I Led British Invasion Of Hollywood
The big interview Simon MacCorkindale has rubbed shoulders with tinseltown’s elite but is just as happy on stage in Glasgow
WHEN Simon MacCorkindale watches hit US shows like Lost, Ugly Betty or Pushing Daisies he can say: “Been there, done that.”
The veteran actor might be best known as Casualty heart-throb Harry Harper but his long and successful career saw him cross the Atlantic and crack America 30 years ago.
He worked on iconic shows including Falcon Crest, Manimal, Hart to Hart and Dynasty and helped pave the way for the current crop of UK stars including Ashley Jensen, Henry Ian Cusick and Anna Friel.
He also worked and became friends with oldtime Hollywood legends including Bette Davis, Howard Keel and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.
Having left Casualty after six years at the turn of the year, Simon, 56, is now starring in a new stage version of Sleuth, alongside former Robin of Sherwood and Dynasty star, Michael Praed.
And if a dressing room in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal seems a long way from the Los Angeles A list he used to be a part of, he doesn’t really care.
He said: “The work is fundamentally the same wherever you go. Sometimes the level of professionalism, budget and scale change. For instance, on Falcon Crest and Dynasty you had your own trailer and all the trimmings but on Casualty you were lucky to have your own dressing room.
“But as an actor you are trying to tell the truth for a character and you are working with other people who have the same basic dreams and ideals. So in those terms, it’s not radically different.”
Simon, who is married to the actress Susan George and spent part of his childhood in Edinburgh where his father was stationed with the RAF, got his big break when he was cast in the bigscreen version of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile in 1978.
He was 25 and suddenly starring alongside the likes of Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Angela Lansbury and Bette Davis, who defied her reputation for being difficult to befriend him.
Simon said: “There was a feeling of being in awe of these people but I had a certain amount of pioneer courage so I didn’t let it get to me.
“But there were days when I thought, ‘I’m about to do a scene with this cinema legend, am I up to it?’ But people were very gracious. I was never the whipping boy because I was less experienced.
“I got on incredibly well with Bette. She was feisty but that was because she knew what she wanted and she was a bloody good actress.
“She seriously didn’t suffer fools gladly but I was lucky. She liked me, we got on, we spent time chatting and she was supportive. I was very blessed to consider her a friend.
“I had some telegrams and things on opening nights and I saw her on occasion.
“We remained friends and I spoke to her only about three weeks before she died. I feel very lucky to include her in the list of people who have touched my life.”
Simon used the success of the film as a calling card and headed for America in 1980 but it was a Simon MacCorkindale has rubbed shoulders with Tinseltown’s elite but is just as happy on stage in Glasgow Iled British invasion slog to be accepted in Hollywood, especially as he refused to trade in his cut-glass English accent .
He said: “When I first went out there really weren’t very many English actors. I felt I was on my own trying to break in and it was difficult.
“The Americans were very gracious and flattering about the work I had done but the fact I had a funny voice and accent was a negative.
“But I had made a point that I was not going out there to play Americans. I went out there to provide this one extra ingredient which was me and my Englishness.
“I thought there was a niche – the English public school-type character which had been popular in the earlier generations and wasn’t around now.
“A lot of Brits have gone across now and played Americans – like Anna Friel in Pushing Daisies – and done very well. That’s their choice.
“If I had my time again, I still wouldn’t want to play American. I’m the English guy.”
Simon eventually found himself in the first wave of UK stars to make it big in America when he won the starring role in Manimal, an adventure series about a professor who could turn into wild animals.
He said: “There were two actors from this side of the Atlantic who made the big breakthrough. Joan Collins got into Dynasty and Pierce Brosnan got Remington Steele.
“Then, within a few weeks, I got Manimal. That opened the floodgates and then there were three or four British actors at any one time on the primetime serials.
“I had an enormous amount of fun. I was very lucky. I got to work in a lot of popular shows, got to know a lot of well-known people and as a result I got into that whole A-list circle.
“I went to some extraordinary parties, made a name for myself and managed to make it last for 30 years. I’m a lucky bunny and long may it last.” In Sleuth, Simon plays a famous mystery writer in a dark psychological “thriller about thrillers” which has many twists and turns.
Most people know the play from the film versions – the classic 1972 movie which starred Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, and last year’s poorly-received update with Caine again – this time in the Olivier role – and Jude Law.
Simon knows it more from when he directed it three times in the 1980s and it starred Hollywood greats Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Howard Keel and James Whitmore.
He said: “I’ve worked with a few legends. I’m very blessed and I hope it doesn’t change. What’s been interesting is how little of Sleuth has come back to me. One or two of the lines have gone into my head a little because I was so familiar with it but it was 25 years ago.”
Sleuth is his first venture since leaving Casualty at the beginning of this year but he won’t rule out a return at some point in the future.
He said: “I loved Casualty and I’m sorry to have left it in some ways. But you have to move on and it was my choice to move on.
“I’ve always been like that. When things get a bit safe, I rock the boat a little bit.
“I may live to regret it but at the moment, I’m very happy about the choices I’ve made. And they very graciously left the door open so I could go back – or even move to Holby City.”
While he is in Glasgow, Simon will be taking the opportunity to catch up with friends and indulge his other passion, not to mention business, Arabian horses.
He runs a stud farm with wife Susan and has been asked to visit Glasgow’s Veterinary College while he’s in the city.
He said: “I am going there in a semi-official capacity and I’m also meeting with other friends who want to show me a wonderful new equestrian centre.
“We get invited to things like the vet college to see the work they are doing because we speak to other people in this business and word gets around that there is a fantastic facility in Glasgow.”
The couple have been involved in the equestrian world for 14 years but, even now, being part of a celebrity couple is a double-edged sword.
He said: “It’s useful to a degree but where you might get a leg up and you might get invited into the circle quicker, if you can’t hold your ground, it’s not going to do you any good.
“And there is the other side where people say ‘Oh God it’s some posh nobs who think they can muscle in – well we’ll show them they can’t!
“Life is all about swings and roundabouts. In any walk of life, you have to earn your spurs.”
Simon MacCorkindale has certainly earned his.