LOS ANGELES—Donald Sutherland, who started out playing nonconformists in M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, and Act of the Heart is, at 72, making a living by pretending to be successful members of the Establishment. He played a conservative congressman in the series Commander in Chief, portrays the wealthy patriarch of a troubled family in the current TV series Dirty Sexy Money, and is a tycoon hoping to renew his relationship with his spoiled daughter (Alexis Dziena) in Fool’s Gold. The latter film, which opens February 8, stars Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson as divorced treasure hunters looking for help to find a sunken Spanish ship.
In his off-screen life he is an actual patriarch of an acting family that includes 24 star Kiefer Sutherland and newly minted actor Rossif Sutherland, who stars in the upcoming Canadian film Poor Boy’s Game. When Sutherland arrived in L.A. for the media junket for Fool’s Gold, his first order of business was to go to dinner with Kiefer, who had gotten out of jail a day earlier. He says that he is very proud of him despite a 48-day jail stay that his eldest incurred for driving drunk, and he says he did what he could to be supportive when his son was in prison.
“I think Kiefer is as good a man as he is an artist,” he says. “And he is as good a man and artist as you can find anywhere. But I had him trapped when he was in prison. He wasn’t allowed reading materials, so I kept writing him letters. He had to read them. I went there often, but he could only speak to me every three days for 14 minutes. That was it. You can’t believe how fast 14 minutes is. It’s gone so quickly. You start to talk and then you have to remember to shut up or it will be gone.”
Sutherland says that if it seems as though he has changed his approach to choosing characters as the years have gone by, it isn’t true. He says that as he has grown older, he has continued to make the choices that will keep alive his passion for his craft.
“There was a Russian poet and Nobel Prize winner named Joseph Brodsky who did a commencement speech at Dartmouth College in 1988. He talked to the graduating class about how this was the best day of their lives and that from now on it was downhill. He said the more things they acquired the less they would want. In the middle of it, he told them that they had to try to stay passionate because passion alone was a remedy against boredom.
“I love the characters I play,” Sutherland continues, “and I try to learn more about the human condition when I play them. No matter who they are, I always try to inform them and give them as much of my own observation and truth and morality and immorality and poetry as I can.”