'The Power of One': Interview with Susan Sarandon

The star says imagination and empathy are what make her an actor--and an activist.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen

 

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Just being there at 8:30 was tough for some of these boys. They were filthy; they worked so hard all day long. And they had something to show for it. They laughed, they carried on.

I think it really was special for them, because it was very dramatic-because sometimes you end up just painting or doing little things-in this case, you actually took a skeleton of rooms and tuned them into [ones] with walls. Everyone was filthy and weary by the end of the day, but it was great.

"Baseline spirituality"
It's so rewarding to know you're capable of doing that. I want my kids to understand the joy of that. Not the self-congratulatory "I'm such a good person" kind of thing, but just the sense of accomplishment. You're working with people who are going to live there.

So I would hope they would develop some kind of habit that involves understanding that their life is so full they can afford to give in all kinds of ways to other people. I consider that to be baseline spirituality.

The heart is a muscle like every other muscle. The more you use it...

I think I'm an actor because I have very strong imagination and empathy. I never studied acting, but those two qualities are exactly the qualities that make for an activist.

 


It's great to see people who find joy in service and don't close their eyes and aren't afraid.

When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you. As my little guy said when he first learned about the origins of man, he said, "So Mom, I guess there really isn't such a thing as a stranger, is there?"

It's a spirituality that's empowering and inclusive and gives you a world that's so large and full of possibilities and so full of rewards. That's joyful.

The people you meet-when I was down after [September] 11th at Ground Zero, I was running into people that I knew from the soup kitchens, from Habitat, that I remembered. They're just everywhere. It's great to see people who find joy in service and don't close their eyes and aren't afraid.

"If you see someone in a box..."
If you walk down the street and see someone in a box, you have a choice. That person is either the other and you're fearful of them, or that person is an extension of your family. And that makes you at home in that world and not fearful. So really it's very self-serving.

You've worked with a lot of hunger-relief organizations in New York City. What prompted you to start working with Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen?

My relationship with Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen started years and years ago. They were one of the few safe havens for people living with AIDS way back when there was such a stigma with AIDS. They stepped into the breach with counseling. I think there were even times when doctors could approach people with drug trials-well, not drug trials, but counseling them about other choices. No one was really up-front about anything to do with AIDS at that time.

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