Actress, activist, and dedicated mother, Susan Sarandon has taken on many different roles in her life. Now 68 and still looking fabulous, Sarandon has long been viewed as one of the most enduring women in Hollywood and also one of its most politically committed players noted for her defiant and initially unpopular opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.
But neither her film career nor her willingness to take stands on many key social and political issues were ever her primary focus on life.
Behind the scenes, she has been a fiercely dedicated mother of three children - one from her relationship with Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri, two from her 23-year partnership with actor Tim Robbins. Now that two of her kids have left the nest - only her youngest, Miles, 21, still lives in her New York loft - Sarandon is starting to miss all the hubbub that comes with being a very hands-on movie star mum.
"I look back on those years when I was working a lot and raising my kids and wonder how I managed everything," Sarandon smiles.
"I became incredibly well-organised, which is not my natural tendency, and now I actually miss not having to prepare for dinner at 6 every evening. It was a lot of work but I loved it and I'm really proud that all my children are leading happy and interesting lives."
Sarandon's latest film is Tammy, a comedy in which she plays a foul-mouthed alcoholic grandmother to Melissa McCarthy. The oddball adventure sees Sarandon and McCarthy on the run together after the latter's character robs a fast food restaurant. It boasts a cast that also includes Dan Akroyd, Toni Collette, Kathy Bates and Allison Janney. She has also just signed-on to play a grandmother in another movie with Naomi Watts as her daughter and Elle Fanning as her granddaughter who wants to become her grandson.
Despite her impressive portfolio of movies, Sarandon says it’s almost accidental that she’s wound-up having the kind of life she does.
“I'm here because all of my plans failed! I never wanted to be an actor. I never studied. Nothing. My only ambition was to get out of New Jersey, so I went to college.
"I fell into everything, but I think that is one of my strongest virtues which has served me the best. When something crossed my path, I was flexible enough to say: 'That looks interesting, let's give it a whirl'.”
Sarandon says that’s also the case with her work.
“You go in with a certain idea about what you don't want a character to be, but then you get a lot from the other actor and then suddenly you start to refine your image of who you're playing, and you discover some interesting variations.
“You make suggestions, you listen, you observe, and it takes you to a different place, that's the way I like to work as much as I like to live. It's more interesting that way.”
She believes she has evolved into being a “fairly competent mother”.
“There are certain habits that you want to get rid of, but being a mum helped me learn patience. I’m a very good listener."
She says she is no longer as worried about her kids making mistakes as she used to be.
“Now I think, 'I guess he has to be in a high-maintenance relationship - I wonder what that will teach him?' Or, 'A gap year, hmm, maybe he needs it.' I've always thought things reveal themselves in time. But as I get older, my perspective gets even wider.”
As someone who famously eschews transformative surgery, she also believes it’s possible to age gracefully.
“Your state of mind and perspective on life are just as important to staying youthful as your looks. Beauty is a very variable concept. Too many young women are trying to look the same these days rather than define their own sense of beauty and sexiness.
“Beauty is not about being perfect. It's the imperfections that make you beautiful.”
Even though she’s also a grandmother-to-be in real life, Sarandon is still referred to as one of the sexiest women in the business. She laughs when asked about it.
“I'm happy that men still find me desirable; it keeps me from worrying too much about my age. Being single again (after her split from Robbins five years ago) was a traumatic experience but slowly I figured out that it can shake you out of your complacency.
“You start to rethink everything and eventually you pull out of the sadness and feel that you're entering this new chapter in your life where you can be very independent and do exactly what you like. It's not such a bad deal.
“If you can make it to dawn, things will get better,” she says.