Is Susan Sarandon Hollywood’s sexiest granny? The 67-year-old actress is willing at least to consider the possibility. “Who else is in the running?,” she asks. “I want the names.”
Looking substantially younger than her years, Sarandon doesn’t seem remotely old enough to play the grandmother of the title character (Melissa McCarthy) in the new comedy Tammy, opening early July. It’s possible, though, she says.
“I’m bad at math,” Sarandon admits. “It actually makes sense, if I had a baby at 16 and Melissa’s mom in the movie had a baby at 16, then I could actually be her grandmother.”
All in all, Sarandon is a far cry from the pill-popping, hard-drinking, not-so-sex-starved granny she plays in Tammy. As the profane, cheerfully outrageous Pearl, the actress is almost unrecognisable.
“It’s very liberating to look that bad on screen,” she says. “We just accentuated everything you would hide in real life. It didn’t matter if I was sweaty or that my hair was matted down. I just said, ‘Let’s go for it’.”
Pearl is no mah-jongg-playing senior citizen, happy sitting knitting in her rocker. After Tammy gets fired from her fast-food job and comes home to discover that her husband is having an affair with a neighbour, she races over to her mother’s house in hope of borrowing enough money to leave town. Instead, her grandma offers to fund the trip… if she can come along to escape an impending move to a nursing home.
The odd couple run into some strange people on their road trip, including a pair of lesbian lovers (Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh), a randy barfly (Gary Cole) and an oddball guy (Mark Duplass).
The film is a literal labour of love, written by McCarthy — hot as a pistol after the success of Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013) — and her husband, writer/director Ben Falcone, and directed by Falcone.
“Melissa just called me,” says Sarandon, who coincidentally was then at work on the upcoming The Last of Robin Hood, in which she also plays an alcoholic. “I was a little worried because there wasn’t much time between three movies I was doing where I played alcoholic, pill-popping characters,” she says. “I was prepared in that sense.”
The prospect of playing an old lady in a gray wig, no makeup and lumpy, polyester clothing didn’t faze her, Sarandon adds. “We texted pictures up and back of her possible looks and figured out the age thing,” she says.
As a Hollywood sex symbol since she made Atlantic City (1980) 34 years ago, was Sarandon worried about ruining her image?
“I just figured that Melissa and Ben are both so talented and I trusted them,” she says. She went the extra mile to capture the walk of a woman like Pearl, a diabetic who has serious problems with her feet.
The two-women-on-a-road-trip aspect of Tammy may remind fans of Thelma & Louise (1991), in which Sarandon and Geena Davis played best friends on the run from the law.
“I didn’t think about it for the longest time,” she says. “Then Melissa and I were in the car together and I thought, ‘Wait, this might remind people of that other movie’. Luckily both movies are so different.”
Sarandon is an Oscar-winning actress best known for dramas. She had little experience in the kind of over-the-top comedy that is McCarthy’s stock in trade, but she cheerfully jumped in at the deep end.
“You rarely get in a situation where there is such depth of field in terms of the supporting actors,” she says. “I knew that I could make mistakes, and that was liberating. One out of 10 stupid things I suggested ended up in the movie.”
A native of Queens, Sarandon can look back on a long roster of classic films that includes The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Pretty Baby (1978), Atlantic City, Bull Durham (1988), Thelma & Louise and The Client (1994), as well as Dead Man Walking (1995), which won her an Oscar as Best Actress.
She remains one of the most active actresses in Hollywood. Besides Tammy and The Last of Robin Hood, she’ll be seen this year in Ping Pong Summer, a coming-of-age drama in which she plays a former pingpong champion, and The Calling, in which she plays a small-town police officer up against a deranged killer.
Not bad for a senior citizen who, if all goes well, will herself be a grandmother before the year is out, courtesy of her daughter, Eva Amurri Martino, and her husband, Kyle Martino.