When I mention to Susan Sarandon that the first time I interviewed her, it was for the 1981 film Atlantic City, she smiles ruefully.
"We were both babies back then," she says.
She curls into the couch of the hotel room where we're talking, for a piece for the New York Daily News. This is the first of the interviews she'll do this day, to promote the film Robot & Frank, which opened in limited release Aug. 17. Though she worked for less than a week on the film, her character -- a librarian named Jennifer -- proves pivotal in a plot that revolves around a book-loving but aging cat burglar named Frank (Frank Langella) and the robot caretaker who tends to him, in a plot set in the near future.
Sarandon, however, is momentarily thinking about the past. Casting back to Atlantic City, the film that catapulted her into a new rank of actresses and earned Sarandon her first Oscar nomination, she says, "I really didn't understand myself back then.
"I didn't understand the assets that I had," she continues. "Physically, I didn't think I was good-looking; I never thought I was particularly beautiful. But I've been having these tributes at festivals and the most fun part are the montages that they put together. It's been so long since I've seen some of those movies.
"I look at them now and I was barely invested in that person being me. It's like having your whole life rush by in front of your eyes. And I think, 'I had no idea what I looked like'."
But Sarandon, now 65, admits that she also wasn't particularly savvy about what direction her work should take. Having started as an ingénue, she wasn't quite prepared for the opportunities -- or the pitfalls -- that came with becoming a leading lady. Though Atlantic City put her on the map, it took until the late 1980s and early 1990s -- with films like Bull Durham, White Palace, Thelma & Louise and Dead Man Walking (for which she won an Oscar) -- for Sarandon to truly take control of her career.
"I was never that serious about my career, in terms of firing agents, pushing for jobs, things that like," Sarandon says. "Kids today are a lot more savvy. I was happy with what came along. I was always kind of an outsider, living in New York -- it was sort of half-assed. And my agents were not very strong.
"It was a point in my life where I didn't do a lot of the expected things, the practical things: things like living in L.A. or having a publicist. I was asking a lot of metaphysical questions, instead of practical questions.
This interview continues on my website.