Early last month, the Museum of Modern Art screened The Hunger, the atmospheric 1983 vampire film that stars Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve. The vamps of The Hunger predated the vamps of Twilight in that they had no fangs and could day-walk — but if they didn’t or couldn’t sleep, they would age rapidly. (As David Bowie learned to his dismay). Sarandon chatted with Vulture about vampire vogue, the original ending, and how that Thelma & Louise selfie came about.
When you introduced the film, you said you thought it was about one thing when you signed up for the film, but then it changed for you? Do you mean as far as the meaning of the movie, or the rules put forth in the book by Whitley Strieber?
Not as far as the meaning of the movie, but what I felt was my character’s idea, and why I did the movie, which was to explore this idea — would you want to live forever if it meant that you were an addict? And then that’s why I killed myself, not wanting to be an addict. But then I was somehow resurrected at the end! So that’s why I wasn’t sure what the rules were at the time, by that time. I had no idea that there was a book. Was the book before the movie?
Yeah, and then the book became a trilogy.
It was? Huh. I wasn’t even aware that there was a book!
And the book was a little more specific about the process, or the rules per se, whereas the movie left more open to interpretation.
Yeah, clearly, because they were making a mood piece with a lot of style, and I don’t know if there was any intention of doing an in-depth, theoretical kind of piece on something philosophical. I think, coming out of commercials, [director] Tony Scott was interested in the style of it, and I think he really accomplished that. And thrown in there was all this interesting intercutting of the monkeys and whatever that was saying [about the science of it], but I don’t really take vampires too seriously. [Laughs.]
Apparently, you got to have quite a bit of input about whether or not being turned into a vampire was your character’s choice?
Well, every movie is like that. I mean, every movie, you ask questions. There were tons of things in Thelma & Louise, including scenes that weren’t in the original script, that came out of asking questions and changing things. It’s an actor’s job to be more specific. So you hope that you have some input about what you’re wearing, and what your room looks like, and what your hobbies are, you know? That whole Polaroid thing in Thelma & Louise came about because my character was very anal and was trying to always control her life, and making scrapbooks was part of that, so we had this whole Polaroid bit. And then it turned into something that’s almost iconic now, but there wasn’t even any indication of where they were from or where they were going or how long they were on the road, or any of that. So it’s always an actor’s job to try to make it as specific as possible.
Your mom got hate mail for this movie? Do you remember what any of it said?
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! But the thing that was really weird about it was my mom got one letter that said this person heard I was going to be doing a lesbian scene, and how disgusting that was, and how she should be ashamed of me. And not only that, it went on to bad-mouth our neighbors next door, and to accuse them of different things that had nothing to do with me. So it was kind of a hate letter, to get to hating someone else. So it must have been someone in the neighborhood. It wasn’t a piece of mail that was addressed to my mother from somewhere in Ohio.
So that was one of the few dissenters, then, because this film really changed your fan base.
Not in a hateful way! [Laughs.] But that was after. This letter came when it was just announced that I was going to do it, and what the content was. I’m not sure, once it came out, exactly what happened, but I think it is a popular … well, that scene is popular, let’s say that! In certain corners. When we did White Palace, which had a very important sex scene at the very beginning, that was the very first time anyone had ever given oral sex to somebody in a mainstream film, and I’m surprised that didn’t get more crazy responses.
Seeing the film now, how does it hold up for you?
The movie [is] very representative of a very specific time and was important when it came out. I think Tony did a great job as a first try. I wish the editor had been a little more aggressive on the whole … I don’t know how much money they spent on the special effects, but they definitely wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth, and I felt like that could have been cut down. That part in the film seemed to go on and on, but that’s my only criticism.
What was the most disruptive thing that ever happened on set?
I was doing another shoot in a brownstone for Joe Gould’s Secret, Stanley Tucci was directing, and everything was all set up, and the guy had rented his apartment to Stanley, and there were cables and things coming out of his window, and the owner of the brownstone showed up, wanting some kind of cut, wanting more money, and was closing everything down unless he got more money. I think if you’re doing something on the fly, if you’re doing something fairly quickly, and you’re not a big studio … I was on a shoot once where there was a kid who kept ringing this bell and going through the shots on a tricycle, and they tried to get him to stop ringing his bell, and he asked for money.
If he’s young enough to be on a tricycle, you wouldn’t think money would be the first thing on his mind …
But this is New York. [Laughs.]