon has a great eye for projects, including the recent HBO movie Bernard and Doris, in which she played the late, great Doris Duke in an Emmy-nominated performance. The legend --Sarandon, that is -- spoke to us as she geared up for the Emmys on September 21.

Nominated for 10 Emmy Awards, Bernard and Doris is the little HBO film that could. The $500,000 production imagines a loving, albeit platonic, six-year relationship between late billionaire Doris Duke (an Emmy-nominated Susan Sarandon) and her gay Irish butler, Bernard Lafferty (Ralph Fiennes, Emmy-nominated for his role as well). We caught up with the always outspoken, politically aware Sarandon, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City with partner Tim Robbins.

Are you excited about the Emmy nominations? All excited! It's just been something so unforeseen, and the whole spirit in which we undertook the film really was lovely and brave on the part of so many friends who got involved and made such a big difference to make it what it was. For all who took this Kierkegaardian leap of faith and worked for nothing, to have these Emmy nominations come out of nowhere is so sweet, and we're all so happy. To be able to say at least they got an Emmy nod means a lot to me. My only disappointment is my friend Frankie Diago, who did the sets, didn't get one. It seemed like a place these people actually lived, and she did a great job with nothing.

You've played quite a few real-life people now. Would you like to play Hillary Clinton in the movie of her life? No. I've been around her and don't find her... At this point, to say after what's happened to her campaign and how they squandered all that money and all the different reasons her campaign fell apart, to blame it on sexism, I find so destructive to every young girl who dreams about making a difference through government. Instead of saying, "Look how far I've gotten and you can do it too," and all the positive things she could have done, she's turned into such a blamer and whiner, as if that was the reason, when clearly she wouldn't have been in the position she was in if she hadn't been a woman. If she hadn't been married to that man and hadn't had the Democratic machine behind her. To now turn around and say it was sexism I find so dishonorable and really destructive to women all over, young women all over. So I don't really respect her enough to want to play her, and I find it sad and disappointing.

Can Obama actually win? Why wouldn't he be able to win?

Well, my faith in our country's voters and voting system is a little low after 2004's election.I was in Iowa when Obama came through. Now, Iowa is white. Farm country. A lot of unemployment. People took me aside to make it clear they were quite proud of the fact they were the ones to really launch him. I think that unfortunately the corporate media has very superficial ways of covering things. The whole sound-bite phenomenon. They would have you believe the USA is in a certain predicament in terms of red and blue, but in fact I think there's a lot of purple. People are in desperate straits economically, they're sick of the war, they really want change. But it is interesting [to deconstruct] why people would vote against their best interests, and a lot has to do with failures of communication or campaign ads that are out-and-out lies. The media doesn't really go in depth the way they do in Europe, for instance, where someone answers a question and they say, "but that's not true -- this is how you voted." I think Jon Stewart is the closest we have to anybody that actually looks in depth at some of the issues. But I think that people want a change and they're very nervous about the future of this country. If we don't get some last-minute confusing smoke-screen issue like gay marriage was the last time -- because of the language and framing of these arguments, you find people voting against their own best interests for fear of a lesbian buying a house next door. And then you have what seems like sheer stupidity on the part of the Democratic Party in terms of the way they deal with things. But I have faith in the American public, and the citizens of this nation will do the right thing because I don't really think they have much of a choice.

Is there a black sheep among your three children, like is one of them lobbying for McCain? [Laughs] No! No, they're too educated to be lobbying for McCain. They know issues, and Obama has really spoken to them and made them feel they can be part of the process again. Two are eligible to vote this time. Jack is 19 now, so he's very taken by the whole Obama fever and possibility.

Are you looking forward to seeing the Harvey Milk biopic? Yeah, I am curious about that. It's always difficult when you take on the story of real people, like Bernard and Doris, to make a story live in the present. You have to find the hook. Isolate either the POV in that story or the moment of change for that character. I've been in that situation a few times having played real people, and also had other people's stories where we haven't been able to solve the script problems. So I'm curious what scenes they focus on and the story they're telling.

Which lesbian or bisexual would you like to play in a biopic of their life? Let's see. Who's out? Well, Marlene Dietrich is fabulous. Or Amelia Earhart supposedly had lesbian leanings. But gee, I don't know, I've never really categorized it that way. Doing bios is tough, again. I was approached about Bette Davis. How do you get into that story so it's not just you doing an imitation of Bette Davis telling everybody what they already know? How do you compel them in that moment? But what's interesting to me is how much more forgiving people are for women being with women than they are with men being with men. I'm not sure if that's because it's such a male-dominated society that the breaking down of whatever is seen as social structure is so much more threatening, or aesthetically everyone can get behind two women. Not being a practicing lesbian, I don't know how hard it is being a lesbian in this society, but I know in terms of telling stories or images, people are much more accepting of two women together.

But maybe you do know or can emphasize with what it's like to be queer -- you've been persecuted and gotten in trouble for some of your political stances. Speaking out when you feel you need to is definitely an extension of your moral fiber, but when you have to deny the absolute essence of your sexual choices, a relevant point of who you are, that's much a more difficult situation to be in. Where you're forced to pretend to be something you're not. I can't imagine living with that. But I have had my life threatened. It's a scary thing when someone hates you and they don't know you and feel that strongly about you for some reason. I identify that way. And certainly being in the profession I'm in, I've always felt like an outsider, was somewhat outside the box and different, and that has always made me feel very much at home with anyone else who feels outside the box in a nontraditional way, whatever would lead to that. So many of my friends happen to be gay through the last 40 years, so I identify very strongly.

What political issue do you feel is being overlooked right now but deserves our attention ASAP? The [Iraq war] vets. People are coming back who gave their hearts, souls, and pieces of their bodies and sanity, and we're not giving them what they need and we're not hearing them. I'm very frustrated. The suicide rate is the highest it's ever been in a war, it's surpassed Vietnam's. And I think that's one of the time bombs we're living with when all these people are being asked to serve three tours and they're dumped back into the population like, thanks a lot. They're in denial about the needs of these men and women and their families, whether it's a lack of jobs or their fragile mental state or physical condition. How they integrate back in. I think no one wants to hear it because there's this huge disconnect from the politicized war everyone wants to talk about and use and the actual war, which is a bummer. Edwards tried to bring it up a little bit, but I don't think we're there.

In May it was widely reported that you said that if McCain wins the election, you would look into high-tailing it to another country. It's so interesting how a piece of something from an interview gets taken out of context and the next thing you know it's part of your history. I was doing press in England and I said that I, as a mother and New Yorker, if McCain got elected, I would feel very unsafe because of his history, on the way he handles foreign policy and his history of...well, losing control and anger management issues, if you want to say that. I don't feel safe with him and would think seriously about the safety of my family if he were in charge, which then led people to say I would move. I don't give up on the United States that easily, but I am concerned, were he to be in office, and it would really make me think twice about where I'm living and the safety of my family.

And now the most pressing question of all: What are your thoughts on the upcoming MTV remake of Rocky Horror? They haven't talked to me about their plans, so I don't know what their rationale is to do it again. I really don't know anything about it. I don't quite understand what they would do to make it more charming or interesting. Certainly people could sing better than I could -- that could be something that could change. But part of the charm of it, I thought, was that it was done sort of low-budget. So unless it's done huge and very different I don't know the point of remaking it.

Bernard and Doris is currently available on DVD.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Lawrence Ferber