Interview: Susan George

Best known as the blonde ‘sexpot’ of 1970s cinema, who starred in Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, Susan George cuts an exotic figure on Exmoor. The modest farmhouse that she shares with her husband, Casualty actor Simon MacCorkindale, contains film posters and photographs, evidence of what she calls her ‘other’ life. I spot her with Clint Eastwood as we hurry by.

The couple has lived here for six years, and the adjacent 50 acres and large stable block offer a clue as to why: Susan has been breeding Arabian horses professionally for 15 years, and there are currently 56 on the farm. She is evangelical about their talents. ‘Part of my real quest in life is to change people’s perception of the Arabian horse,’ and she makes a compelling case for a breed that has been dismissed as the bimbo of the horse world. ‘Their beauty has been a stigma they have been valued for that and not for their versatile attributes, their intelligence and motivation,’ she says, passing me a picture of one of her treasured horses flying over a large fence. ‘Nor are they weekend happy hacks no way.’ We rush out to see her horses and there is no denying their natural nobility and grace.

Still slim and striking at 57 (and with no sign of surgery), Susan is clearly not a person who spends her days reclining on a sofa. She’s a worker, and has no patience with those who are not. In her low, commanding voice, she says: ‘I look at kids now working in my business [acting] and I’m amazed by the number who want it all handed on a plate when I think how hard I worked.’

I wonder if she ever watches Susan Sarandon or Meryl Streep in a film role and wishes it were her, but the answer is unequivocal. ‘I’ve always lived for life more than this industry. There has always been another challenge. I couldn’t give myself 100%, and I recognised that in Hollywood all those years ago. I hankered for much more than what I was doing and what I had done. These days, acting jobs don’t fit in much. My agent says to me: “Are you ever going to come out of the barn and back onto the screen where you belong?”‘

Susan started acting early she had, from 13, a prolific television career in the UK, before moving to LA in her early twenties. She was only 20 when she made Straw Dogs. ‘Hollywood in the 1970s was as everyone sees and hears about it in books and movies,’ she says, recalling parties with Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. At one such party, Ryan O’Neal, not long after making Love Story, approached her with the words ‘I think I love you’. ‘It was what all men in Hollywood said at the time,’ she adds. ‘I was in the thick of it, but I had a very good head on my shoulders, and I’d been acting for so long that a lot of it wasn’t a surprise to me.’

After 12 years in LA, she was looking towards home. Some of the values weren’t in tune with her own ‘I’m not a materialistic person, and I missed my family’. Visits to friends in the West Country brought its beauty and old-fashioned values to her attention. ‘I’m so happy in this part of the world,’ she says. But one gets the impression that she still feels like an outsider, and a slightly superior one at that. She confesses to feeling ‘like an inchworm that has stuck its head out of the ground’, after her debut exhibition of photographs and etchings of Arabian horses was recently shown at Petley Fine Art in London. ‘I thought, if I can bring the Arabian horse to the attention of just one or two people, then I’m a happy person.’

The response has exceeded her expectations, but then with Susan’s tenacious backing, the Arabian horse can only continue to thrive.

‘Spirit of Equus Photographic Collection’ available through Petley Fine Art. Susan’s Arabian horses can be viewed at www.