Susan Sarandon Names the One Thing She’d Change About “Dead Man Walking ”(Exclusive)

While speaking to PEOPLE, the Oscar winner reflects on the 1995 film inspired by Sister Helen Prejean's real-life experiences as a spiritual advisor to inmates on death row

<p>Gramercy Pictures/ Everett</p> From Left: Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon in

Gramercy Pictures/ Everett

From Left: Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon in 'Dead Man Walking'

Susan Sarandon is looking back on her starring role in the 1995 drama Dead Man Walking — and has one note.

Adapted from the non-fiction book by Sister Helen Prejean and her real-life experience as the spiritual adviser of convicted murderers Elmo Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Williams, the movie written and directed by Tim Robbins follows the Catholic nun as she grows close to a prisoner on death row (Sean Penn). Sarandon's portrayal of Prejean earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress that year.

While revisiting the movie nearly 30 years later, Sarandon, 77, first tells PEOPLE that there's nothing she’d change about the movie. "No. I mean, I think that what intrigued me about the book was that this heroine has the choices she has because she keeps making mistakes," the actress says.

"People think that people who challenge the status quo, or who take a stand, just present themselves fully formed and powerful and without doubts and absolutely fearless. That's not what happens," she continues. "People who are trying for change are doing so because they believe a better world is possible. But they don't come in fearless. They come stumbling."

<p>Gramercy Pictures/ Everett</p> Susan Sarandon in 'Dead Man Walking'

Gramercy Pictures/ Everett

Susan Sarandon in 'Dead Man Walking'

Sarandon says that when she read Prejean’s book, that’s what "intrigued" her. "She didn’t say, 'Okay, let's change this.' No. She was drawn in little-by-little and that was very important in all the versions of the script that Tim wrote," Sarandon adds. "It's always surprising to me how many people watch the film more than once. Tim did a brilliant job with it."

Though, the actress adds one footnote to her answer. "I can't think of anything that I would change, except I would give Sean the Academy Award too," she says of her costar, who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor but lost out to Nicolas Cage for his turn in Leaving Las Vegas. (In total, Dead Man Walking earned four nominations and one win during the 68th Academy Awards.)

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Prejean, 85, tells PEOPLE that she agrees with Sarandon about Penn. "He should have gotten one. He should’ve," she says.

She then recounts working with Robbins on the film, saying, "All while Tim Robbins was working on that screenplay, he kept saying 'The nun is in over her head.' And I was. I didn't know anything about the criminal justice system or anything."

When it comes to Sarandon’s award-winning performance, Prejean says, "When you see Susan portraying me going in that prison for the first time with those big wide eyes of hers, it was scary. I had never done anything like that."

<p>Dave Allocca/StarPix </p> From Left: Sister Helen Prejean, Dominic Sivyer and Susan Sarandon at the Tribeca premiere of 'Rebel Nun'

Dave Allocca/StarPix

From Left: Sister Helen Prejean, Dominic Sivyer and Susan Sarandon at the Tribeca premiere of 'Rebel Nun'

Now, Sarandon and Prejean have reunited for the documentary Rebel Nun, which had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, June 6. Directed by Dominic Sivyer and produced by Universal Pictures, the movie explores Prejean’s journey as "America’s leading advocate against the death penalty" and features an appearance by Sarandon.

Over the decades, the two have stayed in touch and notably worked together in 2015 to advocate for death row inmate Richard Glossip, which also drew the attention of Kim Kardashian, who is also featured in Rebel Nun.

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While reflecting on Dead Man Walking, Prejean offers a final takeaway, speaking to the fear that sometimes comes with doing something for the first time and how that may empower someone. "Maybe that can appeal to people too. That when you get involved in stuff you don't know all about it. But you just know there's a deep moral value you see in it and your soul’s drawn to it. Maybe you can help people," she says.

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