Kiefer Sutherland: ‘I said: I can do a really good Donald Sutherland for half the money’

Answering readers’ questions, the actor and musician talks about how he tried stealing a job off his father, his favourite item from Greggs and his Mickey Mouse tattoo

Hi, Keith … What’s your favourite English expression? ClassicMacGruber

I’m sure they meant to say Kief? Or maybe not? I get called Kief in England more than any other place. I met some young parents in about 2001 who had named their son Kiefer, but I’ve never met anyone called Kiefer that is my age. As for my favourite British expression, there’s “bit and bobs”, which is really sweet and reminds me of my grandma, and “Oi!” which is not technically British, but any time I go “Oi!” it stops the room.

Does your twin sister have as many middle names as you? emzsam

I’m Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland. She’s Rachel Elizabeth Maria Teresa Dorothy Isabelle Sutherland. We’ve never gotten a straight answer from our father as to why he was so generous. I’ve always joked that he must have been in real debt and told people: “If you feed us on Tuesday, I’ll name my son after you”, and then extended the offer to my sister.

How does being British affect your outlook on life? LarboIreland

I have an innate desire to conquer the world.

During your first appearance in The Simpsons, as an army colonel in the 18th season, Homer says: “Man, you’ve got an awesome voice!” Do you agree? francolfc

I’m very grateful for my voice. I have benefitted genetically from my father who has got one of the most awesome voices of all time. He was doing the voiceover for these Volvo commercials and getting paid a lot more money than I originally thought. So, as a joke, I told his agent that I could do a really good Donald Sutherland for half the money. I don’t think my father thought it was very funny, but I thought it was hysterical.

Kiefer Sutherland Donald Sutherland Forsaken
Kiefer Sutherland pictured with Donald Sutherland in Forsaken. Photograph: Momentum Pictures/Allstar

Has your father influenced your acting career choices? evandane

It’s hard to think of another actor who’s been as prolific and made films as diverse as Ordinary People, Don’t Look Now, Fellini’s Casanova, Bertolucci’s 1900 and The Hunger Games. His influence was to make my career as diversified and interesting as possible, which he taught me by doing, not by saying, which was really cool.

What do you remember of your grandfather, politician Tommy Douglas, who moved from Falkirk in Scotland and helped to bring universal healthcare to Canada? Haigin88

From when I was six or seven, my sister and I would spend six weeks in the summer with my mother’s parents, my grandma and grandpa. I have incredibly fond memories of sitting in the gallery at the House of Commons in Ottawa, watching him give these great speeches. When he was finished, he would sneak up to the gallery and bring us a hotdog. I was aware of how important he was in Canadian politics, but he was also my grandpa. He was incredibly supportive. I was scholastically challenged and he told me not to get down on myself. When I was 14, he taught me to drive in a car park. He was one of the kindest people in my life. He died when I was 18, so I miss him very much.

Kiefer Sutherland
‘As a musician and an actor, you inhabit two very different things’ … Sutherland performing in 2020. Photograph: Beth Elliott

Do you feel more comfortable as a musician than an actor? sey_more_j

No. You inhabit two very different things. As an actor, I’m inhabiting a character, so innately, it’s not comfortable because it’s not you. If I’m on stage and explaining to a room full of strangers that I wrote this song because I had a broken heart, and people start laughing … what’s plan B? You’re relying on the good faith of others, so that’s not very comfortable, either. I think it’s safe to say I’m pretty uncomfortable doing both.

You’ve said you dislike watching your own movies and TV shows. How about your singing? emzsam

When you’ve got 40, or 50 songs, at some point you’re going to start listening to your own stuff, just to remember it. When I’m watching a movie or a television show I’m in … it’s not that I hate it, but I have a very strong image of what I’m trying to create, and sometimes I don’t see what was in my imagination. Stand By Me was a perfect example. I really felt that I had not played that character properly. But people would come up to me and say otherwise, so I realised what is blocking me from enjoying my characters – and I know this sounds moronic – is that they look and sound like me.

I read that Stand By Me worked so well because you genuinely intimidated the four younger actors. Was that conscious? Hoppo

I don’t know where that story comes from. I was 18, they were 12, so we didn’t hang out together. We were shooting in Oregon, and I was off in Portland doing … whatever I did at night. I remember running lines with River Phoenix. If their only contact with me was in the scenes, I understand why they might have felt a little threatened. But I certainly wasn’t going to bully a bunch of little children for a film.

