LOS ANGELES - US actress Susan Sarandon says making "Cloud Atlas," adapted from the award-winning British novel, was a joyous theatrical experience in what seemed more like a "circus" than a movie set.
The Oscar-winning "Thelma and Louise" star plays four different characters in the visually rich movie by directing duo Andy and Lana Wachowski (of the "Matrix" saga), which opens in North America on Friday.
The nearly three-hour movie transports the filmgoer through six different eras, from the 19th to the 24th centuries, with a cast that also includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent.
"The structure is different (from the 2004 novel) but the essence is definitely there," said Sarandon, who was given a copy of the novel by the Wachowskis after she appeared in their 2008 movie "Speed Racer."
"I thought the book was amazing but I didn't think they were making a movie. But at a certain point when they had assembled the money and the people, I got a phone call and they just said 'We missed you, why don't you come to Berlin and do this? And we'll send you the script.'
"And I said: 'I'll come'... I hadn't read the script and I didn't know what parts or anything. I said yes, because I just think that they're so brilliant and so much fun and so sweet and I love them."
Sarandon, 66, who won the best actress Oscar for 1995's "Dead Man Walking," added: "I didn't know how they would make it into a movie. But that's their problem. I was up for the adventure and I kind of just jumped."
The film is arresting in that actors play several roles, male and female, in starkly different eras.
"In the book the characters don't have to be played by the same people, and I think that was really genius," Sarandon said.
It evokes the "feeling that being human is not about your color, your gender, time period or anything, but there's some kind of essence. And that's something that just happens subliminally as you watch the film," she said.
Sarandon said she was surprised at the atmosphere on set.
"I got there and it was kind of like a big theatrical repertory company. The spirit of that made me just forget about being nervous. There was just this playfulness that didn't let you be scared for too long," she said.
"I don't think I will ever find this feeling again. You felt like like you were in a circus, and that spirit was contagious," she added.
She admitted she had no idea what the final result would look like, but put her trust in the filmmakers.
"You know how some people are paranoid, have paranoia? Well, there is a word called pronoia, when you just assume that the universe is conspiring for you, not against you.
"I don't know if it's a real word but I believe in pronoia, and I think that the more you expect that, the more it actually works out."
This positive outlook is combined with a disarming modesty.
"For me the addictive part of being an actor, it's two things. The first one is the collaboration. Most of the other art forms are designed to be solitary, but film isn't, theater isn't.
"The second one is that you never feel like you get it right.
"When you see it sometimes you think: 'I wasn't brave enough. Why did I do that?' You try to make it intense and clear, but somehow you muddied it by doing too many things, you're a little lazy.
"And you think, 'Next time I'll get that'."
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