CS Interview: Susan Sarandon on working with the Scott brothers
After years of tweaking his ensemble drama, Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan has finally hit theaters and VOD and ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to talk to star Susan Sarandon (Ray Donovan) to discuss the film, as well as her experience working with both Tony and Ridley Scott at various points in their respective careers.
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan takes place in the early 2000s and centers on the tribulations of an American TV star in his late twenties (Harington) and his correspondence with Rupert Turner, a young actor-to-be living with his mother in England. Their lives take dramatic turns when the existence of their pen pal relationship is publicly exposed, eliciting the most ill-founded assumptions, and sending Donovan in a vertical downfall. A decade later, the young actor recollects his relationship with his past idol over the course of an interview.
Lyse Lafontaine of Lyla Films (Laurence Anyways) and Xavier Dolan and Nancy Grant of Sons of Manual (Mommy, Tom at the Farm, I Killed My Mother) are producing the film along with executive producer Joe Iacono.
Seville International is handling international sales of the film in all media around the world, with the exception of France where the producers and Seville International jointly sold the rights to Mars Films, and in the US, where the film is being jointly handled by CAA. eOne and Les Films Séville will directly distribute the film throughout Canada and Québec.
In The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Sarandon stars as the titular actor’s mother who has plenty of love for him to the point of embarrassing him in front of company and using his fame for her own personal popularity. The actress says she found the project when Dolan himself reached out.
“He called me and asked me and I was a big fan of his work,” Sarandon said. “I just thought it was an interesting story and there were other wonderful people involved and I love working in Montreal, which is always very important to know where you’re going to be spending time and with whom, because you never really know how a project’s going to turn out, but you at least know where you’ll have lunch and dinner.”
While both Tony and Ridley Scott have been able to accumulate large casts with A-list members for their films over the years, prior to the former’s passing, only a few stars have ever worked with both directors, one being Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Legend, another being Denzel Washington with Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Déja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable and American Gangster. Sarandon is also one of the few actors to hold that milestone with her work on the 1983 cult classic The Hunger, Tony’s directorial debut, and 1991’s Oscar-nominated hit Thelma & Louise.
“The Hunger was the beginning of Tony’s career and I just found him to be so much fun and it was not an easy shoot because they took some money away at a certain point and sometimes, directors, if they’re not protected by good producers, it’s pretty hellish,” Sarandon said. “I love him and I love working with Catherine [Deneuve] and [David] Bowie, the little bit that I saw him, and I thought the question of whether or not you would agree to be an addict if you could live forever was an interesting question. Then Ridley at that point had quite a reputation for not necessarily being a woman’s storyteller and I found him remarkably fun to work with also and really collaborative.”
From working with Ridley on Louise, one of the biggest praises Sarandon had was her ability to collaborate with the director on various ideas she developed during shooting, including the famous night sequence in which her titular character pulls off the side of the road to ruminate on the journey thus far.
“Every time you do a film, you enter into a new world that exists at that time that you have to learn the language and the power structure and determine the best way to serve the bigger picture,” Sarandon said. “I just remember never wanting to drive another convertible by the end of the summer because it was so dusty and I drove and drove and drove and drove. One of the things that we redid that was remarkable at one point, I said, ‘Can’t we just have some kind of quiet, where I get out of the car and I just realize almost like a trip of some sort in the desert that she has to pay the price and the end is nearing or whatever?’ The way I work, I get lots of ideas, I don’t expect any of them necessarily to be taken. But Ridley took that idea and made it into this amazing scene in the desert, but it took hours to light. As an actor, you just have to keep your bubble up, you don’t have to think about how long it’s going to take to get those lights up there and everything else. So I think that’s an example of how collaborative he really was, not because he took that idea necessarily and made it into something else, but just how naïve I was to suggest a grace not quiet scene at that point because I was just being driven crazy. The fact that we were always in this car and I was always lining up the camera with the little space between the rearview mirror and the window and trying to say my dialogue at the same time, so I was very appreciative of that collaboration.”
Even in his first feature outing working with the likes of Sarandon, Bowie, and Deneuve, Tony was also quite collaborative and receptive to ideas and discussions with the actors on how to tweak or take on moments, including the sex scene between the lead actresses, which Sarandon described as “fairly vague” in the script.
“I had said, for me, the most interesting thing is how you get into that,” she said. “Everybody kind of knows what happens in the middle, but what’s the first moment, the first kiss, you know? How does that happen? Together, we came up with the spilling of the wine and the exchanging of the t-shirt and everything. So, he was also someone who has the reputation for doing commercials and doing these beautiful, beautiful pictures, but was also really ready to talk to actors and listen to actors and collaborate also. So I had very good experiences with both of them.”
While Sarandon might be best-known for her live-action work across her career, she has also turned in roles on some very iconic animated projects over the years as well, everything from Rugrats in Paris to James and the Giant Peach to even Rick and Morty, but doesn’t consider herself well-versed in the genre.
“I think Rick and Morty is amazing and I think that the experiences that I’ve been able to do have been people that have been experimental and have been special. One of my sons is particularly turned on to Japanese animation, so I’ve kind of become more interested through him, but I don’t actually know that much about all kinds of animation. It depends, you know, The Simpsons is very special and I’ve just been very lucky to be asked to do things that I would be proud to wear their merchandise.”
Sarandon also said that series creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon reached out to her directly to take on the role of family therapist Dr. Wong in the Emmy-winning season three episode “Pickle Rick,” but that it’s really thanks to her kids that she’s as culturally aware of things as she is.
“This is the purpose of having children, they can keep you up to speed with music and things like the most interesting animation,” Sarandon said. “But I don’t have a TV, so I have to know about something and find it, and unless I’m staying in a hotel room, I don’t stumble upon things. So I count on my boys to keep me up to speed on interesting television, animation, and my daughter handles all the reality TV.”
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan held its debut at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, marking the first film of Dolan to premiere at the festival, and hit international theaters on March 13. The drama is currently out in limited theaters and is available on VOD!