Susan Sarandon Loves Hotels and Wants to Take the Train More
Susan Sarandon talks about birthday cakes in the Grand Canyon, her airplane binge-watching habit, and how her son showed her another side of Japan. But before all that, we had to talk about our doorman.
The first thing I thought about when I was interviewing Susan Sarandon (aside from yes, how incredible she looks at 73) is how normal she made it feel to be in the presence of an actual movie star, one who also happens to be a political activist and an endlessly curious traveler.
In fact, she and I used to live in the same prewar co-op in New York’s West Village. I’d go pick up my mail and see “S. Sarandon” on the mailbox. It all felt very New York and very normal. When we met at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace in Geneva, where she was filming part of an ad campaign as Fairmont’s newest global brand ambassador, we spent the first few minutes catching up on a doorman who left our building under mysterious circumstances.
But of course, she isn’t your “normal” next-door neighbor—she is, without a doubt, an iconic persona for her long-lasting career and most recently, for championing the causes she believes in, no matter who disagrees with her. We overuse the word iconic in travel, to describe hotels, experiences, and moments. Few things actually live up to the lofty word. Sarandon does, and so did the hotel, which has overlooked Lake Geneva since 1906.
Fairmont chose her because Sarandon and the brand share “a spirit of adventure, a passion for thinking globally and acting locally, and a history of turning words into action,” said Sharon Cohen, vice president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The campaign will debut worldwide this spring.
In our talk, Sarandon embodied a free-wheeling, free-spirited vibe, but she clearly knows her stuff and has spent time with the best experts, scientists, and guides in the world. She talked about making travel an essential part of her children’s lives, seeing the human costs of climate change, and using travel time to catch up on pop culture.
But sitting in her hotel suite, watching swans and rowers on the lake, we started with hotels.
Why do you love hotels?
First of all, somebody else is making my bed. I love room service and I love the security of a hotel. I love well-run hotels, even little boutique-y ones, and find them all so interesting. I don’t want to be isolated in a house somewhere by myself. I love hotels.
Is there a place you’ve traveled with your kids that especially sticks out?
Travel really opens you up and humbles you simultaneously. I’ve always dragged my kids on every spring break somewhere and, during the summer, sometimes for months at a time. That’s one of the things I’ve given them that has made them adaptable and flexible and also incredibly empathetic and tolerant. And not all luxury hotels, either. They’ve been very, very lucky, and I have the scrapbooks to prove it.
We spent six weeks in Bali. At one point, one of my boys said, can we not go see something old today? So we started alternating going to temples and staying at the pool.
We went to Morocco one year for Christmas, and the king was so kind to us in helping us organize the trip. I produced Stepmom, and one of the things I made sure of was that I was dead in that movie before Christmas break. I had been losing weight for the role and wanted to eat on vacation. We went to Fez first, then Marrakech, and Essaouira by plane.
In the U.S., I organized a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon with Grand Canyon Expeditions. There were 13 of us, and my kids brought friends. The youngest was turning 10, and they managed to bake a cake for his birthday in the middle of the Grand Canyon.
Is the thrill of wanderlust still there as you’ve gotten older?
It definitely is. I didn’t do much traveling on my own when my kids were young. It’s easier now, even though I want to see my kids whenever I can, and I’m sure I’ve bribed them with lots of travel and trips.
I had a tradition in my family—when everybody turned eight, they’d go someplace they hadn’t been before with just me. I took my daughter with some scientists to Puerto Rico, I took one son on safari in South Africa, and another son to Manaus, Brazil, to a monkey rescue reserve and on to the Amazon, where we had connections and helped try to map the territories of certain tribes.
Even now, I like to corner my kids in a travel situation where we’re one on one. My youngest boy became fascinated with Japan early on, learned Japanese, and every time he saves a little money, he goes. We went together once and I told him to show me his Japan. We went to Kyoto and stayed in a ryokan because he’d never spent that kind of money, but the rest of the time, we low-balled it and he took me to little bars that have eight seats. We went to the Art Island [Naoshima]. He’s a DJ, so he’s fascinated by that culture.
I know climate change is an important cause to you. Has that affected your personal travel decisions?
I love taking trains and I’d like to do more train trips. There is one through Scotland that I’m very curious about, and when I went to Machu Picchu I took a train. Any time I go to D.C., I take the train. And living in New York City, you don’t really have to drive. My youngest doesn’t even have a driver’s license, and he’s 26.
There is the element of being aware of climate change and also aware of what climate is doing in displacing people.
There is so much instability. I was in Lesbos, Greece, for 11 days at Christmas the first year the climate refugee crisis exploded. They are still stuck in Lesbos. There are so many desperate people and families.
You’ve filmed all over the world. What filming locations stand out? Where do you want to go next?
Recently, I was filming in West Wittering outside of London. We were there for two months and had the most divine time. I was eating things like treacle pudding and shepherd’s pie.
I didn’t spend enough time in Ireland when I did a play there. I want to go back to all the fishing villages. Both Northern Ireland and the south really interest me. I was supposed to go to Turkey when all the trouble started and I want to go one day.
I loved sailing through Indonesia and just came back again. You have to look this up, it’s called Silolona, and the yacht is this amazing wooden Captain Hook type of boat that is so elegant, and the food is unbelievably delicious. I’ve done it twice in different areas of Indonesia, and it’s just so beautiful for snorkeling.
Back home, what are some of your favorite restaurants in New York?
We don’t go out that often, but if you want to go high end, Le Coucou is really delicious. We’ve been going to a place called Basta Pasta, an Italian restaurant that started in Japan, since my kids were tiny. I was just there the other night, and they’re doing so well. I like abcV for delicious vegetarian food. And I love La Mercerie in SoHo, with the most beautiful, unaffordable things for sale.
Do you binge-watch TV and movies on the plane?
I haven’t owned a TV for 15 years, so I’m culturally way behind. So I’ll discover stuff on a plane. I watched Chernobyl, which was excellent, on a recent long flight. I had two wisdom teeth out the other day, and watched all of Succession in succession. I’ll watch anything by David Attenborough over and over again.