Daniel Figueroa IV
May 17, 2023
The former spouses joined Hearst for their first conversation in years ahead of Sacred Heart University live show, talk family, and their early careers in Connecticut.
It’s been a while since Susan and Chris Sarandon last spoke.
“A century,” Susan Sarandon jokes.
Maybe in L.A., they think. At a restaurant where they saw each other in passing. It was years ago, sometime in the near 50 years since they divorced. Chris Sarandon remarried twice. Susan Sarandon has been in some famously long-term relationships but never married again.
“How many grandchildren do you have? Susan Sarandon asks.
“Nine,” Chris responds.
“What,” Susan Sarandon replies, shocked.
“How could that be,” she asks. “Shut the f--- up. How could that be.”
He has two daughters, each with three children. His son has two and his step-son with Joanna Gleason (his wife of 29 years) has one.
“I only have three,” she says, referencing the three children of her daughter Eva Amurri, an actor and Connecticut resident.
The conversation — taking place over Zoom — quickly goes into the financial pressures young artists face and how difficult it is to succeed as an artist in an increasingly corporate world where you’re expected to find success before hitting the age of 30.
And how different it was when they were young artists getting their start while Chris worked at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater and Susan did some modeling and held odd jobs. They lived in small house on the beach in Milford between the fall of 1969 and spring 1970. The uninsulated house was so cold in the winter, Chris Sarandon said they couldn’t even put their feet on the floor.
Chris Sarandon and Susan Sarandon met in the theater program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in the mid-‘60s. Susan was a 17-year-old freshman, known then as Susan Tomalin. Chris Sarandon was a 21-year-old graduate student and the star of the program.
“He was a big-ass grad student who was the lead in every f---ing Shakespearean anything. He and Michael Cristofer (Tony and Pulitzer-winning playwright) were like the stars,” she recalls. “I thought he knew everything — black and white movies, literature, whatever. I was living at my grandparents’ at the time.”
Susan Sarandon arrived in D.C. from Edison, N.J. in 1964, the eldest of eight children. Her mother was pregnant with a ninth when Chris and Susan married in 1967. She said the high school she went to was rough. Her household, a bit chaotic. She grew up eating Spam and spaghetti mostly, she said. And when it came time for college, she was accepted, but didn’t know what to do.
“I didn’t know what was going on. My parents didn’t know what was going on,” Susan Sarandon says. “We just missed every deadline. She (a former drama teacher) said she could get me into the drama department.”
But in D.C., Susan Sarandon needed money. She lived with her grandparents to save on a room. She cut hair, cleaned apartments and worked the switchboard at the drama department to pay her way. It wasn’t a typical college experience, she said.
When Chris Sarandon saw her in a freshman show he thought she was “arresting.” The two hit it off. Chris Sarandon came from a family of Greek immigrants in West Virginia. His father owned a diner in town and his mother cooked traditional Greek food at home.
When Susan Sarandon met Chris Sarandon, she said he was gorgeous, but also kind. His family took her in. Chris’ mom showed Susan how to iron clothes so she wouldn’t burn them. She showed her how to cook.
“I think avgolemono soup saved my life,” she remembers.
Chris Sarandon and Susan Sarandon will talk avgolemono soup and more when they join each other onstage May 25 at the Sacred Heart University Community Theater in Fairfield. It’ll be a live taping of the former’s podcast “Cooking by Heart.” In it, Chris Sarandon interviews guests like his “Princess Bride” castmate Cary Elwes and famed chef Jacques Pepin about the connection between food and memory.
The live show will be the first time the pair appear publicly in more than 45 years, since Chris Sarandon was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon.”
That same year, Susan Sarandon got a major break when she starred as Janet in the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
But before the actors made their way from D.C. to New York theater and eventually Hollywood films, they got their start in the industry while living in Connecticut, where Chris was an actor with Long Wharf.
“I was the wife. I did whatever I could. I read and I caught little crabs on the beach,” Susan Sarandon says. “I did some local modeling, some stupid TV commercials.”
The following summer they worked with a friend doing summer theater shows. After that it was off to New York where Chris Sarandon found work quickly. Susan joined him on an audition and wound up with her first film, “Joe.”
The pair say they were lucky.
“The serendipity of it. The good fortune, whatever you want to call it,” Chris Sarandon says. “I’m literally renting an apartment in New York and suddenly we’re both working. It was amazing.”
Chris and Susan Sarandon divorced in 1979, but had separated a few years earlier. Susan Sarandon said she never wanted to get married. She just never believed in the title. But the love was there and marriage was a way to get out of her grandparents' home and be able to stay enrolled in a Catholic University.
But barely adults, Susan Sarandon said they still had a lot of growing to do.
"When we split — talk about conscious uncoupling — he was so kind. Because I’m the one that was, you know, unstable, kind of," Susan says. "And Chris was so generous and so sweet with me. When people say, ‘I need my space. I need to find myself.’ That’s what happens in your 20s. You’re not really aware enough to make commitments and deals when you’re in that stage.”
Chris Sarandon went on to star in films like “Child’s Play,” “Fright Night,” and the “Princess Bride.” Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her role in “Dead Man Walking” and starred in “Thelma and Louise” and “Stepmom.”
Despite the split, the couple said they never had bad blood. Susan Sarandon’s family still goes to see Chris when he’s in plays. And Susan joked she “stalked” Chris online so she could appear on his show.
The two also found voice in activism. Susan said they were there when D.C. “burned” during protests over the Vietnam War. Last week, Susan was arrested in Albany while protesting a minimum wage bill that carved out tipped workers.
Social activism, especially liberal activism, is something Chris and Susan agree is born of the empathy artists, especially actors, learn while living lives through the eyes of others.
“I think just the artistic temperament requires that you see things from many different perspectives. That you understand the way people think, the way people feel about their lives,” Chris Sarandon says. “I think it becomes a natural sort of progression, that you understand what people in the LGBTQ community go through.”
“In this job you use your imagination, which leads to empathy” Susan adds. “And once you can imagine what it would be like to be the mother of a child gunned down…how can you not be active? Artists are always on the outside. You’re not part of — try as you may — corporate America. You’re never really going to be there. And good. We need imagination because nothing is going to change until you imagine that it could be another way. And that is what our job is — to give people the opportunity to develop empathy for someone they never thought they had anything in common with.”
Susan and Chris Sarandon will appear live at the Sacred Heart Community Theater on May 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online for $30.
Chris Sarandon will welcome Chef Lidia Bastianich at his next live taping of “Cooking by Heart” at the SHU Community Theater on June 4.