From glamorous actress to high-powered producer, Susan George has proved she’s a movie star to be reckoned with
When Susan George announced that she was becoming a film producer her greatest fear – not being taken seriously – was evident from the start. Some could not contain their bemused amazement. I mean, everyone knew Susan: blonde, glamorous, seductive. But a film producer? Do me a favour.
So the shoulder-length hair which had been her hallmark for so long was cropped short; well-cut business suits replaced dresses, and designer handbags were dumped in favour of a leather briefcase. Financial men who had been looking forward to meeting Susan George, highly fanciable actress, suddenly discovered they were dealing with a single-minded businesswoman determined to get her own way.
What is more, she has done just that. With actor husband Simon MacCorkindale – and, yes, his beefcake good looks originally raised a few smiles too – she makes her debut as Executive Producer of a £4 million film called Stealing Heaven (showing from April 28). With just two assistants they have formed a company called Amy International (named after Susan’s role in Straw Dogs which first won her international fame), raised the money, hired the cast, made the film and are now getting it on to Britain’s best cinema circuit.
By any standards it’s a great achievement. But considering Stealing Heaven tells the true story of doomed lovers Abelard and Heloise and is set in 12th century France, it’s even greater. The obstacles were enormous,” observes Susan. “Firstly, it’s a period picture and, secondly, it is a love story. When I first read the script I said to Simon: It is so beautiful, we’ll never get it made.'” But apart from that original caution Susan George has wielded the renowned weapon of her total optimism to brilliant effect. Top stars like Denholm Elliot, Rachel Kempson and Bernard Hepton loved the script too and readily agreed to be in it. She also picked the virtually unknown Kim Thomson, 28, to play Heloise, who ages from an innocent 16-year-old to a mature and faithful lover.
Kim’s love scenes with actor Derek de Lint, as the supposedly chaste religious philosopher Peter Abelard, are powerfully passionate. “It was important to me that those scenes were not gratuitous,” says Susan. I insisted on being there while they were shot, simply because I know from experience how difficult it can be for the actors involved. Fortunately, Kim trusted us to shoot the scenes in the right way.
If it feels odd to be discussing the finer points of film-making, finance and direction with Susan George, then it’s exactly the same for her too. ‘The thing I have taken longest to get used to is that I am not in front of the camera and talking about the film from the point of view of the actress,” she says.
So what of Susan now? For a start, it’s comforting to report that the hair is back to its familiar length and she looks as glamorous as ever.
With yet another Amy International Film on stocks called White Roses, this time starring herself, Rod Steiger and Tom Conti, it has been proved she can do the business as a producer. She no longer has to rely totally on looking the part. But there is no doubt that the experience and non-stop seven-day working weeks have brought some changes into her life: The truth is that now our first film is about to come out, we are both worn out,” she says.
“I have discovered that there is even more rejection in being a film producer than an actress. And there is an awful lot of compromise – which is a word that does not exist in my dictionary.”
She also has some reservations about the lifestyle it has brought, despite personal happiness in marriage to Simon: “I always swore that if I did this business I would never allow it to dig into my personal life,” she says.
“I care a great deal more about living life than anything else. The one thing I really believe in is shutting off at the end of the day.” She gives a resigned sigh: “At the moment, it is just not happening. Simon and I talk about little else but our business.
“Fortunately, I am able to cut off and do other things. Our different personalities complement each other and I try and make Simon change gear. But I know what he is feeling. Time is being eaten away as never before.
“Weekends have disappeared completely in work and we have so far had to cancel two holidays. The current price of success in film producing is not having enough time to really enjoy it!”
On the prospect of children of her own, too, there has hardly been a moment. Susan is 38 and for years led a bachelor girl existence, between homes in Los Angeles and Berkshire, as she pursued a hugely successful acting career in 30 films. ‘The reason I am thinking about having a child now is that the time is right,” she says. “As I have done so many things I can hardly feel that I am missing out in any way.”
In the meantime, Susan’s greatest production is Stealing Heaven: “I am still happiest in front of the camera,” she reflects. “And when I was casting I could not help becoming emotionally involved. I wanted every actress to succeed — because I’ve been in that situation myself so many times.”
Her attitude earned some tough advice from director Clive Donner: “Cut yourself off and don’t get upset on their-behalf,” he told her. Says Susan: “He was absolutely right and fortunately there is just not the time.”
There is a feeling that time is one thing that Susan would desperately like much more of at the moment. “I have always wanted to control my own destiny,” she says. “And I am doing what it takes to get there.”