Susan Sarandon signed onto “Cloud Atlas” without immediately knowing which part she would play. Turns out she played four.
“I thought, this is going to be so much fun,” she told us during a phone interview to discuss the film, due for an Oct. 26 release date. “They found actors who were willing to do something relatively experimental. Everybody who was part of it had a certain lack of ego, and daring confidence.”
Filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski rendered the sweeping film from author David Mitchell’s bestselling novel – a feat of artistic heroics given the book’s complex, time-traveling structure. (”It might be possible to write a novel more unfilmable than David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but you would have to work at it,” the New York Times observed).
Sarandon was never worried.
“I just said if there was ever a way to make it into a movie these guys would find it,” she said of Tykwer, known for the multi-layered narrative of “Run Lola Run” and the Wachowski siblings of “Matrix” movie fame. “They are so passionate.”
“Cloud Atlas,” starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in principal roles, with an international cast that includes Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, Keith David, David Gyasi and Hugh Grant, doesn’t tell one story, it tells many. Yet the tales of the post-apocalyptic mountain dwellers, a 1970s journalist investigating an energy plant, a sniveling book publisher in present-day London, a futuristic restaurant server living in 22nd Century Korea and a handsome young composer working in the 1930s are all connected.
“This was truly a one-of-a-kind filmmaking experience,” Berry, who played six different roles, said in production notes released by Warner Brothers. “I don’t think I’ll ever be part of another film like this. I love its originality. There are so many barriers being broken here, so many exciting concepts and, hopefully, it will leave people thinking about how they perceive the world and their own lives.”
The movie clocks in at almost three hours (helpful hint: skip the concessions stand so you won’t have to leave for a bathroom break) but never drags.
“It’s a wildly entertaining piece of storytelling,” Hanks, who also played six different roles, said in the production notes. “There’s never a moment when the camera is not capturing some spectacular stunt or human emotion. When I read the screenplay, it initially raised questions about who these people are, and then their connections became evident. Their artistic struggles, their fights for survival and the choices that bridge one life to the next also became evident and I was completely involved. It’s a perfect blending of David Mitchell’s story and the cinematic power of our three directors—a brilliant piece of cinematic literature that examines the connectivity of the human race through time.”
Further solidifying the narratives’ interconnectivity, the filmmakers placed various actors in various roles throughout the time periods, in some cases having male actors play female roles and vice versa.
“When I saw myself as a man I was completely unrecognizable,” Sarandon said of one of her roles. “If you went into the makeup trailer, people were taking tattoos off and putting noses on. It was a very unusual and very playful atmosphere. Everybody was really having a great time and was being very brave. There was an organizational structure that we could trust in.”
Preparing to embody four different people, in four different eras, all facing unique circumstances, wasn’t the daunting challenge you might expect, she said.
“My characters all in some way have a certain kind of spirituality,” Sarandon said. “They’re all kind of nurturing, very womanly characters. It wasn’t that difficult to get into their heads.”