in the privacy of her Hollywood home and in the glare of the London limelight
I have a home over here as well as in America,” she told me. “My English house is at Wraysbury, by the Thames, not far from where I was brought up in my parents” hotel at Maidenhead.
“My new home in Los Angeles is always full of friends from England who are just passing through. Most of my close acquaintances are people I have known for years and can feel comfortable with. It’s a kind of home-from-home for them, and the parties I have there are very informal. It’s hard to keep out of the limelight. I suppose I’m a kind of public figure to most people, and the gossip columnists are always writing something about me, but most of it is pure fabrication. There’s no substance to most of the things they say. You have to maintain your own personality if you want to survive in Hollywood. It can be a tough town, but you have to believe in yourself and not be taken in by the glamour of it all.
“I enjoy going to parties in Hollywood, but they’re mostly with people who are in showbusiness. We have the same interests and there’s a lot of shop talk. But don’t think I’m always going out on the town. Sometimes I just stay home and don’t go out for weeks. The newspapers have a certain kind of image of me and they want to uphold it whether there’s any truth or not. I have only to meet a male friend on the street and it becomes fodder for reporters as a ‘hot’ romance.
“My parents are lovely and they know me better than to believe all they read,” revealed Susan. “Neighbours used to come in and tell them about some silly piece of scandal they’d read about me somewhere, but they know it’s not true. You have to condition yourself to reading about these things because it’s all part of the business. My mother used to say that any publicity is good publicity, but I think she’s had second thoughts now. I’d love to have a really happy marriage like my parents. They still kiss and hold hands in public and they’ve been married for thirty years. That’s my secret ambition. To have a white wedding, with lots of rice and confetti, and my future husband in top hat and tails — but I haven’t had the luck to find him yet!
“It’s very difficult to have a private life in this business, because everything you do or say is always being reported. You can feel exploited, but I believe I owe something to the public. You have to accept it and simply resign yourself to the fact. But you can’t shut yourself away like a hermit all the time. My so-called romances, my exploits, are usually blown-up out of all proportion by the press. I’m not happy about many of the things which are written about me, but I have to live with them.
“I love my work and it’s agony sometimes waiting for the right role to come along and wondering if you’ve made the right decision. I’ve made nearly eighteen pictures in the last dozen years, but I’ve only really been satisfied with about five of them. Straw Dogs, Mandingo and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, which was my first all-American role, were fun to do. I’ve also made some pretty bad films, but you learn by your mistakes. I enjoy the challenge of covering a wide range of emotions. I want to play as many different parts as possible. After Straw Dogs I was offered every rape role in town, but I turned them all down.”
Talk switched to Susan’s latest role in Tomorrow Never Comes, a thriller with an anti-violence theme, which she accepted “because I could see the wide range of possibilities the part offered me. I play a night-club singer, Janie, held hostage in a beach bungalow by a former lover who goes berserk and tries to shoot her. I’d worked with Oliver Reed once before on a British picture called The New Spartans, which was never completed, and Peter Collinson had directed me in Up The Junction and Fright.”
Susan then told me of a terrifying experience in Canada, where Tomorrow Never Comes was made. “One night, on location in Montreal, I was going to supper with my Canadian co-star Stephen McHattie, who plays my lover in the film. Our studio-driven car was involved in a crash, and we were lucky to escape with our lives. Our car was hit by a truck, and then ploughed into two other cars. Stephen and I were both knocked unconscious, but fortunately neither of us had any major injuries. It took ambulance men with crowbars forty-five minutes to free me from my seat. They took me to hospital with concussion and a lot of bruises. I had to rest my arm in a sling for several days, as it was badly bruised and very painful. As luck would have it I had arrived in Montreal early for my part in the film but, because of bad weather, they couldn’t shoot any of my scenes as it was meant to be a blazing hot summer’s day and it rained all the time. I still had a large lump on my head after the crash, and I was involved in some pretty physically violent scenes with Stephen. I’m quite fit now, but it was tough at the time. I ached in every joint. There’s no permanent effects, but my body felt as though it were falling apart.”
After The New Spartans was abandoned in London, Susan returned to the United States for A Small Town In Texas, opposite Timothy Bottoms and Bo Hopkins. After that she was off to Mexico for Rene Cardona’s Tintorera, an adventure drama about the men who hunt deadly tiger sharks for the bounty money.
Susan then made her American television debut in a sophisticated science-fiction comedy, “The Final Eye”, set in 1996.
“I was next signed to interview the cowboys in Chile for an American T.V. Special. I spent two weeks in the foothills of the Andes reporting on their life-style and even taking part in some real-life rodeos. It was the most exciting project I’ve ever done.”
Before arriving in Montreal for Tomorrow Never Comes, Susan took a conclusive step on a new career by recording two songs on the latest Cat Stevens album, “Lords Of The Universe.” She reminded me that her stage career began at the age of twelve in the long-running London musical version of “The Sound Of Music,” playing one of the youngest von Trapp children. Although Susan has always loved singing, her only other musical role since then saw her disguised in a red wig as Annie, a Cockney prostitute, opposite Kirk Douglas in the American made-for-T.V. programme, “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.” Then, about two years ago she began writing songs.
“They are rather sad romantic ballads, mainly about rejection, which is a subject I happen to know rather a lot about. But I don’t believe in saying too much until it’s all happened. I don’t want to talk about a new career in singing and composing because acting is still my first love and will always come before all else with me. 1 want to record some of the songs I’ve composed. That’s something new for the future. Otherwise I prefer to live from day to day. Life is always full of surprises, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”