Susan Sarandon at 71 is bright-eyed and airy, and perhaps shyer than she can publicly seem. When I walk into the room – a private members' club in downtown New York, where she sits with a small dog at her feet – she doesn't say hello or make eye-contact, giving what I suspect is a false impression of rudeness. It may also be that she is uncertain of her reception. For a long time Sarandon was despised by the right, her protests against the Vietnam war and US aggression in Nicaragua and Iraq making her the kind of target that, for progressives, is an affirmation of sorts. Her latest unpopularity, by contrast, comes exclusively from the left and is much tougher on Sarandon. "I'm not attacked from the right at all," she will tell me. Instead, she is accused of not checking her white privilege, of throwing away her vote on a third-party candidate (the Green party nominee, Jill Stein) during the US presidential election, and of recklessly espousing a political cause that let Trump in through the backdoor. Liberals in the US, it seems, can summon more hatred for Sarandon right now than they can for Paul Ryan.
Most infuriating of all, to her critics, is that she won't admit her error. Sarandon's very physiognomy suggests defiance; she looks indignant even at rest. She also looks a lot like Bette Davis, so much so that Davis herself, in her dotage, approached Sarandon to play her. That project never happened, but in the new eight-part Ryan Murphy series Feud: Bette and Joan, about the battle for Hollywood supremacy between Davis and Joan Crawford, Sarandon gets her chance. The two leads are terrific: Jessica Lange, by turns monstrous and pathetic as Crawford; Sarandon steelier, smarter, less obviously vulnerable. She sees a lot of similarities between herself and Davis. "We're both east coast," she says. "I didn't consider myself a star; I was a character actor from the very beginning and not really sold as pretty, which is probably what's allowed me to survive as long as I have. I have this broader phase."