How wide is Susan Sarandon's range as an actress? Wide enough that the "thinking man's sex symbol" of the 1970s and '80s won a best actress Academy Award for playing a nun (in 1995's "Dead Man Walking"). Still sexy at 65, she's set both hearts and film critics aflutter since her 1970 film debut opposite Peter Boyle in "Joe," and in such other movies as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Pretty Baby," "Atlantic City," "The Hunger," "Bull Durham," "Thelma & Louise" and "The Lovely Bones."

Outspoken for liberal causes and occasionally controversial -- she drew umbrage at the Hamptons International Film Festival last year for harsh comments about Pope Benedict XVI -- the New York City-born Sarandon has a daughter -- actress Eva Amurri, with former partner Franco Amurri -- and two sons with former partner Tim Robbins. Her more than half-dozen upcoming films include "Cloud Atlas" with Tom Hanks; Adam Sandler's "That's My Boy"; and "Snitch" with Dwayne Johnson.

Sarandon, who plays the mother of Jason Segel and Ed Helms in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," opening Friday, spoke with frequent Newsday contributor Frank Lovece during a lunch break on the Stamford, Conn., set of Showtime's "The Big C," in which she has a multi-episode arc.

Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, who wrote and directed your new movie, are considered among the originators of the low-budget "mumblecore" film movement . Did you look at their past films and say, "Mumble-what?"

Yeah, but that's why I wanted to do it. I'm always curious about different ways of working and I just thought it would be fun to work in a way where I didn't really know what it was. I like to be outside of my comfort zone. I don't know anymore where my comfort zone is, actually.

This obviously isn't a mumblecore movie, but it does have some of that rambling, slice-of-life feel.

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I believe the way it happened was that they approached me and sent me a copy of "The Puffy Chair," because "Cyrus" wasn't done yet, and I just had a fabulous conversation with the two of them. I knew that Ed [Helms] was really good at improvising, and I'd worked with [co-star] Judy [Greer] also. I really didn't know Jason [Segel], but I thought he seemed really smart and funny and good for that part. I thought it would be fun.

Was it?

Yeah, it was. I love Louisiana and any time I've worked in New Orleans it's always been a very successful and good film. I did "The Client" there, "Pretty Baby," "Dead Man Walking." The only complication was I had been to Haiti right before that and I slipped, and in stopping myself from falling I popped the joint in my big toe. So I was actually on crutches and then in a boot for the whole shoot. So we had to fake some of it, so you couldn't see the boot. I had surgery after the movie was finished and I was really on crutches for quite a while then.

So who's a better kisser: Catherine Deneuve in "The Hunger" or Rae Dawn Chong here?

Oh, well, I spent many days in bed with Catherine, so I would have to go with Catherine! In the beginning there were [crew] people all over the rafters, everybody watching. By the third day no one could have cared less. She was my first, so I was very happy.

Finally, how could I not ask the immortal Janet from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975) how you got involved with what has become probably the movies' biggest cult-film musical.

I was friends with Jamie Donnelly and went to see the show. And when Tim Curry came out onstage, it was one of the most electrifying moments I'd ever seen on stage, and I became close friends with him. So , they said "Why don't you read for Janet?" And I said, "Well, I really can't sing." But I read for it, and she was kind of an extreme version of every ingénue that I'd been playing, and it turned out to be very funny where she'd never been funny before, because they'd always hired people who could sing. And then the movie came out and no one saw it and then it suddenly started leaking out and it became this big deal.

It's one of those funny serendipity kinds of stories. But my entire life is nothing but serendipity. I pride myself on the fact that I'm able to change gears when something crosses my path.