Desperately seeking Susan
THE wide hazel eyes are as brilliant as ever, the blonde hair which led to comparisons with Bardot still luxuriant, but these days Susan George has a new role — protector.
At 38, Susan has taken under her wing the talented young actress Kim Thomson, star of the new six million dollar film Stealing Heaven, the story of the doomed lovers Abelard and Heloise.
It is 28-year-old Kim’s first film and Susan’s first venture as a producer. The two women worked together for several months, and got on famously.
Amazingly Susan, who is married to actor Simon MacCorkindale, has just clocked up 20 years in the movie business, and her young protegee was eager to seek her help and advice.
So what tips could the star with 32 films behind her give to the younger girl just setting out on her career?
‘Decide whether you want to be a working actress or a film star,’ says Susan. ‘There is a big difference, and you have to make the clarification for yourself.’
What happens, then, If Kim’s private life becomes public? ‘I would encourage her to haye a great life and not worry about it,’ answers the star of Straw Dogs, who’s been dealt some cruel cards by gossip columns.
‘If she wants to go out with somebody and be seen, she should, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. I wasn’t furtive about my relationships, and she shouldn’t be. But I would never dictate to anyone else how to live their life.
‘I would say to her that life isn’t a rehearsal. This is it, and she should go for it and not miss a trick.’
Kim says: ‘I want to be a star, I have to confess to that. But not just for the sake of the image that so often conjures up. I’d like to be a working star.’
Even if that meant ceasing to be a private person? ‘I think I could cope and still retain some of my privacy,’ she answers carefully.
So far, Kim has worked in the theatre, where she is now playing Cordelia In the Old Vic production of King Lear, and in television (Life And Loves Of A She Devil and the soon to be seen Great Expectations), but Stealing Heaven could easily bring international acclaim.
Again, Susan can talk from experience. ‘Kim should go to America on the strength of a success but never ask for anything, because you don’t get anything handed to you on a plate over there.
‘Go hot and fast, preferably with a friend in tow, and then come home quickly and they’ll phone you. She will learn that you don’t have many friends in this business when it comes to business. I only made one mistake when I went to Hollywood the first time; I was on my own.’
Kim, who lives alone except for her pet cat Cocoa, can’t help smiling at this. ‘If a lot of men were to say “That Kim Thomson is something”, I’d say “How nice”. But it hasn’t happened in my life yet. I dont want to be seen as just an attractive actress — or a sex symbol.’
Susan, no stranger to such a label, says: ‘Kim must not worry about her own attractiveness. I was told once I was Britain’s answer to BB — Brigitte Bardot — and I found it flattering.’ What does she think constitutes attractiveness? ‘Outgoing personality, perhaps. My eyes talk. So do Kim’s. There’s nothing to say you can’t be attractive and good at your job. I am not a bit angry or upset if I am called a sex symbol. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t like yourself, how can anyone else?’
For the moment, Kim’s preoccupation is the film. ‘That has been my focus — everything else disappears,’ she says. The tragic 12th century story is about a bold young theologian called Abelard who married Heloise against the wishes of the Church, had a child with her, and was castrated for his transgression.
Heloise remained faithful for the rest of her life, became a nun, and today the couple’s ashes lie together in the Parisian cemetery of Pere Lachaise. ‘Could I make the sacrifice Heloise made for the man she loved?’ muses Kim. ‘I wouldn’t want to. But it has to be taken in the context of the period when women had no other outlet. Her energy went to Abelard.
‘Now, one would say that isn’t necessarily desirable for a woman. I would always want to keep a balance. I wouldn’t want to make a man my god, as Heloise did.’
Susan, though, can understand the strength of that passion. ‘It depends how powerful the definition of love is for you.’
Simon, she says, proposed to her ‘hundreds of times. I kept saying no because I was frightened. I had left getting married so long that I wanted it to be right. My fear was of losing my Independence. But I haven’t. In fact, I’ve gained more Independence through marriage. You must never possess somebody — that is the big mistake in life. The butterfly In me is the feeling of being a free spirit, still.’
Kim says: ‘If I married, I would commit myself as Susan has, but it wouldn’t clash with my work.’
Is there any last piece of advice Susan could offer Kim?
She thinks, and remembers her nanny, who died three years ago. ‘Outside my father and mother, she was my friend and mentor through life. She begged me always “Go after your dream, and have no regrets”