Kiefer Sutherland's Life Lessons
Written by Gayle Jo Carter
Now middle-aged and a grandfather(!), Kiefer Sutherland is back on top with a new show - and a new outlook.
Kiefer Sutherland/Brian Bowen Smith/Fox
It’s been almost two years since Jack Bauer,aka Kiefer Sutherland, was being chased around the world in TV’s 24. Starting Thursday, he’s finally on to what he hopes is his next big hit, Touch.
At 45, the twice-divorced Sutherland has had his ups and downs, professionally and personally. Now, the grandfather of two gushes, “I’ve been the luckiest person I know.”
And why not? He has a brand-new network show and a close-knit family that includes his daughter, actress Sarah, 24, who will play opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus in HBO’s upcoming Veep, and stepdaughter Michelle, 34, a married DJ with two young sons.
The actor recently took time out from shooting Touch to chat about being a tough guy (not!); words of wisdom from his famous father, Donald Sutherland; and what he says is one of his biggest regrets.
After eight seasons, is it a relief not to be playing Jack Bauer?“No. I had a wonderful time, but I love this character Martin [inTouch]. This is the very beginning of something, so it’s exciting.”
Do you think that people are connected and have greater perception, as on Touch?“Of course I do. I think there’s an effect in all the choices we make. And in that, we all matter. I found that to be quite affirming.”
Did you have a backup plan if acting didn't work out?“I certainly had another passion, and it was everything from farming to music. The problem was I wasn’t a very good musician, which was difficult because I loved it more than anything. What was much more natural for me was being on stage. There were times I thought, “I’m in real trouble,” because I’d have a little bit of work, then it would go away and then just in the nick of time, I’d get more work. [If I hadn’t], I would have had to go back to school and would have been the oldest high school student on the face of the earth.”
So you didn't get your high school diploma?“No, which is something that has made me self-conscious ever since. I don’t recommend it to anybody.”
What's the best personal advice your father gave you?“Some of the nicest moments I’ve had have been watching his relationship with his granddaughters and him saying [to me], ‘You did a good job.’ I had a child at such a young age , I was quite nervous and scared. I’ve raised Michelle since she was 8 and I was 19. It was kind of trial by fire.”
Grandchildren - gosh, you're making me feel old.“Oh, honey, you should see what it makes me feel.”
People assume you're a tough guy like Jack Bauer. Are you?“No. My gosh, I stand 5-foot-10 on a really good day, 165 pounds. There are plenty of people who can beat the crap out of me.”
After 24, one assumes you are a gadget guy. True?“No, I’m the opposite. I think I’m the last person without a computer. I’ve traveled with good friends, and when we get off the plane, they have 132 e-mails to answer. I’d rather stick a darning needle in my eye.”
You've been married twice [and famously engaged to Julia Roberts]. Would you marry again?“It’s not something I think about a whole lot, but if I was in a different place in my life, yeah. I would hate to be the person to say, “No, I would never do that.” But in all fairness, when you take on a show like this or 24, you kind of end up getting married to that.”
You're still on probation for your DUI in 2007. How do you feel about it now?“It was stupid. I just wasn’t thinking. I was at a function, actually, for 24. It was a wake-up call for me, and I had to re-evaluate what was important.The idea of something as careless and thoughtless as that, where someone [could] get hurt or killed, is inexcusable, and I’m a father.”
If you could create your future, what would you wish?“It certainly wouldn’t have to do with me. I’ve been the luckiest person I know. On a really selfish level, I would want happiness for my children and my family and would love all of their dreams and aspirations to come true. You and I both know the world doesn’t work like that.”
Do you personally know anyone who is autistic like your son on your new TV show, Touch?“In the context of our show, Danny Glover’s character articulates that he believe [my son has] been misdiagnosed with autism. He’s one of the very few people around the world that sees theoretical and numerical formulas that we just don’t see in our daily life but he sees them all the time. His perception is more evolved. This is a special needs child and a parent dealing with that. I have very, very close friends dealing with [a variety of special needs] and the demands that puts on a family; how it can bring you very close and pull you apart all at the same time. It’s a very complicated thing certainly to watch, to be part of as their friend.”
You've played a dad in 24 and Touch, and you are a dad in real life. Is that something that's comfortable for you?“I am a father, so yeah, maybe it’s more about things I’ve reacted to, things that I read. Certainly 24 was a different set of circumstances than this; his relationship with the daughter was not at the forefront, it was much more about someone who is dealing with a personal crisis within his own family and then being forced to deal with a much larger crisis in his country. The dynamic of Touch is about a father who simply wants to be able to communicate with his son, like a normal father and son and, given his son’s needs, that’s just not going to happen. So you watch them develop another kind of communication..”
Do you have any indulgences, any guilty pleasures?“Unfortunately, in my life time management has been an issue . I seem to be the kind of classic joke of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time because I have to focus on one thing.”
“I love spending time with horses, I love skiing, I love sports. I love time with my friends and I also love working and I seem to only be able to do one of them at a time. If I’m out of work for a long time, for over a year, I start to get uncomfortable so I tend to put myself in position where I’m going to work a lot and that limits a lot of the other things that I enjoy doing. That’s one of things I learned through my experience on 24: If you really want to, it’s not enough to sit and complain you can’t, you need to do something about it. Block the time out and stick to it. I’m getting better at it.”
Did you encourage your daughters to go into acting?“My gosh no, I tried to discourage both of them as much as I could. But there was absolutely nothing I could do about Sarah. I had the kind of experience with both of my parents that I had to convince them that this was something I had to pursue and that if it didn’t work out, I would be responsible for that. Both my parents were unbelievably supportive at that point, I was grateful for that. So it was clearly what I wanted to do with my daughter. There were moments where before I got to see her first couple performances I thought, ‘Oh this is going to be a disaster.’ The first play I go, I’ll be really supportive. She went and gave a performance that just absolutely blew me away. I was so proud of her and I was also so embarrassed that I would be so arrogant to think that she wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Did your dad, actor Donald Sutherland, encourage you to go into acting?“No, I made this decision for myself. I made a choice to leave school and work at some smaller playhouses in Toronto. Both my parents [his mom is Canadian actress Shirley Douglas] had tried very hard to get me to go back to school. . [I told them] you can make me go back to school for another six months but I’ll do this again. So we agreed that when I wasn’t working I would be in school, we tried very hard to make that happen for the next couple years and thenStand by Me happened and I was working a lot.”
If you're not into gadgets, I guess you read actual hard-covered books?“Well, I’ve got a paperback here and there but, yes, they are published and printed out. It doesn’t mean someone hasn’t sent me a Kindle before. I kind of liken it to [vinyl music albums]: There was a real joy in flipping the record, with the efficiently laid-out albums so the first six songs on side one actually carried into song seven on the B-side. I find that I like flipping the page. ”