Actually, we're pretty sure you know him, you probably just don't realize it yet. After all, it was Chris Sarandon who played Jack Skellington, the lead role in The Nightmare Before Christmas and the fruit-obsessed vampire next door, Jerry Dandridge, in the original Fright Night. He was also Chucky's original nemesis, Det. Mike Norris, in Child's Play and the villainous groom-to-be, Prince Humperdink, in The Princess Bride.
He's the ultimate "Oh, that guy!" Sarandon took a break from taking care of his grandson to talk to Moviefone about, well, everything.
A lot of people will recognize your last name because of your first wife. So, we gotta know, when you see her name in a trailer or on a movie poster, does it feel kind of weird? No, not necessarily. I'm used to it by now. This was a long time ago, when Susan and I were together, and we were both very young. I was in my early 20s and she was 18 or 19 when we met, and we were together for about ten or 12 years. We both live very different lives now and we're both very happy. So, I think it's great -- it's her name now. It's who she became, so I certainly don't begrudge her the name.
Did you help her break into the business? Well, sort of. We were both in school together and then after school I got a job in New Haven, Connecticut at the Long Wharf Theatre and Susan was doing assorted things just to make a little money here and there. She had graduated from college and I from graduate school. We were living in New Haven. I was making very little money at The Long Wharf Theatre, working on the first rung of the ladder when you're an equity actor. The guy who ran the theatre, and directed a number of the shows I was in, Arvin Brown, had an agent who was very interested in me and asked me to come in and audition. Arvin said to the agent, 'Just tell Chris what to do,' and she said, 'Well, he should come in with someone and do a scene.' So, I said to Susan, 'Come on, come with me and we'll do a scene together.' She said 'Fine,' and we both went in and they signed both of us on the spot.
You got an Oscar nod for playing Al Pacino's pre-op transsexual wife Leon Shermer in Dog Day Afternoon, but it was 1975, so was this a role that could've risked your career? Well, I didn't see it that way. I think there were certainly people around at the time who did. Gay liberation was in its infancy, it was very early on in the general population's awareness of gay characters in literature, on film, on television and on stage. So, I think probably there were people who thought, 'Gee, why do you, a straight actor, want to play this role and be pigeonholed in some way?' But, it was a great script, the people involved were the best around: Sidney Lumet was a great, great film director, John Cazale was amazing, and I knew Al from a previous show that I'd done. He was going out with a woman in the show that I was in. So, I knew Al socially and by then he was a pretty major star. The script was fabulous and I just thought, 'Gee, you know, I'll be lucky to be cast in this part,' and it was a great part.
What attracted you to the part specifically, just the gender dichotomy? Not so much the gender dichotomy. It was the fact that this was the story of a love affair gone very wrong and, in a sense, this was everyone's story of a dysfunctional relationship. It wasn't necessarily about gay or straight, it was just about dysfunctional relationships and how they can end in these tragic comic ways. In that sense, that's what was great about it, the script wasn't written from the point of view of gay characters necessarily, but just those people who are having difficulty in their relationships and the extreme lengths to which they will go to try to rectify the situation."
What was the Oscar nomination experience like? In a way, it was almost surreal. At the time, this was all very new to me. We had done very limited publicity. The studio had done limited publicity for me for the movie because I think they thought to themselves that I was a long shot in terms of getting a nomination and I didn't take it that seriously. Then, when it was announced that I was nominated, I was thrilled of course, but it was the same year as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and there was a nomination for that movie. Plus, the person who ultimately won, George Burns, was nominated for The Sunshine Boys. So there were a number of factors that mitigated my winning anyway.
So, you walk down the red carpet, then there's this aisle that you walk up, with fans on either side, and it was interesting because we're walking up this thing and people scream, 'Chris! Chris! Chris!' and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I'm pretty hot shit here!' and halfway through a red carpet interview, I realize they weren't screaming for me anymore, they were screaming for the next person coming down. So, it really put things in perspective; the attention and adulation is transitory and it really has nothing to do with the work. It's a kind of beauty contest, in a way -- a very prestigious one -- but, it's not why we do it. Acting is about the process and that's what the evening brought to the forefront for me.
You're probably best known for the role of Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride. I had read the book many years before, when the film rights were owned by Robert Redford and he was trying to do it, but could never quite get it together. Ultimately, when I heard it was being done as a film, I thought, 'Oh God, this is fabulous. I love that book. I just want to go in and read for it.' I did, I got it and the experience lived up to every expectation that I had because we were a very collegial group. We had a really good time. We were together in the midlands of England for six to eight weeks before going back to London to shoot in the studio. We hung out together and ate together every night. We all went to the set together and we were all staying in the same small hotel and it was an almost perfect experience.
