Susan Sarandon Says Filming ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ Was ‘Very Tough’

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show is probably one of the most famous cult-classic films or musicals to ever have been produced. To this day, it’s shown in theaters where fans will attend, dressed up and ready to join the performance in front of the theater screen. But Susan Sarandon, who starred as Janet in the infamous film, says that it was actually quite difficult to film. She caught pneumonia, there were numerous fires, and she had no place to live!

Susan Sarandon Said Rocky Horror Picture Show Gave Her Pneumonia

Speaking to Rachel Ray in 2017, the two women were sitting at a table as Sarandon was prompted to give stories about productions that she’s been a part of. Rocky Horror Picture Show came up and she had to give an impromptu anecdote.

“Here’s a cautionary tale,” she said. “If you’re going to be months in London in the winter with a set [where] the roof is leaking, do not be in your underpants and bra. I got pneumonia and was performing a lot of it sick. And then the doctor said, ‘well, she can come but you have to find someplace where it’s warm.’ So, they put a screen around a space heater and the whole thing caught on fire. Luckily, nobody was in there. And then my trailer also caught on fire later. So, it was an eventful shoot.”

Tim Curry Inspired Sarandon to Audition

In another sit-down, this time for Vanity Fair, Susan Sarandon elaborated a little more about the details of filming Rocky Horror Picture Show. Apparently, she was terrified of singing— which couldn’t have helped with pneumonia! But she loved Tim Curry’s performance, so she actually took a gamble to be part of the film.

My agents definitely felt I was insane to want to do Rocky Horror Show,” she said. “I had another film which I left to do the Rocky Horror Show. One of the reasons I got involved was because of Tim Curry. When Tim came out in that opening the first time, his entrance still remains one of the most electric performances and moments on stage history that I’ve ever seen.

And then they came back in to cast the movie, and I went by just to say hi… He said, ‘Oh my god, would you read for Janet?’ And I said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t sing, and I’m really phobic about it.’ And they said, ‘Well come on, you can sing. Come on. Try hitting this note. Can you sing Happy Birthday?’ And I thought, ‘You know what? When I get there, they’ll give me alcohol or drugs or something, and that’ll help get me through. Of course, they didn’t.

Susan Sarandon, via Vanity Fair

Sarandon added that the other people who tried out for Janet could sing but weren’t funny at all. And Sarandon saw a connection between Janet and “every ingenue” that she’d played before, so she tapped into the role. Of course, she was cast!

Sarandon Was Homeless After Her Trailer Caught on Fire

She added that while she loved the cast and crew of Rocky Horror, they didn’t have much downtime. Partly, that was because the budget was only $1.2 million. Considering how intricate the sets were, they couldn’t afford to provide much in the way of typical Hollywood comforts. Plus, they were in London, not California, so it was cold!

Sarandon said it was “a very, very tough shoot,” marred by freezing temperatures and no studio heat. Plus, one of the two locations was an old house with not much of a roof. So, precipitation would leak onto them while they were filming.

After catching walking pneumonia and her trailer catching on fire, Sarandon had nowhere to live. Worse, her agents — the same ones who thought she was crazy for wanting to do Rocky Horror — didn’t really care about the homeless situation.

“I didn’t have anywhere to live,” Sarandon told Vanity Fair. “They kept moving me every few weeks. When you’re in these situations, you have to call your agent and have them do something. But my agents didn’t really respond at that time. But, anyway, it looked like we had fun, right?”

Rocky Horror Picture Show Is Still a Historical Cultural Event

The hard work and dedication certainly paid off, though. The film has never lost traction and Sarandon will forever be a major part of its history.

“When they tried to release it, everybody just was like, ‘What is this animal that we have?’ And thanks to two guys at Fox that started releasing it to gay cinemas and art houses, suddenly that thing happened, and I’m very proud to be part of that.”

Tim Curry’s character, in case you didn’t know, is a fabulously eccentric Transylvanian transvestite, mad scientist Dr. Frank-n-Furter. Of course, this made the film resonate in the hearts of many in the LGBTQ community.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has garnered over $226 million at the worldwide box office. To this day, it’s screened annually and remains a favorite of theatre troops and the LGBTQ community. It’s even part of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as a film that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

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