After Susan Sarandon took on the role of Catherine Ames in the 1998 film Twilight, she was shocked to discover that something alarming was taking place behind the scenes. When co-star Paul Newman unearthed this secret, however, he personally saw to it that things were put right. And two decades on, Sarandon finally revealed exactly what the movie legend had done for her.
Sarandon herself is no stranger to Hollywood, of course; indeed, she has been a regular presence on our screens for nearly 50 years now. The star was born as Susan Abigail Tomalin in Queens, New York, in October 1946, although she grew up in Edison, New Jersey, alongside her eight younger brothers and sisters.
Sarandon’s mother, Lenora Marie Criscione, came from an Italian family, while her father, Phillip Leslie Tomalin, was of British and Irish descent. And perhaps Tomalin’s profession inspired the future Academy Award winner’s career path; he had worked in TV production, after all, as well as in advertising and as a singer in a nightclub.
The young Sarandon clearly had a taste for the entertainment industry, anyway, and this led her to ultimately enrol as a drama student at The Catholic University of America. There, the budding actress studied under the guidance of renowned director and playwright Father Gilbert V. Hartke – a man who has often been dubbed “the showbiz priest.”
It was during Sarandon’s drama studies, moreover, that she met fellow wannabe actor and student Chris Sarandon. The young couple went on to tie the knot in September 1967 – shortly before her 21st birthday. And while the marriage finally ended in 1979, Sarandon nevertheless kept her former husband’s name for professional purposes; she had already built up a body of work under that moniker, you see.
Sarandon’s first big-screen role, for example, had been in the 1970 movie Joe – one of director John G. Avildsen’s early works. She had accompanied her then-husband to the audition the previous year; while he was ultimately unsuccessful in landing a part, however, the actress had managed to score one of the film’s leading roles.
And in Joe, Sarandon plays Melissa Compton – an advertising executive’s daughter who gets sucked into a life of taking drugs. The movie was well received by critics, too, as well as faring relatively well at the box office; it earned nearly $20 million in the U.S., in fact, despite a budget of just over $100,000. But the film’s success didn’t end there.
For one thing, Joe’s writer, Norman Wexler, earned a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the Academy Awards. He would go on to pen scripts for acclaimed pictures such as Serpico and Saturday Night Fever. Avildsen saw further career triumphs, too; he later directed movies in the Rocky and Karate Kid franchises and earned himself an Oscar in the process. But it was with Joe that the filmmaker introduced the world to a future screen legend.
And the success of Sarandon’s debut movie brought her talent in turn to the attention of several casting directors. Following Joe, then, she scored both TV work and further big-screen roles; in 1975, for example, she portrayed one of the leads in cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the star’s biggest parts were still to come.
In 1980, for instance, she starred alongside film legend Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City. And although the crime drama didn’t perform well at the box office, it nevertheless earned nominations at the Oscars. Among these was a Best Actress nod for Sarandon – her very first such recognition.
However, it was perhaps toward the end of the ’80s that Sarandon truly started to become a household name. Her star certainly rose further in 1987, when she appeared alongside Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher in The Witches of Eastwick. And the George Miller-directed fantasy was not only a hit with critics, but it also earned multiple award nods – including two Oscar nominations.
Then, in 1988 Sarandon starred alongside Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in the romantic comedy Bull Durham. The actress portrays Annie Savoy, a woman who devotes herself to a new baseball player every season. But an awkward love triangle occurs when Savoy falls for one man while simultaneously dating another. And to make matters even more complicated, Sarandon and Robbins were romantically involved off screen at the time.
Ultimately, though, Bull Durham was well received by critics, and Sarandon herself picked up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her part in the rom-com. Yet while she lost out on that occasion to Melanie Griffith for her performance in Working Girl, that recognition marked only the beginning of a run of prestigious awards nominations and wins.
In 1990, you see, Sarandon received yet another Golden Globe nomination – this time for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in White Palace. Her now-iconic performance in Thelma & Louise also earned her Best Actress nods at the Oscars, the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes the following year. And further notable award nominations came in 1992 for her part in Lorenzo’s Oil.
But although Sarandon had received considerable praise for the roles she had taken on up until this point, major awards still seemed to elude her. Despite all those multiple nominations at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, the star had yet to take home a single gong. Yet the tide was about to turn.
Specifically, change came after Sarandon starred in 1994 thriller The Client. In the adaptation of John Grisham’s book of the same title, she plays a lawyer representing a young boy who may or may not know the whereabouts of a dead body. And her performance earned her nominations for a BAFTA and an Oscar to boot.
Yet although Sarandon ultimately lost the Academy Award for Best Actress – the accolade went instead to Jessica Lange for Blue Sky – better news came at the 1994 BAFTAs. Yes, the star ended up taking home an award at that particular ceremony.
And Sarandon seemed to be riding the crest of a wave, as she found success yet again in 1995’s Dead Man Walking. In the movie, her character Sister Helen Prejean acts as spiritual adviser to a man on death row –played by Sean Penn.
What’s more, the crime drama – which had been directed by Sarandon’s then-partner Robbins – was a commercial and critical hit. Having been filmed on a budget of $11 million, Dead Man Walking went on to take in more than $83 million at the box office worldwide. And not only that, but it also received a number of big award nominations – including several Oscar nods.
Robbins was nominated for an Academy Award, for one, in the Best Director category. The soundtrack – curated by Robbins and his brother, executive producer David – was recognized by the Academy, too, earning Bruce Springsteen a Best Original Song nomination. Sean Penn was in the running for Best Actor as well. In the end, though, there was one particularly notable winner.
Yes, 1995 proved to be Sarandon’s year at the Academy. After four nominations in five years for Best Actress, she finally took home the golden statuette, beating Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone, Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Shue to the prize. And with such a big win, her stock was on the rise.
