The Times UK March 2012: Kiefer Sutherland: Being a Good Dad, It's a 24hr Job
Kiefer Sutherland on partying and parenting.
Kiefer Sutherland swaps action hero for single father in his new show Touch. It’s a role he identifies closely with.
Kiefer Sutherland is holding an imaginary pair of testicles. “You pull the scrotum up, and you take the balls way up to the top,” says the 45-year-old Hollywood star, describing the easiest way to castrate a farmyard calf. “When the skin forms into a nipple, you slice it really fast. Phssss! [does rapid slicing action]. And all the while the calf is just looking at you going, ‘F*** you buddy!’ ”
Sutherland, it transpires, is quite the calf-castrator (a skill he acquired during a mid-Nineties detour into cattle farming in California’s Santa Ynez Valley). He’s a ski instructor, too (“I took a year off for that one!”). And a National US rodeo champion. Plus he owns a music label, Ironworks. And that’s not even mentioning the movies (from 1986’s Stand By Me to last year’s Melancholia), or the fact that playing anti-terrorist action hero Jack Bauer over eight seasons of TV’s 24 to a global audience of more than 100 million viewers has made him one of the most commercially successful actors alive — he was, allegedly, paid $40 million for the last three seasons of 24, while one can only imagine the residual fees flowing from a show that’s been broadcast on 236 channels.
In person, in denims and cowboy boots in a chintzy Whitehall hotel room, he is softly spoken and sincere, although that wolfish Sutherland grin (inherited from father Donald) is always at the ready. He is frank about his lack of confidence as an actor and his predilection for alcohol, but mostly he gives the impression of someone who is energetic to a fault. “If I’m not occupied,” he warns, “I can drive myself into the ground.”
Enter Touch, a new TV series that’s built entirely around Sutherland, and sees him playing Martin Bohm, a 9/11 widower and father to the severely autistic Jake (David Mazouz), a boy who violently rejects physical contact and finds interconnected human fates in the numerical patterns of daily life (“318”, for instance, is a big number in the first episode and somehow connects a teenager from Baghdad to a grieving father from London to Bohm himself).
It’s very much a Twitter-era TV drama, one that is based on the idea of instant worldwide interconnectedness. It also, crucially, pushes that theme into the show’s own distribution strategy. For Touch will be broadcast around the planet almost instantaneously.
It’s the first series ever to do so, says Sutherland. “Within a couple of days, the first episode will have been seen everywhere from the UK to South Africa to Brazil, and back to North America. Imagine it — someone in Russia is going to be able to have a conversation about the show with someone in London, all at the same time!”
Sutherland is a pragmatist, too, and says that there are other advantages to simultaneous global distribution. Namely, it allows the show’s producers (of which Sutherland is one) to eavesdrop on the Twittersphere and shape the show to fit the audience. “From our selfish vantage point, we can see what they’re liking here and there and not liking everywhere, and start to find through-lines,” he explains. “If you find a unilateral sense of taste, it can give you a very strong sense of where to go.”
Of course, he adds, this was not what drew him to Touch. Instead, it was the parenting thing. The idea of playing a struggling dad. “I identified hugely with that,” he says, “On so many levels.”
Sutherland, who has been married and divorced twice but is currently single, has a daughter and three stepchildren. His own father, Donald, divorced his mother, the actress Shirley Douglas, when Kiefer was four years old and left the boy to be raised in Toronto by Douglas. I spoke last year to Sutherland Sr and he said that he was full of regret about the lack of time he spent with Kiefer.
When I mention it to Sutherland he melts. “I feel bad for him for saying something like that,” he says, with a pained expression. “Because he did great. And I didn’t know any better. And I was so proud of him!” In fact, he says, suddenly recalling today’s lunch break, “I’ve just been walking around the city, and I remember him bringing me here. I remember feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square with him. All that stuff with him. I love him very much. But I think it’s always harder on the father.”
He talks some more about his Toronto childhood, how he bounced unhappily from school to school until finally he found acting at 13, at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto, “And it was the first thing that anybody had ever told me that I did well.”
By 18 he was in Canadian movies (The Bay Boy); by 19 he was making an impression in Stand By Me. He moved to LA, shared an apartment with Robert Downey Jr, Sarah Jessica Parker and Billy Zane, scored some iconic roles in The Lost Boys, Young Guns and Flatliners, and was briefly engaged to Julia Roberts before hitting a mid-Nineties career slump with a succession of dial-a-psycho screen roles in B-grade product (Freeway, A Soldier’s Sweetheart). “I found those roles easy to do, but they weren’t very good,” he says. “And I realised that if I did another film like that I might not ever work again.”
Thus, after a brief bout of rodeo riding and calf castration, Sutherland was rescued, in 2000, by TV’s 24 and a subsequent decade as Jack Bauer. Even then, he threatened to upend his success with highly publicised booze-fuelled blow-outs, including bar fights, a jail stint for drink-driving and other alcohol-related humiliations (an infamous paparazzo-shot from 2005 features Sutherland slumped in a bar with his trousers round his ankles).
Typically, this is the part of the interview where the subject becomes agitated and an LA publicist suddenly appears and halts proceedings. But Sutherland is wonderfully frank and unapologetic. “For me, that’s how I choose to spend my time off,” he says. “And the fact is that you’re working 15 hours a day, with a huge amount of responsibility attached, based on the unbelievable amounts of money being invested, and you carry that as a burden. So, you get a couple of moments off and, Whooooofffffff!
“Some people put on a tracksuit and run a marathon. That’s not what I do. I go out with six or seven friends, and generally it starts with good intentions. ‘We’ll be home by 11.’ And then someone tells a funny story, and someone tells another, and suddenly it’s 2am and we’re trying to figure out how to get a plane to Vegas! [But] I’ve never missed a day’s work in my life. And I’ve never been late for a day’s work in my life.”
I ask him if he’ll ever get married again. He laughs, and says, “What’s the definition of insanity? Keep trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” And he has less than stellar news for fans of 24 who were expecting a movie adaptation to start shooting next month.
“There are so many moving pieces,” he sighs. “I wish we’d shot it three years ago. We have a good script, and amazing film-makers looking at it. But we’re trying to work out schedules.” In the meantime, he says that hopefully there will be series two of Touch to prepare. And if not, well, he’s hardly going to sit still. “I feel much better about myself when I have something to focus on, and it doesn’t have to be acting,” he says. “These days I’ve found that structure is pretty good for me.” And then he bursts out laughing.
Touch starts on Sky 1 HD on Tuesday at 8pm, and on Sky Go
Source: Times UK