Obituary: Susan Fleetwood

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The Independent Online
I met Susan Fleetwood during the filming of Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice, writes Layla Alexander Garrett [further to the obituary by Adam Benedick and Peter Eyre, 2 October]. In October 1984 I came with Tarkovsky to London to cast a British actor or actress in the film, as our co-producers (Channel 4) had required. The part of Adelaide, the hysterical wife of the protagonist, was still uncast. Susan was suggested. But who was this unknown, and at the same time famous British theatre actress?

Shortly after our trip to London we were sent a video of The Good Soldier, which starred Susan Fleetwood. Tarkovsky instantly fell in love with one scene, where Susan enters the hall. He kept rewinding it, repeating: "She's magnificent! Just look! The way she moves! She doesn't walk, she floats . . . Look at her shoulders, look at her chest . . . A queen! Nobody can walk like her." I used to joke with her: "You're worse than Marilyn Monroe, Susan. Seducing a poet of the cinema with your wiggle! And you call yourself a professional."

Adelaide was an extremely difficult part to play. She was a self-obsessed, self-styled goddess who had no consideration for others. At the same time she was irresistible. On the shoot Susan had the toughest time. She had to memorise not only her lines (and she was dyslexic) but also the Swedish ones of her partners. And those lines were constantly changed. Her concentration must have been tremendous, but she did it with no apparent effort. She was totally professional: she was always on time, she never complained, never whinged at the weather or Tarkovsky's time-wasting, such as when he was experimenting with a pool of water, completely forgetting his actors. Her reaction would be: "So what? We're not filming a soap opera. We're working with a difficult director who happens to be a genius."

Andrei called Susan "our intellectual". He was fascinated and at the same time unsettled by her directness and insatiable curiosity. "Susan is going to corner me again," he'd say, tugging on his moustache. Once he told her: "You must stop interpreting the role. Stop asking questions of how and what . . . Do you think I know Adelaide better than you? I only wrote her, besides, I'm a man. You're an actress and you're a woman. You know her better than me. But I wouldn't have given you the part if I didn't have faith in you. I'm not a madman."

During post-production, while watching the harrowing scene of Adelaide's hysteria (which must have reminded him of something deeply personal and disturbing), Andrei exclaimed: "That's uncanny! How did she know?" He added enigmatically: "Susan is full of surprises. She is an actress . . . no, a woman who knows."