Over the next couple of years, then, Sarandon continued to prove her skills as an actress. During that period, she lent her voice to several documentaries as well as the part of Miss Spider in the Tim Burton-produced James and the Giant Peach. And, of course, she bagged multiple movie roles – one of them being in 1998’s Twilight alongside Paul Newman.
At the time, Newman was already a bona fide legend; he had been on the Hollywood scene for more than four decades by that point, in fact. And his movie resume was chock-full of classics: among them The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Color of Money.
Plus, Newman had received several award nominations as an actor, with an Oscar under his belt for his performance in The Color of Money. The star had picked up two further statuettes – the Academy Honorary Award for his contribution to movies and the Hersholt Humanitarian Award in recognition of the actor’s humanitarian work – in 1985 and 1993, respectively.
It’s fair to say, then, that both Newman and Sarandon were highly regarded in their field when they won their parts in Twilight. As a result, both should have commanded salaries that mirrored their respective abilities to draw people into movie theaters. Furthermore, when the two actors signed on to work on Twilight together, their contracts – along with that of fellow co-star Gene Hackman – reflected the idea that equal billing meant equal pay.
In the entertainment industry, clauses that recognize actors’ equal statuses are called “favored nations.” Simply put, such stipulations ensure that any lead on a film does not receive any preferential treatment over their co-stars. In that way, then, Sarandon, Newman and Hackman would in theory work on Twilight on the same terms for the same rewards and the same recognition. Yet that wasn’t the case at first, as Sarandon found out.
During filming for Twilight, you see, Sarandon learned that her co-stars were indeed enjoying equal pay. That’s to say, equal to each other: she herself was actually being paid less than her male counterparts. And to the star’s mind, this deal was not what their contracts had stated.
But then Sarandon is not someone who’s afraid to speak out; in fact, she’s made a name for herself as somewhat of an activist. As a notorious supporter of liberal and progressive causes, then, she was unlikely to have taken such gender disparity lightly. And in an interview in 2018 – part of a press tour for her latest movie – the star revealed what had happened next.
More specifically, Sarandon was in the U.K. to promote Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – a documentary on which she was executive director. And as the name suggests, the film examines the life of Hedy Lamarr, who was an immensely smart woman. In fact, according to the movie, Lamarr had such an aptitude for science and engineering that we should hold her in the same regard as we do Nikola Tesla or Rosalind Franklin.
However – and perhaps thanks in part to her looks – Lamarr became an actress. Her intelligence therefore went largely unnoticed, and she was instead renowned as a sex icon and a movie bombshell. Gender inequalities seem to have existed in Hollywood since its golden age, then. And so, perhaps inevitably, Sarandon’s interview broached the subject of discrimination.
Sarandon told BBC Radio 5 Live in March 2018, “Emma Stone once came forward and said [that] she got equal pay – [but only] because her male co-stars insisted upon it and gave up something of theirs.” Stone’s revelation certainly echoes a wider conversation about gender disparity – not just in showbiz, either, but for all women in the workplace.
The pay-gap issue may be amplified in Hollywood, too, thanks to the mammoth wages that leading men and women can command. Arguably unlike the real world, however, actors sometimes have the luxury of making a difference to their co-workers’ salaries. And just as Stone had described how her male counterparts had supported her, Sarandon revealed how Newman had acted while the pair were filming Twilight.
“[The same thing] happened to me with Paul Newman at one point, when I did a film with him ages ago,” Sarandon explained. And although she didn’t mention the movie by name, it’s pretty safe to presume that she was referring to Twilight. That’s because it’s the only time that the two actors appeared in the same movie with equal billing.
Then, 20 years after the movie’s release, the actress finally took the opportunity to tell people what her co-star had done. In particular, Sarandon revealed that when Newman learned the “favored nations” clause in their contracts appeared only to apply to the leading men in the movie, he voluntarily did the right thing.
“When they said it was favored nations, they only meant the two guys,” Sarandon explained. “[Newman] stepped forward and said, ‘Well, I’ll give you part of mine.’” That’s right: the Hollywood legend had volunteered to donate a chunk of his salary to his female co-star in order to ensure that she would receive the same amount of money he and Hackman were getting.
Twilight, which also features performances from Reese Witherspoon, James Garner and Stockard Channing, ultimately garnered mixed responses from critics. And the movie didn’t make great waves at the box office, either, only pulling in around $15 million – a sum that fell short of its $20 million outlay. However, Newman continued to work up until 2008, when he passed away aged 83.
And given the sweet-natured stunt that Newman pulled back on the set of Twilight, it’s little surprise that Sarandon still speaks fondly of her former co-star. “[Newman] was a gem,” she said in 2018. But the actor was known for his kindness off screen, too – especially when it came to philanthropy. In fact, in 2008 the movie legend received a tribute from none other than the Pope. The Vatican’s semi-official publication L’Osservatore Romano said of the star, “Newman was a generous heart [and] an actor of a dignity and style rare in Hollywood quarters.”
Meanwhile, while talking to 5 Live, Sarandon also passed comment on the #MeToo movement. The actress believes, she said, that there will “always be a casting couch” in the entertainment industry. “I think what will go away is the unwanted exchange,” she added. The #MeToo campaign has drawn attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault at work.
Moreover, Sarandon acknowledged that while some people may find figures in positions of power attractive, to be seduced by them is a choice. She concluded, “What we don’t want to have is being exploited and have the Harvey Weinsteins of the world holding it over your head; that is the most despicable.”
To date, then, Sarandon has appeared in almost 100 Hollywood movies, and her work on both the big and small screens doesn’t seem to be slowing down. But then again, the star doesn’t appear to be taking many breaks off camera, either – not when there are rallies against gun violence and protests about migrant family separation to attend, anyway.