By Fred Topel | Image property of Warner Independent Pictures.
Susan Sarandon fans should be warned. Though she is featured prominently on the poster for In the Valley of Elah, she has a small role in the film. The actress herself was unsure whether she should play the role of a grieving mother of an Iraq war veteran.
Sarandon Walks In the Valley of Elah
“It's a little misleading when you see the trailer and my entire part's in the trailer,” she joked. “It was a small part. It was even smaller when he asked me to do it and I didn't know what to do with it. It just seemed like there really wasn't a point of view in terms of her character. Then he worked on it a little bit more. She had no voice. I didn't know who she was. I don't mind doing a small part when you at least have a couple meaty scenes to tell you who this person is. I don't think he had thought about her point of view at all. So it wasn't the size as much as I just didn't understand why she was even there. She didn't function in any way.”
The Oscar winner even disagreed with writer/director Paul Haggis on elements that were already in place with her character. At one point, she bawls that her husband took away both of their boys. It is the only mention in the film that they’d had a child prior to the one on whose death the film centers.
“I actually had an objection to the fact that there were two boys. I didn't understand why you needed that first boy. I didn't know how that had affected our relationship and I felt that it was somewhat manipulative. Wasn't one enough? But he felt that it was important because they'd gotten through one and now were challenged by another one. He was adamant about that so that didn’t get changed. That was in there but that was about it. So he made it a little bit more something to hold onto.”
In the Valley of Elah
After embellishing the character a bit, Sarandon felt comfortable taking the part. It was a story she wanted to be a part of. “I also felt that it was really time to deliver something which acknowledged that war does terrible things to people and takes really good people and fucks them up in a way that is pretty significant. We've had a real disconnect between the politicized war and the actual war and I thought that this was a good way to start a dialogue. It's a very clever film because it's a whodunit and everything else. I thought it stood a good chance of being a good film.”
Famous for her outspoken Oscar speeches, Sarandon felt In the Valley of Elah was apolitical. “I think it's not about if the war was right or wrong. It's about who's left afterwards. It's about, again, the effects that a war, especially a war where you're not fighting people in uniforms, it's a civilian population and you have nowhere to be safe, what that does to somebody. I would hope that would skew to everybody because we're not taking responsibility for these people when they come back.”
In the Valley of Elah opens to theaters on September 14th.