Do you have any Andre the Giant memories? Andre was one of the sweetest human beings alive, just the nicest man. My children were just dying to see Andre. My two girls -- my third children hadn't been born yet -- were four and two at the time and they kept bugging me: 'There's a giant in the movie? I want to see the giant. What's the giant like, Daddy? Is he as big as a house? As big as a car? What's he like? What's he like?'
Jump to a couple weeks later, there's finally an opportunity for them to meet him. He's sitting in his trailer, which was a specially-made trailer just for him because he was so immense. We walk in, I'm carrying one of the children and I think there was a nanny with us who was carrying another, we walk up the steps, turn the corner and Andre is down at the other end sitting in a chair and he got up to greet them -- he was only 15 to 20 feet away -- and they started to scream. They were just terrified out of their wits. We had to take them away and calm them down. It was just so embarrassing. I went to Andre afterwards and I said, 'Andre, I'm so sorry. They were so anxious to meet you and for them to have this reaction...' He said, 'No, no, no, don't worry please, either they run to me or they run away from me!' And that was Andre. He had a very philosophical way of looking at his unusualness.
Many people say their favourite role of yours is Jack Skellington in the The Nightmare Before Christmas. I've noticed that it has an enduring influence on the goth subculture. Why do you think that is? First of all, it was one of the first great stop-motion animation films. Also, the story is very unusual, it comes from that vivid imagination of Tim Burton. Even though Tim didn't direct it (Henry Selick did), the vision was Tim's, the story was Tim's and it was executed brilliantly. There are so many little details in the movie, so many incredible visual jokes and macabre little touches all the way through the movie It's done with such artistry that it's one of a kind.
What was working with Tim Burton like? After we finished the animation with Henry, and once the movie was all put together, I went back in the studio with Tim and he and I went through the whole picture and re-did a few scenes. It was stuff I wasn't happy with and stuff that Tim had questions about. He's a lovely man and a wonderful person to work with. He has this great openness and is very giving and very collaborative.
Jack Skellington is a role you keep going back to over and over in video games and theme park rides, so would you be up for a movie sequel? I'm always happy when Disney calls and says, 'We're doing ringtones now, come in.' Yeah, I'd be up for a sequel, but I've never heard anything about a sequel being done, so I don't think that will necessarily ever happen. Tim has moved on to other things.
So, which Fright Night vampire would win in a fight, your original Jerry Dandridge or Colin Farrell's Jerry Dandridge in last year's remake? [Laughs] I leave that one up to the vampire gods. I have no idea. I have a feeling that Jerry number two would be a tough customer because, and we had conversations about this, Colin went for a much more animalistic Jerry, just to create a different point of view for the character. So, I don't know the answer. They're both pretty powerful guys.
Both characters have this weird obsession with fruit, what's up with that? I will take credit for that one. Initially, we were first doing work on the movie and [the writer and director] Tom Holland, very graciously, allowed us to rehearse and create histories for our characters. One of the things that I thought was interesting, as I was reading about bats, vampire bats and what have you, was that the vast majority of bats are not vampire bats, they're fruit bats. So I thought, wouldn't it be interesting if somewhere in his DNA, Jerry had some fruit bat and just had fruit cravings, as well as the obvious blood lust. Tom thought it was a great idea, so we sort of ran with it and did a number of things in the movie that use that. I'm flattered that they chose to pick that up in the second one.
You're one of the only actors I know who has played both a vampire and Jesus Christ. What's the secret to playing the Christian messiah? Is it the look? You gotta just approach him like he's a guy, there's no other way around it. The fact is, this was a real historical figure and he was not a God when he was walking the earth. Depending on your theological point of view, you may take exception to my description, but the fact is, he was a man. If you're of the opinion that he became one with the father, et cetera, et cetera, the fact remains that he was born of a woman, he walked the earth, he was a great, great teacher and someone who had to be given life. This is the only way you can approach it, which is to say, 'What would this guy do when presented with these circumstances? What if?' If you start thinking, 'Oh boy, I'm playing Jesus Christ. What am I going to do?' then you're in big trouble.
You can meet Sarandon yourself at Canada's Fan Expo, which takes place in Toronto from August 23-26.