Ally, activist, actress candidly speaks about playing queer roles and her new flick, ‘Alfie’
The indomitable Susan Sarandon plays Liz in the Paramount Pictures remake of “Alfie,” with Jude Law in the title role. Sarandon recently spoke about playing an older, wiser woman smitten by Alfie’s charms.
In director Charles Shyer’s “Alfie,” gorgeous Jude Law plays a charming, womanizing, uncommitted chauffeur for the character played by Susan Sarandon. Might limousine drivers enjoy a boost in business after the sexy comedy opens this month?
“Oh my God, if they look like Jude Law!” gushed Sarandon. “How cute is he? Is he just irresistible?”
Law—who played Kevin Spacey’s volatile bisexual hustler boyfriend in 1997’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and Oscar Wilde’s moody lover, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, in the same year’s biopic “Wilde”—is indeed irresistible, albeit a selfish twit, as “Alfie”’s titular lothario. It’s the role that put Michael Caine on the map in the 1966 original. Although today’s “Alfie” has been relocated from London to New York City, the remake’s title character is still British, talks directly to the camera, and beds down a bevy of ladies including the glamorous and worldly Liz, played by Sarandon.
“He’s so good, too,” Sarandon continued in praise of Law, who recently headlined the fantastical “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” “It’s not easy talking to the camera like [Alfie does] and he pull that off. He’s a hard, hard worker and good guy and deserves movie star status in the old Hollywood sense. I think he’s got that kind of grace you don’t find too often these days. I think after this fall, he’ll be up there with [Errol Flynn, whom] he plays in [‘The Aviator’].”
Today’s “Alfie,” from director Shyer (“Father of the Bride”), includes many stylistic touches and nods to the original’s 1960s setting—from a female character’s shagadelic appearance to editing tricks. Of course, Law’s smarmy Alfie is still an expert manipulator who doesn’t fully consider the consequences of his actions, usually leaving a trail of righteously angry lovers, flings and friends behind him.
“Jude is so charismatic and interesting and bright it would be pretty hard to not be attracted to him,” Sarandon admitted, “but what I think is great about the movie is every woman leaves with her dignity intact. He seems to be the one who loses out because every woman is so great. You think, ‘if only he could get over that intimacy problem.’”
While considering the role of Liz, Sarandon asked that a key scene be changed before she accepted. At one point, Alfie stops by Liz’s apartment at an inopportune moment. In the script, Liz lies and claims she has a headache to deceive and get rid of him, but Sarandon saw this action in conflict with the “self-made,” upfront character Liz seemed to be.
“I thought, even if you had a headache wouldn’t you let Jude Law in?” she explained. “Everybody’s going to know something’s up anyway. What I liked about Liz is she had a different lifestyle she didn’t make excuses about. She was very upfront about everything as opposed to Alfie—I guess she’s kind of the female Alfie, but she’s not a liar. So, I said I don’t want to make her somebody who apologizes for her lifestyle, and if you can change that then I’d love to dress up in nice clothes and kiss Jude Law.”
Sarandon also suggested (albeit unsuccessfully) a lesbian twist—a scene in which Liz is caught with another woman.
“I thought that would be kind of interesting,” she said.
Once cast, Sarandon and Law spent time discussing their characters and dynamic together.
“Liz really gets Alfie,” Sarandon said. “I didn’t want to be his mother, I didn’t want that whole aspect of the older woman younger guy thing. She’s been around and recognizes the kind of guy he is and it’s okay with her. She genuinely connects with him and that’s what we decided our relationship was.”
In one of Liz and Alfie’s most memorable—and erotic—scenes together, she introduces him to the intoxicating, sensual pleasures of absinthe, a green-tinted drink considered the lifeblood of European poets and artists like Rimbaud, Wilde and Van Gogh. Absinthe is currently illegal in the United States—barring a version that doesn’t include thujone, a critical, mind-altering component derived from wormwood—but the real deal was smuggled in and used for portions of the scene, Sarandon said.
“I guess the [crew] drank that and we just drank the fake,” she noted. “Otherwise we probably would have been vomiting through most of the scene!”
Offscreen, Sarandon has managed to avoid real life Alfies over the years, although on occasion she’s found herself pursued by one.
“A slightly older, well-known actor who shall remain unnamed, when I was first in Hollywood doing ‘The Front Page,’” she recalled. “I was staying at the now infamous Chateau Marmont and I came home one night and my bed was filled with roses. It didn’t do the trick but it was a nice gesture.”
Long a gay favorite, for her onscreen roles in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Thelma and Louise” and “The Witches of Eastwick,” and offscreen political activism with partner Tim Robbins, Sarandon has proudly played lesbian and bisexual parts herself, notably, in Tony Scott’s “The Hunger” and Paul Schrader’s “Light Sleeper.”
“One day one of my sons came home, I guess he was in the seventh grade, and said ‘Did you play a lesbian vampire in a movie?’” Sarandon recalled. “And I said ‘Noooo… oh wait a minute, I guess I did!’ Completely slipped my mind.”
Sarandon was once married to actor Chris Sarandon, who netted an Oscar nomination for his role as a transsexual bank robber in “Dog Day Afternoon.” Looking back, Sarandon recalls that the role “almost ended Chris’ career. Maybe because nobody knew him before that part, everyone just assumed he was a drag queen, and it was very difficult for him after that. But I think things have opened up and there’s a lot more flexibility and a lot of [today’s actors] are more secure than male stars were early on.”
Asked how “Alfie” might have turned out if the title character had been gay or bisexual, she replies, “I don’t know. I think that’s the mode of the future. I think everybody’s probably born bisexual and it’s just where you fall on different parts of the spectrum. I’ve been in long-term relationships with two guys that hadn’t been with anybody before or since that were female.”
Sarandon’s candor about gay matters extends to raising her three children, Eva, Miles and Henry.
“Everybody we know is gay,” she laughed. “Almost everybody that’s ever worked for us has been gay. Their lives are filled with people that have been in long-term gay relationships, both women and men, so they’re pretty much surrounded. One of my kids was in Little Red [School House], where they have a gay and lesbian month, not just a day! In talking to my kids about this subject I say ‘Look, I think everybody, whatever your preference is, can find themselves in a situation where they’re attracted to and maybe could work in a relationship with something you don’t expect. But the real question is having the courage to be intimate.’”