Spotlight on Simon – Part III
LP: Tell us about your movie Riddle of The Sands.
SM: Yes, it’s a film I made in 1977 with Michael York and Jenny Agutter.
LP: Tell us about that character
SM: He’s one of my favourite characters, a guycalled Arthur Davies. He’s from a book, a classic novel written in 1901 by an Irishman called Erskine Childers. The story basically is about Arthur, who goes sailing around the Friesian Islands just off the north coast of Germany, and while he is there he comes upon some strange goings on and discovers that there is a plot to invade England by the Kaiser, which flat bottom boats coming over to the east coast. He calls his friend from the foreign office who is a guy called Carouthers, played by Michael York, and between us we go about finding out what is going on and we actually manage to stop it.
It is based on some degree of fact and some degree of hypothesis. Based on the fact that the Kaiser was indeed in power at that time. There was a plan in 1914 if there was a war, by 1914 the British had actually got naval bases all the way up the east coast so that an invasion of Britain became almost an impossibility. But had the Kaiser gone across in 1901, he could have invaded England without any interference from the navy. So when this book came out everybody when, “Oh, my God, yes it could happen!” So it is a very significant piece of literature because is actually basically saved England.
Winston Churchill used it very extensively as a model for some war plans and also all of the Dunkirk landings. I don’t know whether you know that story, when all the British troops were caught on the beaches of Dunkirk, and lots of boats, little boats, big boats, every boat that they could get their hands on sailed across the Atlantic(?), seven or eight hundred of them, and picked up one soldier or more. Some people just rode across all the way and got one guy and brought him back; extraordinary things going on! And that whole idea was stemmed from this book about the idea of flat bottom boats that could go across that channel.
LP: When is the movie going to be released in the US?
SM: I was told December (82), but you know these things go on and on, I haven’t heard anymore. It may or may not happen. It may happen only in major cities. It may happen all around, I don’t know. (At this writing – July 83 – there is still no definitive date for the release of Riddle. We keep hoping.) It’s a nice little piece of film and it always gets well received. It is kind of known in the business as a sleeper. It just keeps popping up here and there and it never gets a big release anywhere. I like it, it’s a nice piece of film. It’s flawed; it has it’s problems, but basically that’s the nature of turning a very narrative novel into a film, where the descriptions that you can read actually can’t be photographed. This is one problem of turning a good book into a film.
LP: To change the subject completely, some of the fans would like to know – if you’re recognised when you are out in public, do you ever mind signing autographs? Are you recognised a whole lot?
SM: No – I’m not recognised a whole lot, fortunately, and I say fortunately because I just like to get on and do my work. But, on the other hand, if I am, I would never deny anybody an autograph, unless it’s under extraordinary circumstances. Up until this point I’ve always replied to all my own mail, because I believe very strongly that is my responsibility as a performer who puts yourself in the public eye and the public decide that they like you then that’s the most important thing. I wouldn’t be working if people didn’t like the work I do, both inside the business and outside. So that’s the least one can do to say thank you for liking my work.
LP: It certainty seems like you really want to take an active part in the fan club
SM: I shall certainly do as much as I can , we will find a way of balancing that out. I believe very strongly that the fans that one has and generates – that that’s what it’s all about. If I do an episode on a television show, and a dozen or more letters come in to the producers, then they’ll know that they’ve got somebody who is popular, so it’s important.
I know already from the people who have been following my career, and certain people I’ve been writing to for a long time and who keep sending me things; you’ve got to take the trouble to spend five minutes to write them a note, saying, “Thank you for your letter – here’s a photograph – hope you like it,” etc., and they could give people joy for weeks and for months. I know that my picture is up in certain people’s living rooms and has been for years, with just, you know, a little note, and it means something to them. Also to write to a sick child, etc. can become so important. And at school, you go it, you’ve got your picture and whatever it is, and you can show it around to friends. That’s important.
LP: Yes, Ken wanted to have his picture taken with you so he could show his friends.
SM: Yes, absolutely. It’s perfectly valid; it’s right and proper. I love having on my wall, pictures of myself with Betty Davis and David Niven, so why wouldn’t other people want pictures with Joe Schmo who happens to have done one episode of Dynasty!
LP: You know, a lot of fans put pictures of stars on t-shirts and buttons and things like that. How would you feel if you suddenly came across somebody wearing your face on a t-shirt?
