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Susan Sarandon has her first big starring role in a while, and she’s at the top of her game in the appropriately titled “The Meddler,” written and directed by Lorene Scafaria.

On the red carpet at the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival Tuesday evening Sarandon, who looked great in a smoking jacket cut very low, said it was the mother-daughter relationship that drew her to the part of Marnie Minervini, a New Jersey widow who moves to Los Angeles to be close to her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). Lori is beginning to feel smothered by mother, while at the same time lonely and depressed after her boyfriend (Jason Ritter) dumps her for a younger woman.

Rose Byrne
Rose Byrne | Paula Schwartz Photo

Sarandon summed up the appeal of her role. “It’s how to adjust after a relationship’s over. In this case, her husband died. What does she do with all that love? She tries to find somewhere to put it, and she focuses on her daughter and her daughter’s trying to grieve a different way. Meanwhile, there are all these funny people in between but how does she start over? What does she do when you’ve been living your life a certain way? What happens, whether it’s a divorce or you break up with someone, someone dies, kids leave and what’s the next step? How do you do that?”

Earlier on the red carpet, I asked director-screenwriter Lorene Scafaria about the inspiration for the film, which happened to be her Mom. I also mentioned I liked how she turned the word “meddler” around to give it a positive spin.

“My meddling mom, who is incredible, very sweet and well intentioned, of course, and the most generous person, I was really inspired by her bravery in selling the house in New Jersey, moving three thousand miles to a new city. I thought it was all very impressive and we were grieving my father’s death very differently. I just thought how she was so optimistic and beautiful, and I wanted to change what the meddler means. I wanted to show what it’s like when you’re not calling your mom back, that it can be very lonely and isolating. But also this is really just about a person who has a lot of love to give and then just doesn’t know what to do with it now that her role in life is very different.”

Lorene Scafaria
Lorene Scafaria | Paula Schwartz Photo

Scafaria said the film was hard to get made for the obvious reasons. “But what was nice was that it wasn’t even that hard to do. It wasn’t a conscious effort, you just start writing people and a lot of them happen to be women and it’s not that hard to tell a very human story that hopefully just treats women like people.”

Her mother is aware Marnie is inspired by her and is fine with what her daughter said. “But she wasn’t allowed on set because I didn’t want to make anything too awkward for Susan. My mom thinks it was her idea to stay away, which is fine, she can think that. But gosh, I showed her all these dailies and every single cut.”

At the beginning of the project she arranged a dinner with her, her Mom and Sarandon to discuss the script. Did her mom meddle in that?

“I kicked her under the table only once I think. I mean, I told her I wanted her to be herself because I thought the whole point of the dinner was for Susan to get to be able to know her and take from her whatever she wanted. I swear, I think she sucked the soul right out of my mother at that three-hour dinner, but then of course she made it her own.”

Sarandon’s performance is funny, deep and winning. Anything the director discovered about Sarandon during filming?

“Everything. She moves so much, there’s so much behind her eyes. You see the pain. You see the sadness while she’s being the funniest person alive. It really is wild that Susan made a character so quirky and interesting, not broad, and that was our goal from the beginning was to make sure that everything felt grounded and real and relatable. And, I don’t know, she’s like the sexiest, coolest person and manages to play everybody’s mom somehow.”

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