Or you can decide to “pull the carpet out from underneath everything that makes me feel secure.” So when Rush, with whom she’d worked on the 2002 film The Banger Sisters, got in touch about Exit the King, the play tugged at her. Given Sarandon’s appetite for political engagement, I wondered if the Bush-allegory elements—you know, childlike ruler with no apparent self-doubt or conscience finally brought low—grabbed her. She says no. “I think it has political resonance, but that was kind of a bonus. For me, it was more about how everyone thinks their existence is all existence—and suddenly the idea of dying comes in. I’m very moved by it.”
In recent years, Sarandon has been more apt to parachute into a project for a few scenes, then get out. She’s done cartoon voice-overs, indies, blockbusters like Enchanted, a role on Rescue Me. Last week, she appeared opposite Clooney on an episode of ER, and she has a supporting role in Peter Jackson’s upcoming adaptation of The Lovely Bones, about which she’s hopeful and even a little excited. It’s one of six unreleased movies she’s recently completed—“but if you put them all together,” she says quickly, “they probably make one in terms of the screen time I have.” She’s had offers to do a cable series of her own, but she’d rather do a guest shot on HBO’s hipster comedy Flight of the Conchords (“I’ve already begged”). “Maybe I’m a commito-phobe. A long-term commito-phobe,” she muses.
So Exit the King has come as a shock to her system, one she’s still processing. It’s going to take every ounce of her energy until mid-June. But, she says, “anything this unsettling has to have been worthwhile.”
Speaking of unsettling, a long rehearsal awaits; the cast has been going until midnight most days. As the interview ends, Sarandon seems at her most vulnerable. “I didn’t cry,” she says with quiet relief, tugging at Penny, who does not seem particularly eager to vacate her chair. “Come on!” Sarandon orders, accidentally stepping on her dog’s water bowl as she leaves, thus destroying any potential for an exit-the-queen moment. “Oh, God,” she says with amused rue, “this is so old-lady-with-a-small-dog.”
A few days later, Armfield calls after the second preview. “Susan’s becoming formidable,” he says, clearly pleased. “This week has been thrilling. Now that she’s on the stage, she sits on her throne like a boxer in the corner, just waiting for the next round.”