Simon MacCorkindale must be one of the few actors who have turned to Charles Bronson with the words: “Oh, you great butch creature, you!” and lived to tell the tale. As it was, Charlie, laughed and appreciated the joke from the young Englishman who was recently awarded the ‘Evening News’ most promising newcomer accolade for his work on ‘Death On The Nile’ and ‘Riddle Of The Sands’.
His recent screen association with Bronson was during the making of the post World War II thriller, ‘Cabo Blanco’, which is set in Peru but was shot on location in Mexico.
How did Simon manage to win over the man they call ‘Old Stoneface’! “I was never sure I had until that moment,” he smiles. “I had a lot of scenes with him and he’s a difficult guy to get to know. But he’s very generous, obviously understanding his craft very well and was very helpful. There was no attempt by him to steal the camera time or overshadow. If it was my line he would make sure that he was giving me every help…back to camera or whatever.”
He confirms Bronson’s introvertedness. “He doesn’t have a lot to say for himself and it does take a certain amount of effort to break through that, but nevertheless he is never rude, if at times non communicative. He doesn’t cut people dead as some names do. We found at the end that we were bantering quite a bit and joking and that’s how I came to be able to call him a ‘big butch creature’ and live to do another scene.
Bronson is very much a man who sticks to the hours. “He doesn’t feel he owes the industry anything any more and he is very professional. No question of him not being there for off camera lines if it’s your close up or whatever. He’ll be there. But six p.m. and that’s it. He’s off home.”
‘Cabo Blanco’, which translated means The White Cape, concerns the efforts of four International agents, Bronson, Jason Robards Jr., MacCorkindale, and Dominic Sanda, to track down a ship which was sunk towards the end of the war whilst transporting immense wealth looted from Jewish concentration camp victims.
The script changed considerably, being rewritten many times by the four scriptwriters. “It wasn’t like working on ‘Death On The Nile’ where you were completely subservient to the plot,” says Simon. He plays an archetypal Englishman, Lewis Clarkson, and little guidelines were provided for the characterization other than the role was archetypal. It offers a danger to British actors and actresses. With the richly varied cultures and geographical locations open to them the American film industry has little need to write in parts especially for the British actor. There is little point in using one to play any other nationality when the whole social and cultural spectrum is on the door-step or in the backyard. Britishers are thus slotted into the archetypal role which the American actor might not perform so convincingly. “I am scared that I might become cast into that mold in the American market,” says Simon, but hopefully I can colour their persuasions a bit.”
The role of Clarkson in ‘Cabo Blanco’ came as a direct result of J. Lee Thompson seeing ‘Death On The Nile’ in which MacCorkindale played Simon Doyle…again archetypical of a standard British officer class. “I like the slightly rougher parts,” he admits, “like I did in, say, ‘The Riddle Of The Sands’ or the television ‘Quatermass’ I recently did, rather than the sophisticated type in ‘Nile’ or, to some extent, ‘Cabo Blanco’. But let’s make no mistake, that ‘Nile’ was my doorway to the Clarkson role and the American marketplace.”
He is also aware of how important it is to physically look a certain way, and feels that the suntan he acquired during the filming of ‘Nile’ played a prominent part in providing him with a healthy image. “You can look more in the American mould that way, and I’ve found that offers tend to increase according to the depth of the tan,” he smiles, tongue in cheek, but with an obvious element of truth lurking in the background.
“I’m trying to carve a niche for myself in America and if I look American then it must be to my advantage.” He even managed a role in the very U.S. ‘Dukes Of Hazzard’ television series. “That was a curious situation. An Englishman being in that was quite extraordinary and created a bit of a stir in Hollywood, because it’s a very hick show.”
MacCorkindale feels that to do this is not to in any way demean oneself because the American marketplace is a tough place to showcase yourself and any way that draws attention to oneself to the people who count must be worthwhile.
In fact he is constantly amazed at the intricate web of contacts who have played important links in his career. “I remember how I’d just left drama school and after a period of waiting was offered a commercial. I did the interview on my 21st birthday and the day after I got the job I came home to a telephone call from my agent to say that he’d submitted my photograph to Franco Zefferelli who was casting for a picture called ‘Camille’, which was subsequently never made, and would I meet him. Well I did and got very close to being cast in that picture before it was written off. The important thing was that I’d met Zefferelli, so when he began casting for ‘Jesus Of Nazareth’ he had me on his files and I met him again and was then offered the Centurion role for filming in Tunisia.”
The casting director on ‘Jesus’ was Dyson Lovell who proved to be important to me because he worked in a similar capacity on ‘Death On The Nile’ and it always amazes me at how it is quite possible that people you meet can have repercussions on your career many years later and you would never know.
It has been this good luck of meeting the right people capable of advancing his talent that has kept Simon from the armed services. But for that call from Zefferelli he could now be an officer in the British army.
His background is of a father in the military who naturally provided him with a disciplinarian and authoritarian upbringing and hoped that Simon would follow his his footsteps. “An idea which I wasn’t totally against,” he confesses. “In fact I was quite keen on entering the R.A.F. when I left public school.”
His theatrical interests did not stem from many theatre excursions, but from the writing of an adaptation of “The Sleeping Beauty’ when he was eight years old into play form. “What compelled me to do it, I don’t know, but the teachers at school liked it and put it on with me in the role of Sleeping Beauty.
“And I became interested from then on in playwriting. We didn’t have much to watch on television. It was up to bed before the news came on.” His writing was encouraged at prep school which pleased him because his plays were actually being produced – meaning money was spent on them. Eventually he went on to write nearly a couple of dozen, culminating at public school in his directing a production.
“Although I made noises about going into the armed services of the diplomatic corps, my heart was already in the theatre. Mostly as a director. My father obviously hoped that I’d direct myself to the army…but I made a deal with him. If I didn’t achieve something hi the theatre by the time I reached the age of 25, then I’d reverse my decision. I didn’t want to feel that I in any way blamed him for anything and this seemed the proper way to go about it.”
Drama school followed and the resulting meeting with Zefferelli. Although periods of inactivity were inevitable. “Not too far back either,” he muses. “I turned my hand to interior decorating. It began by my doing up the flat I was in which was owned by my father. He let me have it rent free for repairing and decorating it. Then friends stepped in with offers for their houses and flats and things took off. I managed to survive and enjoy the work too. In fact I’ve just completed doing up our own house in Haling. It’s quite small and chintzy and I’m now experienced with plastering and that kind of thing.”
He married actress Fiona Fullerton, and the sharing of the same occupation produces the obvious separations when work pulls hi opposite directions. “But I try wherever possible to get Fiona to locations I’m on,” he says. “I hate travelling to interesting places and not being able to share those experiences. It’s too much like showing people holiday photographs, it doesn’t mean much other than an enjoyable picture.”
Fiona managed a couple of weeks in Egypt during the filming of ‘Death On The Nile’ and the couple did their tourist bit, as indeed they did in Tunisia and, more recently, in Mexico during the making of ‘Cabo Blanco’.
The couple stayed in a beautiful mansion that had just been built, complete with a full staff. “It was quite an eerie sensation to be in a place that should have had a dozen or more people living there and yet, there were just a few of us with all these people to hand,” says Simon. “Quite difficult to believe that we were in Mexico.”
Jason Robards Jr. was also in occupation and Simon rues not being able to do any scenes with him in the film. But hopefully, the door has now been opened in America and there are already negotiations underway for more projects there. With a bit of luck he might just be one of the few British actors to be looked upon Internationally by the American marketplace. If they smile favourably, then superstardom is not such a fantasy!