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'I'll be a wacky grandma' One of the best-selling novels of the last decade, The Lovely Bones, is being brought to the big screen with Susan Sarandon in the role of the grieving, but glamorous, grandmother. Rob Driscoll meets the Oscar-winning Hollywood star.

WHEN you are told you're playing the supporting role of the grandmother in a blockbuster movie, you might start worrying that your time is almost up as an A-list Hollywood actress.

But there was no danger of Susan Sarandon being left on the sidelines, knitting demurely in a rocking chair, in The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson's adaptation of one of the last decade's most celebrated novels.

For this is one hip and hilarious granny - a splendidly inappropriate, forthright and outrageous woman, forever made up to the max.

"My kids all expect me to be a wacky grandmother at this point, so I guess it wasn't a huge leap," says the 62-yearold Oscar-winner.

"I probably had the easiest job with Grandma Lynn because she had so much hair and eyelashes.

"I never said a word without a cigarette or a drink, so I felt at home whenever I locked into that - even though I don't drink or smoke... cigarettes."

The addition of that last word is pure Sarandon, as deliciously rebel-rousing and unconventional a superstar as there ever was.

Her role in a film with such heavy and serious themes as murder, child abuse, grief and the afterlife is certainly a welcome injection of comic relief, yet her character is so much more than that.

Grandma Lynn is the unwavering backbone of the central family.

Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones came out of nowhere in 2002 to become a huge best-seller.

Although beloved by millions, its heart-breaking story about what happens to a family after the loss of its teenage daughter was thought to be that unthinkable thing in Hollywood - unfilmable. Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong thought otherwise, convinced that he could do it justice. By the end, however, he admits that for him and his co-writers (his partner, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens), bringing The Lovely Bones to the big screen has been "the hardest thing we've ever done in our lives".

The film stars fast-rising Irish actress Saiorse Ronan (of Atonement fame) in the challenging central role of Susie Salmon, just 14 years old when she is murdered in December 1973 on her way home from school.

Following her death, Susie continues to watch over her family, while her killer remains at large.

"Trapped in a wondrous, yet mysterious hereafter, Susie finds that she must choose between her desire for vengeance and her yearning to see her loved ones heal and move on.

The film also stars Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz as Susie's grieving parents, with Stanley Tucci as Susie's disturbed attacker and possible killer.

New York-born Sarandon read The Lovely Bones when it was first published eight years ago, and was moved by the way it explored how relationships endure, long after death.

"Strangely enough, it resurfaced at 9/11 - that was the book that a lot of firefighter families gravitated towards, because for all of its difficulties, it's somehow reassuring," says Sarandon, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean in 1995's Dead Man Walking.

"That was one of the things that I was hoping the film would also be at the end, that it talks about these ties, this energy that never dissipates, this connection that survives. So I was a big fan of the book a long time ago."

Sarandon, who looks younger than her years, is best remembered for a clutch of similarly spiky, in-control, performances, perhaps most fondly of all in Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise.

Yet she had absolutely no qualms about taking on the "granny" role in The Lovely Bones - if only for the character's rewardingly idiosyncratic nature.

"I've asked my kids, because their grandparents are not the best, what should you be to be a better grandmother - and this woman is the opposite of that," says Sarandon, who separated last year from her partner Tim Robbins after more than two decades together.

"I like the fact that Grandma Lynn is proactive in her stumbling way.

"I had a great time with her. I think you really have to have moments where you can laugh - and everyone has their own way of mourning.

"You need her at one end of the spectrum of that process.

"Grandma Lynn is completely egocentric. I'm happy to be the comic relief, because I think she says a lot of the things that you wish you could say sometimes in a very insensitive way.

"And that's always fun as an actor - to do the things you normally can't get away with.

"Peter and Fran wrote me a really lovely letter when they offered me the role and I think Lynn is important at that one moment because she does - very unexpectedly - hold the family together, yet she's the least likely person you would think would rise to the occasion.

"But sometimes you get a second chance. She seems like she's failed miserably with her own daughter, but now she has a chance to step in and maybe at that point she's more qualified to be a better mother and to understand some of the pain and how you have to keep pushing through it."

Having had children herself brought about a huge change in Sarandon's own life, one she thought about a lot when filming The Lovely Bones.

"When you have kids, everyone talks about how much life there is now and how much you appreciate life.

"But what they don't tell you is that the second you have a child, you think about death," says Sarandon, who has two sons, aged 20 and 17, by Robbins, and a 25-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

"I never thought about my mortality or anyone else's - and I had my kids really late - until I had children.

"Then everything is fragile, and you can't even allow yourself the thought of losing a child.

"But also you think about your own mortality."

The character of Grandma Lynn evolves in the course of The Lovely Bones as her life, too, is altered by the tragedy that has befallen the Salmon family.

"What I love about Grandma Lynn is that she has to change completely," says Sarandon.

"She has to try to vacuum and clean and do the laundry - and she does it terribly.

"But at the same time, she manages to open the curtains and let the light in and say, 'OK, enough is enough; now it's time to live'.

"She's very necessary for them to move on."

As for the glamorous look of Grandma Lynn, Sarandon had learned from one of the best about how to make an impact using an accessory or two.

"Cher taught me all about hair acting, and she said she always picks the hair ahead of time," says Sarandon of her costar from The Witches of Eastwick.

"So I started out with all these eyelashes and then I lost it all, and that was the arc of my character - an eyelash/wig arc.

"I always knew where I was, depending on if I had a drink - and my eyelashes!" laughs Sarandon.

The Lovely Bones opens today


Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon stars as a grandmother in The Lovely Bones Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon, top, Mark Wahlberg as Jack, middle, and Stanley Tucci as George Harvey, above, in the film The Lovely Bones
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 19, 2010
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