Susan Sarandon enjoys her busy filming schedule


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Yes, the line made Susan Sarandon wince.

Her character in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" must respond to an instant message with one of her own: "I'm old and I'm getting flabby." Ouch.

"It did make me cringe, but I totally thought that it was right," she said in a recent phone call about the movie opening today at the Manor Theater. Writers-directors Jay and Mark Duplass wrote that line for her character, Sharon, a widow and mother of two adult sons played by Jason Segel and Ed Helms.

Mr. Segel is the Jeff still living at home, the one Sharon wants to take a bus to the home improvement store and buy wood glue to repair a loose slat in a shutter door. He starts off on that errand but fate delivers him -- and his brother and mother -- to unexpected places.

Sharon, for instance, unexpectedly is routed from her office, where she keeps a photo of a waterfall on her desk. "It was clearly, surprisingly emotional when the water came down," and she would have liked a second take because something in the water stung her famous Bette Davis eyes and that proved distracting.

"I did feel cleansed and kind of birthed and baptized all at once in that moment. And I think it's a huge transition and because of the way they set up the waterfall metaphor, but we didn't talk about it," she said. "We were just mostly trying to make sure since we only had one go at it," that they got the shot.

"I came up with the idea of trying to grab my possessions and then letting them go when I was running out."

A lot of improvisation

The brothers, who previously made the feature films "Cyrus," "Baghead" and "The Puffy Chair," don't rehearse although they talk about the story with the cast to make sure everyone's on the same page.

"They shoot with more than one camera and they shoot with lenses that are going in and out, so you have no idea if they're on a close-up or if they're on a long shot, what they're doing. So you don't keep readjusting your acting to, all right, now this is really serious, we're on a close-up.

"You're just asked to be there and to be honest and to exist in the moment and fulfill the job that they've given you. Then, once they've got it, they'll say, 'OK, now just go for it.' Then the improv starts."

The actors who play her sons -- well know for other projects such as "The Office" and "The Hangover" (Mr. Helms) and "The Muppets," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and TV's "How I Met Your Mother" (Mr. Segel) -- are experts at ad-libbing.

Maybe 20 to 25 percent of what landed in the movie was from the script, the rest was improvised. "Not wildly, crazy, off-track kind of things. Sometimes the first take is the best when you're working, and it doesn't necessarily get better after 37 takes."

She suggests moviegoers will be surprised by the men who play her sons.

"They're very, very funny, the kind of funny that comes from desperation and from truthfulness. Then you recognize the desperation that you also identify with, and that makes it a much more interesting comedy than just jokes."

Ms. Sarandon said she was pleasantly surprised that the story proved so unpredictable.

"I was moved by Jeff's search [for signs] because I definitely come down in that camp, and my boys definitely come down in that camp and the purity of an uncompromising dedication he has to try to find meaning in the universe, I just was very moved by that.

"Family is so important to me, I understood her isolation and how that happens and how she's given up on life and how she's worn out by life and how you can simultaneously love and dislike your children, all of those things," said the mother of a daughter, 27, and sons, ages 22 and 19.

"Although, knock on wood, my kids are just a joy for me, and it's been great to get to know them as people, and they're now at the phase where they're educating me so I don't have the problems with my kids that she does. But I still understand how when you're Wendy to everybody's Peter Pan you start to just feel like such a drag," as you call a halt to the hockey or Nintendo game or remind everyone about school, homework or the lateness of the hour.

"That seems to be the designated job for most women. So I totally felt her anguish at not being able to enjoy her kids and wondering how that happened when you start out so incredibly in love, but as they get older and things change, your job changes. I would welcome my kids home as long as I didn't have to pick up their towels and clean up their messes. I think that would be a great opportunity to get to know them as young adults."

Fashion ads, more films

Ms. Sarandon appears alongside her daughter, Eva Amurri Martino, in a fashion ad campaign for Neiman Marcus.

They are featured in The Art of Fashion campaign for spring. It includes 15 portraits of the pair, photographed by Mark Abrahams, in designer merchandise by the likes of Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Prada, Tom Ford, Valentino and Vera Wang.

"I knew hers would look great, but I felt a little bit worried about mine. You know I'm not exactly a fashion plate, but I had fun, and hers is gorgeous. Gorgeous."

No, she did not get to keep any of the clothes. In fact, she revealed, "Two of the dresses that I wore didn't even exist at the time that we did it. I wore a slip and they had to put them on later," through computer wizardry.

The shoot was booked around the availability of the photographer, Ms. Sarandon's work schedule and her daughter's October wedding to soccer player turned commentator Kyle Martino.

Which leads to the natural question about how busy the 65-year-old actress, winner of an Oscar for "Dead Man Walking" and nominated four other times, is these days. Women of a certain age are often relegated to the sidelines or unemployment lines, but Ms. Sarandon has no shortage of movie or TV projects.

"I just keep finding fun things to do," she says, although reporters often note she has eight (now 10) movies about to be released or in pre-production.

"They're not me carrying them. If you put them all together, there are probably two films. I've been kind of like a temp, going in and problem-solving, or two weeks here or one week there, or a favor for [Robert] Redford on that one. I must say -- if you can put your ego aside -- it's a nice way to work, because it's like diversifying your portfolio. One stock goes down, you still have six more that are popping up."

That Redford movie? It's called "The Company You Keep" and features the film debut of Richland singing sensation Jackie Evancho.

"I did discover her simultaneously when he did," she said. Ms. Sarandon doesn't have a TV at home, but she was in a hotel watching what must have been the PBS pledge programming showcase, "Jackie Evancho: Dream With Me in Concert."

She was mesmerized, and so was Mr. Redford.

"I went in the next day and I was talking about her, and he said, 'Oh my God, is that that girl? I saw her, too. Do you think she could play my daughter?' And the next thing I knew, they'd gotten an audition tape flown in, and she's in the movie, but she got there after I left."

In the thriller, Mr. Redford is a small-town lawyer whose past as a 1960s radical and murder suspect is exposed, forcing him to go on the run and try to prove his innocence. The large ensemble, being directed by Mr. Redford, also counts Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper and Anna Kendrick. No release date has been announced.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies .


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