SM: (laughs) Like looking at my face in mirror! Obviously, again, I would be delighted, because it means what it means – that there are people out there who care enough about what you are doing, and trying to do, in a world which is not always the happiest place for everybody, and that’s very gratifying. If that gives them pleasure than I wouldn’t want to stop any of that.
LP: If you get tremendously popular, with more exposure now as your career builds, etc. do you think this will effect your privacy? Will you have apprehensions about it?
SM: It’s bound to affect one’s privacy, and it already does. I can’t go out with Susan George, for example without risk of being photographed, etc. which is boring, but at the same time, one gracefully accepts it as being what is it. You know that that’s going to happen, and when it happens, you either choose to go where you know it’s not going to happen or you go knowing that it could happen. One way or another you’re prepared for it, providing people respect your privacy just the same way you would respect theirs. Some people come by on the street and they punch you on your shoulder and say, “Hey, weren’t you in this” SNAP (pantomimes camera snapping), or whatever, then that’s rude and just bad manners under any circumstances, it doesn’t matter who you are. I mean, you wouldn’t want to be stopped like that on the street by someone, or who walks around you like you’re a museum exhibit — (talks aside in his hands to someone) “Say, you know, that’s so and so and so and so, – mumble, mumble, – did you know they were in . . ” I want to say, “Excuse me, I am here! You can speak to me. I am a human being; I am not a piece of plastic.” These are the kind of things that can happen. They don’t know how to talk and I know that it’s partly their own embarrassment. And sometimes they don’t know who you are but they know they’ve seen you’re face. They’ll come up and say, “Ah – I’ve seen you in a movie and I think you’re terrific”, and they you find out they’re talking about somebody else. But you kind of get used to it. So obviously, yes, it does affect your privacy.
LP: Well, do you have anything now at this point, that you want to say to your fans, the first charter members of your fan club? Just tell them how you feel.
SM: (laughing a little) Tell them how I feel. Well – I feel tired and frustrated and it’s raining. I am going to get wet going to the car and I’m not going to drive as fast going to the airport. (A severe thunderstorm with heavy rain had blown in and was causing Simon to periodically look uneasily over his shoulder out the window at the mess.)
Duane: Don’t worry, it’s just Texas weather. It’ll probably let up in another 10 minutes. It’ll blow over quickly.
SM: Good! In terms of a message to fans (he’s back seriously to the task at hand) obviously I am very flattered to have a fan club frankly. I’d never really thought about it before; I’d always looked after my own fan mail and sometimes it’s very extensive, sometimes it’s one or two letters a month. I am always amazed by the number of fans that I have, in fact, that I suddenly find out about. Suddenly someone will write after I have done 8 things and say, “I’ve got every cutting that I’ve seen of you”, and they haven’t written for all that time and suddenly they’ve decided they will write. It’s delightful and one knows that it’s out there because you come across it often enough just to be reminded. It’s very rewarding because it does mean that in a job sometimes where you feel that what you are doing is just for you – it’s very easy, when you’re doing a job you enjoy so much, that it becomes very selfish. I’m having a good tie. I’m making money. I’m doing what I do; I go out an pretend I’m this and pretend I’m that. You can sometimes wonder, what is this all about? What is this doing in the real world?
LP: Well, you know what you are doing for people, with your films and things. People with just a hum-drum existence; you go to the office – you come home again. You can go to the movies and see something larger than life on the screen that takes you away for a couple of hours. Your characters jump out at people, and it’s a special experience – and that’s what you give to people.
SM: And that’s what one needs to be reminded about at time. And that is where fans come in. Sometimes you get a fan letter and you just write off an answer and you don’t think about it. But sometimes you will get one that says, “My little boy is in hospital, and he wants to know, would you send a picture. It’ll really make him feel a lot better.” Then you send it off and you know you’ve touched someone and there’s a mutual exchange there. So on that basis, I’m very flattered to have a fan club and also very delighted to know my work is being appreciated. Sometimes it’s a lot harder that the audience realises. You know, you go to a movie and you don’t necessarily appreciate the grind and stuff that one has gone through, the discomfort, the fighting with people to get your way about some things, or to have the things that you feel.
LP: I think that sincere fans probably do understand all that.
SM: Yeah, they do, a lot of the time, but at the same time they don’t always realise the heartache you can go through
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This concluded our first long interview with Simon. We hope there will be many more. All of appreciate how candidly and honestly he spoke with us. Thank you, Simon!
The next newsletter will include first hand update on the filming of Manimal, as I am on the set with Simon.