With Her Husband Simon MacCorkindale At Their Berkshire Home Talks About Her Family, Her Beloved Father, And The Importance Of Her Adored Red Setters
Both Susan and Simon are best known for their acting roles but their company, Amy International, is proving a powerful player in the independent film world. They made Stealing Heaven in 1987 and two years later White Roues won the Tokyo Film Festival’s Grand Prix. A TV film on the life of missing peer Lord Lucan and a mini-series, a 19th-century love story called The Liaison, are scheduled for next year.
When Amy International is recruiting new staff members, candidates must get the dogs’ approval first. “We have to know the dogs like them – and dog lovers certainly get my vote,” says Susan.
Susan denies that even dog lovers might find four adult red setters a lot to cope with. “It annoys me when people say, ‘red setters are scatty and all over the place.’ It’s certainly not a definition of their character. Setters are gun dogs and have to be walked daily,” she explains.
“Of course they are exuberant, gregarious and playful by nature. When it’s time to go for a walk they are excitable but otherwise they are fine,” she insists. Raising her arms, she adds: “You have only to look around you to see that. It isn’t a dog house, is it?”
The main living room has shelves laden with cut crystal ornaments and awards. The piano is packed with photographs and the cream sofas are spotless.
Susan has no qualms over the dogs causing damage or breaking things. Over-excited behaviour, she says, is usually a sign of too little exercise. So every day the “family” climbs into the Range Rover for a 15-minute drive to nearby woods, fields and lakes – whatever the weather.
“I adore the elements,” says Susan. “That’s why I love England so much. The only thing I hate is ‘nothing’ weather like drizzle or muggy days.”
Susan never planned to have so many dogs. “It just evolved. I always wanted to live on a farm and I still hope to one day,” says Susan, 42, who bought her first setter, Ollie, when she was just 24 years old.
“I dreamed of owning a palomino pony. A red setter seemed the nearest practical thing at the time. And since Ollie, I’ve never looked back.”
Back in the early Seventies, Susan had to leave Ollie, when he was just a puppy, to work in Los Angeles, where she appeared in films like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, following her success in Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman.
At 23, Susan bought her first house and invited nanny Doris to live with her. “She was my best friend. My mentor. She held my hand from the time I was three. She taught me all the better things about my character,” says Susan. Doris lived with her until she died, aged 76.
Away from home Susan knew Ollie was in capable hands but she missed him so much she bought a second setter, Jason, while in LA. When it was time to return to England, Jason stayed in quarantine for six months where Susan visited him once a week.
When Ollie reached 13, Simon agreed that Susan should have a new puppy to ease the inevitable pain that would come when Ollie died. Susan chose a bitch and called her Kelly. It was then that the couple became dog breeders, and this summer they welcomed seven little puppies into the world. When work takes Susan and Simon away from home, her sister Pam, who lives in the house, takes charge of the dogs.
Susan’s mother, Billie – “It’s a nickname which has stuck with her since she was young” – also stays with me a lot. Bille, 82, has her own cottage nearby but, after Susan’s father died last October, she spends much of her time with them.
Susan is still affected by her father’s death. She and Simon were on holiday in Malta when they received a message to call home.
Susan’s father was in hospital after a bad fall, complicated with bronchial problems. She and Simon immediately left the island in a helicopter, took a plane to Manchester and hired a chauffeur to drive them to London.
“That plane journey home was the worst of my life, praying he’d be there when we arrived. After a six-day vigil he lost his fight for life. It was inevitable,” recalls Susan. “It’s something you know is going to happen but you put it to the back of your mind and imagine that everyone will live for ever. When they don’t it’s very hard to deal with. I was devastated. But other people have suffered more, I know. If I feel my pain was great I know it must be harder for my mother. One thing that Doris taught me was always to count my blessings.
“Work can get, on top of us when we can’t see the wood for the trees. But overall, I feel very lucky. I have my family to love. I have the dogs. They help me to live every day to its fullest, to make each moment special. They make me stop to smell the flowers.”