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How An Accidental Audition Launched Susan Sarandon's Career

"They asked me to do an improv; I asked them what that was..."

While many future actors grow up with a clear vision of themselves in show business, there are some famous talents who never actually planned to be on stage or on screen. Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, as successful as she has been over the last few decades, is one of them.

As she tells "Oprah's Master Class" in the above video, Sarandon wasn't one of those children who knew she was destined for a career in acting.

"I never studied acting. I never wanted to be an actor," Sarandon says. "The first thing I ever remember wanting to be was a wave in the ocean. I don't understand what I was thinking when I thought that. But I never imagined myself in show business."

Aside from participating in the occasional school play -- "I was probably horrible!" -- Sarandon wasn't exposed to the arts in a way that made her long to appear on stage. Then, while in college at The Catholic University of America, she found herself working at the school theater.

"I had to work my way through college, so I worked on the switchboard in the drama department," Sarandon says. "At one point, they did put me as a lady-in-waiting in some Shakespearean-something, so I walked across the stage. There was a reaction when I did that, and I thought that was kind of interesting."

That little spark wasn't large enough to lead Sarandon down the path to Hollywood quite yet, however. That wouldn't happen until after she married her former husband.


"I met and then my senior year married Chris Sarandon, who was... a graduate student. He was a real actor. He was doing all the leads in the Shakespeare [plays], he was at Arena Stage," Sarandon says. "He kind of introduced me to black-and-white movies and poetry. He knew everything, as far as I was concerned."

After performing in one of his plays, Chris was asked to audition for a part in the 1970 film "Joe." As a part of the audition, he needed someone to read with him, so Sarandon stepped in.

"I read with him, and they said, 'Well, why don't you both come back?'" she recalls.

Though Sarandon was a bit out of her element, she seemed to impress the individuals casting the film. "They asked me to do an improv; I asked them what that was, [then] I did it," she says. "They asked me to wait a minute. They came back in and they said, 'All right, we want you to do this.'"


It was Sarandon's first professional role, and she had a blast.

"I had a scene in it in which, [as the character], I was on some drug that made me violent and put lipstick all over my face," Sarandon says. "I thought, 'Well, this is so much fun!'"

The film became a huge surprise hit. From there, Sarandon's acting career took off.

"The next thing I went up for was a soap opera, and I got that... and I just kept getting things," she says. "Little by little, I learned [the craft]. And after about 10 years, I thought, 'I guess this is what I do!'"

"Oprah's Master Class" returns for its fifth season on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 8 p.m. ET. Upcoming masters include Ellen DeGeneres, Robert Duvall, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, Smokey Robinson, Jeff Bridges, James Taylor and Patti LaBelle.

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