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Susan Sarandon during the Brilliant is Beautiful charity gala dinner at the Grand Millenium hotel in Business Bay, Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Susan Sarandon is as known for shaping a generation of movie-lovers as she is for her long history of activism. Since her first major appearance in the 1970 drama ‘Joe’ — and her breakout role in the 1975 cult classic ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ — Sarandon has been a genre-defying force of Hollywood. [Just think: ‘Thelma & Louise’ (1991), ‘The Client’ (1994), ‘Dead Man Walking’ (1995) and ‘Stepmom’ (1998) — the ‘90s practically belonged to Sarandon.]

But all the while, the New York-native has been just as involved with her global philanthropy efforts. And at 72, she has no intention of abandoning either cause.

The actress was in Dubai on Friday evening to attend Bovet 1822’s Brilliant is Beautiful gala, raising funds for Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) and Dubai Cares. She was joined by fellow actors Ben Stiller and Madeleine Stowe, all contributing to a live artwork by British artist Sacha Jafri that secured the highest bid of the night — according to Stiller’s Instagram, that was $250,000 (Dh918,200).

Asked about Sarandon on the red carpet, Stiller didn’t hesitate: “She’s one of our greatest actresses in America and she’s kind of legendary, really. She’s also one of the funniest people I know, too. She’s really committed to doing good for people and that’s just part of who she is.”

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Ahead of the gala, Sarandon sat down with tabloid! to share the roots of her activism, and why she doesn’t believe anyone — including celebrities — should be disqualified from political discourse.

What was your personal entry point into activism? What was the thing that got you started?

Well, I mean, I was in Washington DC in college at the end of the 60s, beginning of the 70s and that was before the mainstream media was corporate, so you could see everything that was going on. You saw Vietnam, you saw the desegregation of the South. If you were a young person, of course you were involved. You believed you could stop the war and it stopped. You cared about injustice and racism. I just hung on to that, where some people didn’t. Being in this business, I think you have a certain [ability to] not solve problems, or tell people how to vote or anything, but give them information that they’re not getting, because you’re in the media.

You were named UN Goodwill Ambassador in 1999. Ben Stiller, who’s also here, was named a Goodwill Ambassador this year. What would be your advice to him to make the most of the role?

I think Ben knows how to do that. I was just saying, though, that we should team up, because one of the things that happens is when you go into the devastated areas, it’s so overwhelming… [Ben is] really smart. The biggest thing is that you’re exposed to things, and you leave and you want to do so much, and you don’t have the ability to do everything you want.

I choose things if I think they’re going to be fun [or] if I’ll play something that I’ve never played before, depending on who else is in it. But I don’t worry about it if it’s on TV, or on the big screen or little screen — doesn’t matter to me.

- Susan Sarandon

Sometimes that’s very frustrating because you become so involved and then suddenly you’re not there anymore and you’re trying to follow through. Ben was working in Haiti even before the [2010] earthquake, and it’s great to see. We built the school there, classroom by classroom, every year, and so to be able to be with it so many years [later] and see the first graduating class… You get to know people, you get to know the teachers and it doesn’t feel like just a hobby or something. You’re really, really involved.

Oftentimes, you see actors or people in the entertainment industry or athletes get discredited when they’re politically outspoken...

Or they get elected. If they’re bad actors.

What would be your response to people who say, you’re an actor or a singer, so stay out of it?

Well, I’m an American patriot. I mean, I just ask questions and if I have information that people don’t have, then I can give it. But I would never try to tell anyone what to do. But sometimes people need more information. And when you stand up, then people give you information. I don’t think there’s any occupation that disqualifies you. I know that sports figures get a lot of pressure, and now, with the internet, certainly that magnifies the hate and the criticisms. But I think people deserve to have information so they can make decisions.

Also, there’s an enormous amount of good news that you can tell people about, which in this day and age of so much fear is really helpful. When I went to Lesbos a few years ago, I went with the intention of humanising these refugees that were being used as political pawns in the United States… I just went on my own, without an organisation and just took pictures and did interviews and said, ‘Who are you? Where are you from? Why did you leave? Where do you want to be?’ And then posted them with the Huffington Post… When I went back, I went on talk shows, just to try to give people an idea, because nobody was telling their stories. I’m a storyteller. I don’t pretend to be solving the world’s problems, but I think people sometimes don’t have all the information yet.

We see a lot of Hollywood and cinema actors moving to television these days. Is that something you’re interested in, too?

I’ve done a lot of TV. I’ve just finished a stint on ‘Ray Donovan’. This is my second season and that was really, really fun. And then I did a number of months on Feud playing Bette Davis with Jessica Lange doing, what’s her name? I just forgot her name. Oh my god, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. And that was really fun. But I think it just depends on the part. TV traditionally has offered women much better roles, and for older women, too, than film has. I don’t choose by where it’s going to show, or if it’s going to be successful. I choose things if I think they’re going to be fun [or] if I’ll play something that I’ve never played before, depending on who else is in it. But I don’t worry about if it’s on TV, or on the big screen or little screen — doesn’t matter to me.