The line encircling the block around the City Opera House was incredibly long, all early risers anticipating the Susan Sarandon/Michael Moore interview. The star of Thelma and Louise was in Traverse City to receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award which she successfully renamed the Mid-Life Achievement Award. Every seat in the City Opera House was taken, and still 200 to 300 people lined up around the block had to be turned away. But not before Susan and Michael went outside to give them a pep talk before going onstage. “I give good alley,” Susan joked.
Twenty minutes later, comfortably seated together on the City Opera House stage, it was not clear who was interviewing whom. In fact it wasn’t an interview at all but more like eavesdropping on an intimate living-room, fireside chat between two friends, with Susan’s dog Penny adding the aura of domestic bliss. Michael confided their conversation would probably not end up on YouTube, as festival audiences were loyally discreet. They talked about unfortunate Eve in the Garden of Eden, 9/11 in NYC, gun control with the allowance for muskets (hard to conceal), the Occupy Movement, the Koch Brothers, drone missiles, and America’s fear-based culture. Michael began by saying the two of them were on the same Enemies List. Soft spoken, feminine, and eloquent throughout the entire session Susan admitted it was lonely to be on that list, and, looking at Michael, confided that is why “I love this man.” She related how Bill O’Reilly had conned her Republican mother into appearing on his TV show where there was a montage of her yelling, which in truth was her cheering at a hockey game. She lamented it was scary to feel hate from a stranger. She teared up telling how once while nursing her child in a protected environment someone called her a “Commie ****” in front of her other children. Another time on Christopher Street in NYC someone screamed from a car, “You should die.” NYC is usually progressive, she said, how do you explain that to your kids? She went on to say we have to take the real meaning of the word patriot back again. Michael visibly moved responded, “So few are willing to speak up, we are blessed and honored to have you here.” The City Opera House audience spontaneously rose to its feet and gave Susan a resounding standing ovation. If there were any political dissenters in the crowd they sheepishly joined in.
The spell was broken, opening up the floodgates to light-hearted Hollywood banter and soon brought back that cozy fireside feeling. Susan and Michael reminisced about a star-studded pre-Oscar dinner they had attended with Gore Vidal, the writer who had just passed away. The other guests, including Tim Robbins, George Clooney, and Sean Penn, each made up an acceptance speech for Michael just in case he won. Sean told Michael, “Don’t speak; just stare.” In his speech Gore quoted Jefferson for 15 minutes. Susan eulogized that Gore was funny, witty, and acerbic; scratch a cynic and find a romantic underneath. He was the godfather of her youngest child, and extremely awkward with babies. Susan revealed Kevin Costner had strongly backed her for her role in Bull Durham. Both Kevin and Clint Eastwood subsequently supported her and Tim Robbins in the political controversy surrounding the commemoration of the movie at the Baseball Hall of Fame. She admitted Kevin was a good kisser, Michael said he would like to say the same thing about Clint.
Talk turned to politics again, and both Susan and Michael revealed themselves as less than ardent Obama supporters. Susan confessed that off the record, she doesn’t know where she stands with the White House. She had trouble getting a security clearance in Washington to be on a panel for foreign aid. Michael admitted he is appalled and disgusted by the drone attacks, the five U.S. wars, and acts of violence. He wished Obama was something he never was; he didn’t want to admit he will support Obama, but he will vote. And how could he ever say “President Romney.” In his second term “maybe Obama will be the Obama we want him to be,” he continued.
Michael could now joke about his enemies saying to him “I hope you die” then leaving cakes and cookies on his doorstep to broaden his waistline and shorten his life span. He is convinced that the majority of Americans are liberals with the exception of the death penalty. He is greatly impressed by the new generation because racism has lessened. Susan said she was “here” because all her plans had failed, she fell into movies: it was serendipity. She lives in NYC, has no publicist or manager, and took time off to have kids. She sees herself as a character actor, already having started character roles at age 20, while others have fallen by the wayside. She advised the audience to “follow your hearts” and find something that makes you special. Her future plans are to keep up her Twitter account for Penny (mspennypuppy), learn Spanish, attempt to kite surf, buy a residence, a piece of earth for each of her children, travel, and be up for adventures, Serendipity works, she beamed.
Almost two hours had passed, and as Susan and Michael rose to leave the stage the audience once again sprang to its feet enveloping the star and the filmmaker in another heartfelt standing ovation.