Susan Sarandon in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

The fifth edition of the International Rome Film Festival may still be some eight months away, but in the meantime The Fondazione Cinema per Roma kicked off its 2010 series of encounters with Hollywood actors and directors - Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema) – yesterday evening, with an interview with Susan Sarandon in the sold-out Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica.

Seen in person, Susan Sarandon really is stunningly beautiful, yet her droll, often self-effacing sense of humour, combined with a down to earth attitude, made for a relaxed conversational atmosphere with the evening's hosts, Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, who asked questions mixed with clips from some of her screen performances, although on this occasion at her own request, there was a far longer Q & A session with members of the audience too.

The opening clip from the iconic Ridley Scott road movie Thelma & Louise led to probably the most detailed discussion of the evening about the specific development of any one role, as she discussed changes to the script and her own input as an actress in the shaping of Louise's character. Other clips - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (paired, somewhat bizarrely, with Shall We Dance); Atlantic City and Pretty Baby (both directed by Loius Malle); The Client and her Oscar winning performance in Dead Man Walking - served more as springboards to wider discussions about the state of cinema today. Asked what impact her older movies have on her when she watches them again, she laughed and said that very often she hadn't even watched them first time round, and instead preferred to focus her attention on her work on the set, rather than thinking too much about the final result. As a mother of three children, she also said that it was pretty much impossible to remain in character off a film set although challenging roles such as that of Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking stayed with her more than others.

Susan Sarandon is certainly no stranger to Rome, having lived here during the mid-1980s. Indeed, she had her first child here – actress Eva Amurri - with Roman film director and writer Franco Amurri after having been told she would never be able to conceive. I always tell people who have been trying to have a baby that they should just go to Rome and eat good food and it will happen – she joked at one point, and also pointed out members of her Italian family who were present in the audience.

At the end of the evening she seemed in no hurry to leave the stage and generously signed numerous autographs, shook hands with the fans who rushed to the stage and posed for photographs.