(Mainly a Susan George article)
The new Susan George film, Stealing Heaven, which has just opened in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, has one major difference from her other 30 or so films. It doesn’t have Susan George in it!
Susan has a simple answer for the apparent paradox: “I’m the executive producer. It’s the first film of our new production company – it’s amazing, but exhausting!”
The new company is Amy International, which Susan has set up with her actor husband Simon MacCorkindale. Susan, 38, made her name as Amy in the controversial film Straw Dogs, after which role the new film company is called.
Since then she’s often played the kind of sex symbol that won her the tag “the British Brigitte Bardot.”
And it’s taken all her optimistic determination to make the transition to film executive.
When she first started trying to get a backing for the film company idea, the reaction was often patronising and sometimes frankly amused. So Susan went about gaining her new role just as though it was a part for a film. She says: “It’s terribly difficult to make the transition from mini-skirted dolly bird to leading lady” but she knew exactly how to go about it.
Out came the power dresser’s sharp business suit and the executive briefcase, out of sight went the glamorous gold locks that have fueled many male fantasies.
It worked. Pretty soon she and Simon were in business and the six million dollar production of Stealing Heaven was on its way. But quite apart from the problems of starting a new company, Stealing Heaven itself looked like posing some difficulties.
It tells the story of 12th century French lovers Heloise and Abelard. Abelard was a monk who married Heloise against the wishes of his Church, had a child with her, and was eventually castrated for breaking his vow of chastity. Heloise remained faithful to him, spending the rest of her life in a convent, and the couple’s ashes are now buried in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise in Paris.
On the face of it, it’s hardly the stuff of blockbusters. Even Susan confesses to having had her doubts: “The obstacles were enormous. When I first read the script I said to Simon: “It’s so beautiful we’ll never get it made.'”
For Susan the toughest personal hurdle in making the film was the casting. “I couldn’t help becoming emotionally involved,” she says, “I wanted every actress to succeed because I’ve been in that situation so many times myself.”
The part went to 28-year-old actress Kim Thomson, whose first film role it is. She and Susan immediately clicked, which was a help when it came to one of the most difficult moments in the filming, the love scene.
An insensitive critic might imagine that after so many overtly sexy roles Susan wouldn’t think twice about including sex scenes in her own film. On the contrary, she says: “The scenes had to be powerful and passionate in the context of the story, of the breaking of the vow of chastity. But it was important to me that those scenes were not in any way purely gratuitous.
“Obviously I know well from experience how difficult those scenes can be. Kim trusted us to film it right though, and I insisted on being present the whole time.”
Not that Susan is a prude. She has never minded the sex symbol image she has been given: “I’m not angry about that,” she says, “after all there’s nothing to say you can’t be attractive and good at your job!”
Judging by the critical acclaim Stealing Heaven is already receiving, Susan is well justified in that belief. But so often career changes, even successful ones, can put pressure on a marriage.
Simon and Susan’s four-year marriage is being stressed as never before as they both push themselves right round the clock to get Amy International off the ground. Susan admits: “Weekends have completely disappeared, and we’ve had to cancel holidays. The price of success as a film producer seems to be not having enough time to enjoy it!”
But at least the couple are in it together, and that is keeping the relationship strong. “I try to shut off at the end of the day,” says Susan, “but at the moment it just doesn’t happen. Simon and I seem to talk about little else but our business.”
And it looks as though that state of affairs will continue for some time. Filming has already started on Amy’s next venture, That Summer Of While Roses, a romantic Second World War movie set in Yugoslavia and starring Tom Conti and Rod Steiger.
This time the female lead will be played by Susan. She explains: “While I’m committed to being a producer for the company I know in truth that I’m happiest in front of the camera rather than behind it, so I’m not going to give up acting in the foreseeable future.”