HERE AND NOW
Fellini, Altman, Bertolucci. Redford, Fonda, Christie. Donald Sutherland was directed by and co-starred with some of the most distinguished names in movie history during his leading-man heyday in the ‘70s. These days the 72-year-old Canadian is content lending his white-maned gravitas to stalwart character roles. He’s appeared in everything from JFK and Outbreak to Pride & Prejudice and this month’s Fool’s Gold. He just wishes he hadn’t written Joel Schumacher that letter…
How does your character fit into Fool’s Gold?
You know, I have no idea! It’s not my job. I can tell you about him though: his name is Nigel Honeycutt, he’s worth $700m and he has a boat named after his daughter, who’s the child of his divorced, fifth wife. He tells Kate Hudson’s character that it took him four more marriages to get over the pain of the first one. But he gave each of his wives $50m each. I have a wife and I would never have done that.
If you’re not sure how he fits in, why did you want the role?
I felt a synchronicity, a harmony. I had just finished playing a guy [in Aurora Borealis] who was suicidal and suffering from Alzheimer’s, who’s peeing in his pants so… I loved everything about Nigel. Normally I don’t do interviews until ages after I’ve finished the picture so I’m helpless to answer your questions. I don’t have much to say because the more I say, the more I destroy him.
OK… Are you enjoying working with Kate and Matthew McConaughey?
Matthew’s terrific. He’s incredibly inventive, diligent and focused. He’s very passionate about his role – dangerously so. And Kate… I watched her a couple of days ago and it was brilliant. I remember I was making a film with Vanessa Redgrave [1979’s Bear Island] and I asked the director to let me shoot my close-up after Vanessa’s because she was so extraordinary. And exactly the same kind of thing happened with Kate. It makes my hair stand on end.
Did you know her when she was a small girl?
Yeah, it’s really sweet. I didn’t spend much time in California but Francine, my wife, remembered that we used to go over to Goldie’s and Kate would be there. She’s changed considerably.
Do you find it hard being away from home when filming?
My home is my wife. We’ve been married for 35 years and it gets a little better every day. But we live in LA and we also have a house in Canada. I have a burial site there so I like to go back every once in a while. I love the cold and I miss my dog. I probably miss my Jack Russell more than anything.
Acting as a profession is riddled with insecurity. Was there a film where you thought, “I’m good at this!”?
I still audition. I write letters to explain to people why I would be OK for the part. I wrote Joel Schumacher once but that was a mistake. I’m fortunate that there are parts for older people, but they’re not leading roles. It’s a terrible burden that people like Kate and Will Smith have. They’re in the business – I’m just somebody with a dog.
How do you see the industry?
I don’t know anything about the business, I really don’t. My sons Kiefer and Roark, who works for the CAA [Creative Artists Agency] – they know everything about the industry. Kiefer is incredibly smart about it.
Have there been any chances to work with Kiefer on 24?
He asked me to play his father – the part that James Cromwell is playing – but I couldn’t because I was doing this. That was sad. When it turned out I couldn’t do it, I said to Kiefer, “Why don’t you have it turn out that James is your stepfather? And then I come in…”
James Cromwell said it was difficult to be Jack Bauer’s father. What do you say to that?
I don’t think I would want to go there. In the US we have 24 on a Monday night and Kiefer phones me every Tuesday morning to see if I’m OK. He says, “Is the strain too much? Shall I tell you what’s going to happen?” I say, “No, I’m fine.” Except last year there was one character and I said, “I can’t stand him.” And he said, “OK, I’m gonna deal with him…”
You and Kiefer appeared in A Time To Kill but didn’t have any scenes together…
Joel Schumacher hired Kiefer and I said, “Come on Joel… You don’t even speak to me, but I’d really like to be in a movie with Kiefer.” I didn’t have any scenes with him but there was one when I was in the courtroom standing beside Matthew and I saw Kiefer – and they saw me seeing Kiefer. And I ad-libbed and said to Matthew, “Who is that boy’s mother?”
Are your co-stars are intimidated by you on set?
Well, I fart. So that’s a problem...