Sarandon Decodes The Dance

In the new romantic comedy "Shall We Dance?" Susan Sarandon plays a woman whose husband (portrayed by Richard Gere) seems to be keeping a secret from her. So she hires a private detective to try to learn the truth.

As she does, Sarandon tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, the woman briefly pauses to ponder the dynamics of marriage. That reflection has real-life implications for anyone in a long-term relationship.

Why, her character is asked, get married? Because, she opines, people need witnesses to their lives, someone to notice them in a world filled with billions upon billions of people.

Asked about that scene, the Oscar-winning actress wonders aloud to Smith, "Why would you ever try to live with another person the rest of your life, especially if you're an independent woman? Why would you ever do that?"

Yet Sarandon, 58, and Tim Robbins, 45, have been together, though not married, for 17 years. "It's just," she says, "you decide at a certain point in your life, maybe you don't look toward the door to see if something better is coming in. Tim happens to be one-stop shopping. He's got a lot of the things I consider really important."

"At a certain point, this business about witnessing also holds true for friends. If meaning is going to be in your life, you have to give it because really, what does one life matter? So your witnesses kind of show the arc of your character, how you become a protagonist in your own life."

Sarandon says her character is more upset with Gere lying about his whereaouts than what it turns out he is doing (taking dance lessons).

"(My character is) his best friend. Why couldn't he tell (her?)? So I think it's the lie."

"I personally could - I've never had to - but I could forgive an indiscretion of a physical nature. But if somebody writes somebody a poem, that would really upset me."

Sarandon was very close to Christopher Reeve, who died Oct. 10 of complications from an infection. She was one of only a handful of invitees to a private memorial service for Reeve.

"Even though he was challenged that way (being confined to a wheelchair since a 1995 accident), he was so vital."

"He accomplished so much, even in his passing. The timing of this is so ironically relevant because it's pushed the stem cell question even more vividly into the public's mind. So he accomplished something even in the timing of his death."

Sarandon says it's not widely known, but Reeve had a great sense of humor: "Sometimes you think of activists as humorless guilt trippers and everything. But he was really fun."

Sarandon is also in the remake of "Alfie," which opens early next month.