By Vanessa McCray
TRAVERSE CITY — Susan Sarandon arrived about 20 minutes late for her Traverse City Film Festival panel.
But the actress had a good excuse for the Wednesday morning delay at the packed City Opera House.
She and Festival Founder Michael Moore first held an informal, impromptu meet-and-greet in the alley outside the venue with the people who couldn't get into the official event. The two kept up the easy, friendly tone on stage at the Opera House, where Sarandon's dog curled up in her chair.
Their banter veered from Hollywood to Washington. The setting was casual, but the conversation at times turned serious. Get these two together, and it seems natural talk would turn political.
Sarandon, a New Yorker, recalled life in the city after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At first, she said everyone came together and "took care of each other." Then, about a week and a half later: "The questioning stopped and all of the grief turned to hatred that needed to land somewhere," she said.
"It was harnessed into this 'You're either with us or against us;' and that's when the questions had to stop," she said.
The outspoken actress said it's why she loves Moore, the documentary filmmaker who doesn't shy from voicing his views.
"It's lonely being on those lists," said Sarandon, who also is known for supporting liberal political causes, including involvement in the Madison, Wis., union rally and other protests.
Her strong views led to hostility from strangers and "scary" encounters, she said, and she grew teary as she recounted a few experiences. Moore heralded her for pressing on.
"So few people are willing to have the courage to stand up when they see something that's wrong and speak up as you did then and as you always have," Moore said, leading to a standing ovation from the crowd.
The transition from the morning's most emotional moment to the next, more frivolous topic was quick.
"So what's it like working with Kevin Costner?" Moore asked.
"Great kisser," Sarandon volleyed back, adding her "Bull Durham" co-star is also a "natural athlete."
The rest of Moore and Sarandon's talk ranged from gun violence (Sarandon said the nation's forefathers were using muskets); fear-based marketing; the "socialization" of boys (compromise and showing a "gentle" side is discouraged); and memories of friend and writer Gore Vidal, who died Tuesday.
Sarandon also shared a few items on her to-do list such as learning Spanish, kite surfing, traveling and working in documentaries.
Her tips to make it in Hollywood, however, were less specific. She credited her whole life to serendipity and her career to "happenstance."
"I'm here because all my plans failed," she said, adding she never lived in Los Angeles or studied acting and took time off to have her children.
"I've been very, very fortunate, but I have no words of wisdom to anybody except find what you're good at. Find what makes you special," she said.