Susan Sarandon Biography
Actress. Born Susan Abigail Tomaling, on October 4, 1946 in New York City. She grew up in Edison, New Jersey, the oldest of nine children (five girls and four boys) in a family of Welsh-Italian decent. Her father, Philip Tomaling, was a former big band singer turned television and advertising executive, and her mother Lenora Tomaling (nee Criscione) maintained the copious household. Sarandon’s upbringing was Catholic and conservative, and she attended a Roman Catholic elementary school run by nuns. Although introverted and “very spacey,” in her own words, Sarandon often challenged the nuns’ religiously indoctrinated conclusions in the classroom. In high school, her rebellious nature shone through when she was arrested for her involvement in Vietnam and Civil Rights protests. This began a lifelong passion for political causes; she and Tim Robbins brought light to the situation of HIV-positive Haitian refugees at the 1991 Academy awards, and she was again arrested in March 1999 while protesting the New York City police shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant from Guinea. After high school, Sarandon attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and lived off-campus with her grandparents. She pursued a varied course of study, including drama, English, philosophy, and military strategy. She paid her tuition by working as a secretary for the drama department, cleaning apartments, and modeling for the brochure of the now infamous Watergate Hotel. Although she had no aspirations to be an actress, she participated in a freshman show and caught the eye of graduate drama student, Chris Sarandon. The two started dating and eventually moved in together. The conservative Catholic University community looked down on their living arrangement, so the two promptly married in September 1967. After graduating in 1968, Sarandon took some modeling jobs while her husband found acting work in regional theatres around Washington D.C. Her life took a dramatic turn when she accompanied him on a reading for an agent in New York City as “a warm body to play against.” The agent, to her surprise, signed them both and told them to come back in the fall. Upon moving to New York, she auditioned for the film Joe and got the leading role of a troubled teenager on the spot. From that moment on, a barrage of bad roles started flowing toward Sarandon and she took many of them, partly out of naivete and partly to continue working on her technique as a character actress.
She played Patrice Kahlam on As the World Turns and worked on the soap-opera Search for Tomorrow. She also appeared in several films including Lovin’ Molly with Blythe Danner and Front Page. In 1975, she got the chance to work beside up-and-coming Hollywood hunk Robert Redford as a small-town girl who joins his daredevil flying team in The Great Waldo Pepper. In 1975, Sarandon made the off-beat decision to appear in a strange, low-budget musical spoof about two newlyweds who lose their virginity to a singing, dancing, leather-clad transsexual in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Urged to do the film by friend and costar Tim Curry, Sarandon played newlywed Janet Weiss for practically no money and had to sing for the first time in her life. She enjoyed the role because Janet’s hidden sexual prowess seemed to subvert all of Sarandon’s previous ingenue roles. Although the film initially flopped in the box office, it eventually attracted a loyal cult following at midnight screenings around the country. Sarandon continued to appear in a string of critically disastrous films including Dragonfly in 1976 and The Other Side of Midnight in 1977, but in 1978 her luck changed when she got the part of Hattie, the mother of a prostitute played by Brooke Shields in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby. She went on to play a clam-bar waitress in Malle’s next film Atlantic City and earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the sexually vibrant Sally. Sarandon began dating Louis Malle and divorced Chris Sarandon in 1979, although she and he remained good friends. During this time she made a moving stage appearance as a repressed housewife in A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, in which she exhibited her comedic agility. After her break-up with Malle, she briefly dated the young Sean Penn, then became involved with Italian director Franco Amurri, with whom she had her first child, Eva. In 1983, Sarandon played a bisexual vampire’s new lover in The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, but it was her next role beside big shots Cher, Jack Nickolson, and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Witches of Eastwick that brought her into the true Hollywood playing field. Sarandon was promised the role of Alex, a sculptor, but was slighted by the studio when they decided to give it to Cher, leaving Sarandon the role of Jane, the cellist. She had to learn the cello at the last minute, and was almost electrocuted during a levitating scene over a swimming pool.
Sarandon concluded about the Hollywood scene, “A promise is not a promise, a person’s word is not a person’s word.” Her next role as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, for which she lobbied hard, would become her new signature—the intelligent and sensually vivacious older woman. She became romantically involved with costar Tim Robbins, 12 years her junior, during the filming. The couple has since had two children, Jack Henry and Miles, and currently live together by common-law marriage. Sarandon’s roles continued to increase in quality and variety as she came into middle age. She played a waitress turned criminal convict in 1991’s groundbreaking hit, Thelma and Louise alongside Geena Davis, and won an Oscar nomination. She was again nominated the following year for her role as a distraught mother struggling to find a cure for her son’s degenerative brain disorder in Lorenzo’s Oil, with Nick Nolte. In 1995, she finally wrapped her fingers around the statue, winning the Best Actress award for Dead Man Walking, a film based on the autobiographical story of Sister Helen Prejean. Her collaboration with partner Tim Robbins, who directed the film, former-lover Sean Penn, and her daughter Eva, who played a small role, proved rewarding and fruitful. After taking a break from the big screen for three years, Sarandon returned in 1998 to star opposite Gene Hackman and Paul Newman in Twilight. Later that year, she costarred in the holiday tearjerker Stepmom, opposite Julia Roberts and Ed Harris. In 1999, she turned in roles in Robbins' ensemble film The Cradle Will Rock and the sentimental mother-daughter film Anywhere But Here. She spent a good deal of time in 2000 as an activist on behalf of the striking Screen Actors Guild as well as a political supporter of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
Sarandon currently resides in New York City with Tim Robbins and successfully manages to pursue her acting career, raise three children, and continue her activism in numerous political, cultural, and health causes.