'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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I had a lot of friends who were fighting not only the disease but, at that time, the humiliation and the secret of having the disease.

I'm a native New Yorker. Everything to do with New York feels like my family. Home means so much to me. Even before I had children, I was one of those people that always had an extended family of friends. You'd make big Thanksgiving Day dinners and big events on Christmas. I tended to love gatherings-not parties necessarily, but celebrations of different kinds.

"The dilemma
of homeless-
The dilemma of homelessness-seeing people without a home, without their basic needs fulfilled-things that people are entitled to-shelter, safety, food-always really affected me. It's always been very difficult for me to see people on the street.

So I initially gravitated towards solving those problems in what I considered to be my extended family, which is my city.

People often burn out on soup kitchen work or humanitarian work like helping the homeless. What keeps you going given the magnitude of the problem?

It can be discouraging whenever you're dealing with an ongoing problem. But as opposed to something like politics, where it's frustrating because there are so many lies involved and so much bureaucracy, when you're dealing one on one with people, you meet the most inspiring people. Other people who've been working in a much less dilettantish way than I do. People who've actually committed themselves--retired schoolteachers, young people who form a community that goes fairly unnoticed until you dive into that pond.

"The power of one"
You meet the most extraordinary people who are doing something that's very empowering. Not only that can make a difference in another's life, it makes a difference in your life to know the power of one. To know that once you decide to look at life outside of the narrow limits of just your world and start to understand that you can make a difference in very simple ways--in volunteering and all the way up to bigger world problems.


When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.

At a time when everything seems so out of control and the people you've elected are bogus and there's so much random violence and hatred, it fills you with such hope and admiration to even be part for a short time in a community where people have connected to strangers to try to put out a hand.

The last time I served down at Holy Apostles, what was really striking to me was how different the group of people were who were coming for food from even a year ago...

How so?

In that you have so many people out of work who've had jobs all their lives. You have so many young couples that cannot find a way to pay their rent, or there's been illness or whatever. It's so much easier these days to find yourself in a situation where you end up on the street or end up with not enough money to buy your food on a regular basis.

You've said how much you admire the people working for these causes. It sounds like what you've said about Sister Helen Prejean, the nun who wrote "Dead Man Walking"--that she had a kind of "practical spirituality."

"Jesus' hands-
on spirituality"
Yes. My problem with the [Catholic] Church-I was brought up Catholic-was that Jesus' life was a very hands-on spirituality. It wasn't about excluding people. It was exactly the opposite. He was a shepherd to those people who had been excluded already from the mainstream and who were needy.

I always envisioned the Church more as they do in some Latin American countries, where they're involved in the plight of the poor and in justice--all those things that politicize you once you start to open your eyes.

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