Susan Sarandon began her career doing serials like A World Apart and Search for Tomorrow. Of course she went on to become a major A-lister in movies like Bull Durham, Witches of Eastwick and, of course, Thelma and Louise, getting nominated for an Oscar five times along the way. Now, at age 76, she’s back in a serial—a primetime serial—for Fox and is thrilled.
On the country-music themed drama Monarch, Sarandon plays Dottie, the terminally ill family matriarch, who—get this!—dies in the first episode. Still, she plans to do more episodes with the ensemble cast, which includes country music icon Trace Adkins as her husband. “I’m leaving it open,” she said. “I’m Jiminy Cricket. I’m going to appear on everybody’s shoulder. I’ll be around as long as they’ll have me!”
Knowing so much about Hollywood, Sarandon has given feedback to the producers about where she hopes her role can expand. “I have made a lot of suggestions; so we’ll see if they take any of them. I have many plans!” she said.
Is She Really Dead?
Executive producer and showrunner Jon Harmon Feldman noted, “Susan’s a part of the show. She hovers over everyone. She influences everything. She comes in and out of the show; so she will appear in multiple episodes, and we have some great stuff planned for her. She is a looming presence, both on screen and off on Monarch in Season 1.”
She is a looming presence on the show, both on screen and off.
Added creator and executive producer Melissa London Hilfers: “There’s nothing more fun for us than writing for Dottie. We don’t want to stop!”
Even the FOX president didn’t really want Sarandon’s character to die. “In the very first pitch for the pilot, we get to the end, and what happens happens,” Hilfers said, “and the president of the network said, ‘Well, that’s not really going to happen–Dottie’s not really going to die right?!’
Hilfers continued: “And I said, ‘She is. We’ll have ways of bringing her back, but she’s really going to die. And it was important to us that that happened in the pilot because it shows the kind of bold storytelling that we’re doing. You never know what to expect and what’s going to happen next, and there are shocking things that happen. That being said, once she really got to set, I really regretted it. We never wanted to say goodbye.”
The Country Music Culture
Because Sarandon is so outspoken about her liberal views, some critics have found her role a perfect example of casting against type. “Whoever cast Susan Sarandon—the politically-outspoken, Bernie-supporting progressive Hollywood icon (or Hollywood elite, depending on which side of the political divide you ask)—as the matriarch of a family of country music artists in a show that would air on Fox of all places is a mad genius,” wrote Coleman Spilde on the Daily Beast.
I’ve smoked a joint with Willie Nelson. That was about the deepest I got [into country music].
Sarandon explains that she loves diving into a role so different than herself. “I mean, that’s the whole bonus of being an actor, right? That you get to go into these little bubbles that you don’t know anything about and find out in depth so much more,” she said. “I love this family, love this show. I think it’s so much fun, everything I hoped it would be. I got even more because I didn’t know anything about this [country music] world. And thanks to my maître d, Trace Adkins, who introduced me, I now have a little bit of an inkling.”
With the music, both the original and cover songs, being so important to the story, she had a big learning curve, she acknowledged. “When they did the music, even these people that really knew how to sing, there was a whole style thing that was imposed that was quite a challenge.”
Still, the actress loves to venture outside her comfort zone. “I just go where the fun is and where I haven’t been before. I love the storytelling of country-western music. I never knew it in depth or anything. I’ve smoked a joint with Willie Nelson. That was about the deepest I got.”
Having Trace Adkins play her husband, made it much easier to acclimate. “I was so eager and looking forward to meeting Trace and to being able to wear that hair and the jewelry and find out about life on the road. And I do know about family; so that was easy.”
Staying Open and Generous
Whether she does guest or starring roles on film, television, or streaming channels matters little to Sarandon. “I’ve never been limited by what screen something’s going to be on. This is a real kind of guilty pleasure, you know. The ‘Tune in next time’ kind of thing. And I just thought it would be really fun. And I just love a good accent also. You can say so many things with an accent that you can’t say without!”
When she’s off set, the politically active Sarandon has many charities she is involved with; the latest one being ambassador to The HALO Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance organization.
You can say so many things with an accent that you can’t say without!
In a prepared statement she said: “Like many people, I remember seeing Princess Diana comfort young children who had lost their limbs to landmines in Angola back in 1997. I congratulate HALO on the tremendous progress it has made in clearing remnants of war in Angola and beyond since then. However, the war in Ukraine and other forgotten conflicts such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia have made its work even more urgent and essential today.”
Sarandon, who supports other causes including the United Nations’ children’s fund UNICEF, will help raise the profile of the landmine issue and of HALO’s clearance work in conflict zones around the world. She plans to visit a minefield in one of the countries where HALO operates—which include Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Cambodia. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone.