Kiefer Sutherland: "I'm enjoying a much happier life"

Kiefer Sutherland may have stopped playing Agent Jack Bauer for the last few years, but he does share some of the regrets and guilt that plagued his haunted TV alter ego."When we wrapped 24 a few years ago, I decided to take stock of my life," Sutherland explains. "I'm a much better man today at 45 than I ever aspired to be at 25. I've been spending a lot more time with my family of late, something I should have done a long time ago. I wasn't always the best father, but I'm hoping to become the best grandfather possible." Sutherland recently became a grandfather for the second time when his stepdaughter Michelle Kath, 34, whom he raised while married to former model Camilla Kath, gave birth to a baby boy, Quinn. Kiefer's first grandchild, Hamish, was born seven years ago to his biological daughter Sarah Sutherland, 25, (from his marriage to Camilla) who recently made dad proud when she won a key role on the HBO series 'Veep'. In the meantime, Sutherland has returned to TV with his new series, 'Touch', about the relationship between a widower, Martin Bohm, and his emotionally-challenged 11-year-old son Jake who has an ability to predict events in the future. Sutherland is still hoping to shoot the long-awaited film version of 24 sometime in the near future, having been forced to postpone the project when 'Touch' was picked up for a second season. By the time '24' went off the air in 2010 after 8 seasons, Sutherland was earning $40 million per season producer and star of the series which made him the highest-paid television actor in the world at the time. It was a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who quit acting in his 30s to work as a rodeo rider following early success in his 20s in films like 'Flatliners', 'Young Guns' and 'The Vanishing', only to burn out as a result of alcohol abuse and a general sense of self-loathing. Sutherland lives in Los Angeles where he has been spending considerable time with his new girlfriend, Canadian musician Marnie Herald. His most recent film appearance came in Lars von Trier's apocalyptic drama, 'Melancholia'.

THE INTERVIEW

Q: Kiefer, it was over two years ago you decided to take a break after 24 ended its eighth season on TV. What made you want to return to TV now?

SUTHERLAND: I was doing a play on Broadway when my business partner sent me the script for Touch. I was very impressed and I was especially interested in the relationship between the father and son which is the central theme of the story. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about my own experience as a father and so the story struck a nerve and I knew I wanted to do it. What's a bit odd is that I only learnt afterwards that it wasn't a film script, but that it was the basis for a TV series. "I said, 'Do you know what? I'm not really ready to do that yet,' " "And she said, 'Trust me, you have to read it.'"I remember I was on about page 35, and I went, "S---, I'm in real trouble here." Because it was just so beautifully written, and it presented itself as an opportunity. It was Tim Kring (creator of 'Touch' and the former TV series 'Heroes') who convinced me to go back to series work. I think it was a set-up! (Laughs)

Q: Are you now committed in your mind to seeing this series evolve over the years the way 24 did?

SUTHERLAND: If you are going to do a series that can potentially run for another eight years, you want it to be something that you can really sink your teeth into, something that's different and that's going to challenge you in a different way. Tim (Kring) and I were sitting down the other day and we were talking about getting older, and he said, "At some point, you start to realize you have to be responsible for what you're going to say." And if there was anything I wanted to be a part of saying through a TV series or a film, it was this beautiful idea of universal interconnectivity and this responsibility that we have to each other, as a people, as a race, to this planet. For all those reasons, that's why I chose to do this show because it suggests that we are all connected in deeper ways than we believe.

Q: Tell us about your character and how he deals with his son who has enormously difficulty communicating with the outside world?

SUTHERLAND: As a parent, you can't help but be very moved by the relationship between them. The title of the series comes from the fact that his son refuses to be touched, and so the father has to deal with that as well as trying to reach out to a young boy who communicates with numbers rather than words. He wants to have as normal a relationship as he possibly can with his son, which I think every parent can relate to. The constant reality surrounding my character is his sense of failure as a parent, the feeling he's somehow responsible for where his own son's at. That is certainly something I responded to as a parent myself. I think the show does that well.

Q: What is your relationship with David Mazous who plays your son Jake?

SUTHERLAND: He's an exceptionally talented young man and when we first auditioned together he reminded me of my daughter Sarah when was his age. There was something about the way he looked at me which just floored me. He's very bright and enthusiastic and if you watch how he plays Jake, who is not an easy character to play, it's beautiful.

Q: Is the plot of the series in any way an inspiration to you in your own relationship with your children?

SUTHERLAND: I've been trying to make amends for many years now, and especially since '24' ended I've tried to reconnect with my family and live a more normal life again. I spent a year trying to get used to the fact that I didn't have to get up for work every morning at 5 am and then you worry that you're never going to get another part. But I enjoyed my time on Broadway (he played opposite Chris Noth in 'That Championship Season' - ED) and I've been enjoying my time doing 'Touch'.

Q: Are you still hoping to start work on the movie version of '24'?

SUTHERLAND: I've been working very hard to make that happen. The process has taken us so long because it's such a complicated script to write. Normally, we have '24' hours to tell a story. Trying to condense it into two hours involves a lot of hard choices: What kind of story do you want to tell? How political do you want to make it? How character-driven do you want to make it? But now we have a good script. The problem is my work on 'Touch' now and whether we can find a big enough window to shoot the film. The film will pick up with Jack Bauer six months after the end of the final TV episode. The action will unfold in the course of a single 24-hour day. We still need to find a director and see which actors from the series would be available to return to do the film with me. The film is going to happen - I'm very anxious to get it done.

Q: Do you worry that audiences will forget about Jack Bauer the more time that goes by?

SUTHERLAND: No. I think audiences still remember the series and have a huge interest in seeing what a film version would be like. People still tell me how much they loved Jack Bauer and I think audiences appreciated that he wasn't a typical hero-type and had many flaws and contradictions. We'll also have a lot more creative freedom and possibilities doing the film as opposed to the kinds of limitations you have when doing a TV series in real time.

Q: Your life and career has had its ups and downs. How would you say you've changed over the years?

SUTHERLAND: That question would take a very long time to answer properly and in a way that would be meaningful to people. What I can say is that I've stopped living excessively, I've become much more responsible when it comes to my friends and family, and I'm enjoying a much happier life.

Q: Are you still close to your twin sister Rachel?

SUTHERLAND: Yes. She's always been there to support me even when I wasn't that pleasant to be around at times. She's helped me through some very rough times. She's a lot stronger than I am and I've always been able to count on her just as I've been able to appreciate all the kindness and love my daughters Sarah and Michelle have given me. I've been very fortunate. It's been one of the consistent themes of my life that women have always played the biggest role. When I was growing up, it was really my mother who raised me because my father was generally absent. My father and mother divorced when I was a kid and I didn't really get to know him or see him that much until I was in my late teens. Now I have a very, very close relationship with my father.

Q: What did it take for you to become friends with your father?

SUTHERLAND: I grew up and stopped being a stubborn pain in the ass! As a teenager I thought I had to become this vulgar rebellious character as a way of proving to the world that I was someone different, someone who knew that the world was full of shit. I didn't even see his films until I was around sixteen or seventeen because I had this anger towards him ... So I would up tormenting my father for no good reason and I'm just glad that he never held it against me! It's been one of the grand redeeming moments of my life to have made peace with my father and we've been great friends for 15 years now. We've learned to laugh about all the crap that went on between us, the kind of crap that often divides parents and their children. I've also learned to appreciate what a great man my father is and what a brilliant actor he is.

Q: You grew up in Toronto. What makes Canadians different?

SUTHERLAND: (Laughs) Well, we're usually thought of as polite and calm compared to Americans or the French! (Laughs) I'm not sure though that many (he was a notorious rebel during his early days in Hollywood - ED) people who knew me when I was younger would think of me as a typically polite and calm Canadian. I had a huge rebellious streak that took a long time for me to get over. But I think I'm polite. I always wait for the red light to turn green! I'm usually on time. I hold doors open for women …

Q: What's your worst vice?

SUTHERLAND: (Laughs) I'm a neat freak. My house has to be perfectly in order. But of course I can't talk about my real vices even though I've managed to subdue them over time.

Q: This seems to be a very good time in your life?

SUTHERLAND: I'm taking more time to be with the people I love and I'm much more appreciative of all the beautiful moments you enjoy being with your friends and loved ones. Throughout my life, I've discovered only many years later how I owe so much of my career success to people who picked up the phone to put in a good word for me or stood by me. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life figuring out who my real friends are or why good things have been happening to me. I'm at a point where I want to take advantage of every moment and not let things slide by because I'm not as present as I should be. It's about time.

Q: Are you ready to start a new family of your own?

SUTHERLAND: No. That is not part of my plans. I've been spending time with my older grandson and just one hour being with him is exhausting. Working on a new TV series is also a great excuse not to have more children! (Laughs) /Viva Press

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