Bradley Gregg, Casey Siemaszko and Kiefer Sutherland in Stand By Me.
Bradley Gregg, Casey Siemaszko and Sutherland in Stand By Me. Photograph: Columbia Pictures/Allstar

Did you ever meet that muscly singer who plays the saxophone in the beach party rock band in The Lost Boys? JSpicoli

Yeah – Tim Cappello. He was Tina Turner’s saxophone player. The Lost Boys had this great, deliberate, rock’n’roll soundtrack with Echo and the Bunnymen, Roger Daltrey … all these cool acts of the time. And he was one of them.

How often do you pull out: “Maggots, Michael. You’re eating maggots” when you’re at a Chinese restaurant with friends? TamaIti

It hasn’t occurred to me but now I might.

You were very funny in 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Haigin88

Not on purpose! Do I get offered much comedy? No, I do not. It’s not that I can’t read the joke and find the punchline. I just get so nervous that nobody’s going to laugh that comedy is something that I’ve never coveted, and it’s avoided me, too. Would I like to be funny? My God, yeah. Whether or not I’m capable on cue might forever remain to be seen.

What prompted you to move to TV when Netflix didn’t even exist? Istanbul_78

Some television shows were already better than the movies. ER, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, The West Wing, Sex and the City … 24 was right in there, so I got incredibly lucky. Stephen Hopkins, who directed the first season of 24, was a really good friend of mine, and helped convince me. Plus, the films I was being offered weren’t very good.

Did you take on the role of Tom Kirkman in Designated Survivor just so Jack Bauer could finally get into the Oval Office? TheOracleNo1

I wish I were that clever. I liked the idea of someone becoming president who didn’t go through the process. If you’re willing to put yourself through that process of becoming president, you’re probably not the person for the job. I liked the idea that – very much like in 1939’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington – someone is just pulled out of the crowd to become president who will approach politics purely from common sense. So, that’s the serious answer. It would’ve been very different if Jack Bauer had shown up, I would have let him in the Oval Office, and we would have talked about how much we thought we looked like each other.

Sutherland as Jack Bauer in 24.
Never say never … Sutherland as Jack Bauer in 24. Photograph: Sky One/Sportsphoto/Allstar

I’ve gotta ask, any chance of more Jack Bauer? TheSableHoundReturns

I’ve learned to say: never say never. But if the writers are going come up with a good idea, they better do it quick, because I’m slowing down. Time is catching up and the bones are getting brittle. Maybe they should reboot it with new characters and Jack Bauer somehow gets out of China and that storyline’s resolved. I’m open to all of it. 24 was one of my great experiences in life and if there’s a smart, intelligent way to finish it – or at least finish my involvement – I’m open to that. I’ve also had to learn how to respond to the name Jack, because, like the reader in the first question who got my name wrong, people just go: Jack! I was just settling in my seat on a plane and this lady leaned over and said: “I feel much safer now that you’re sitting next to me.” I took a beat and said: “I don’t know why. Everyone who sits next to me dies.” I was joking, but I’m not sure she knew how to take it.

Why doesn’t Jack ever say goodbye to Chloe on the phone? Haigin88

Everything’s way too urgent. With Jack Bauer, everything’s vocal. As Kiefer, I would say [takes sips of water]: “Ooh, I really would like that glass of water.” Jack Bauer would say [swigs water]: “I need that glass of water.” He never says goodbye but you will notice that he does say please and thank you, which was never written into the script. I don’t know what it is about television people, but they are incredibly impolite. So that was my big contribution.

What’s your favourite item from Greggs? prometheus3

Plain sausage roll. I have people in the band and crew who get all complicated with steak this and bacon that … Ugh! Sausage roll, easy, done, in and out. The great thing is that it doesn’t matter if it’s been sitting there for six hours, it still tastes the same. Get the sausage roll, there will be zero disappointment.

As proud owner of a 24 tattoo on my back, has a fan ever displayed any ink that has terrified you? Ajyates33

No, not terrifying. I mean, I’ve got Mickey Mouse with a machine gun reading a book called How to Kill on my arm, but I think that’s cute and funny. Every tour, I get a tattoo at the end. I can’t think of a tattoo shop I’ve been in that hasn’t had The Lost Boys on the wall. If people have got a tattoo because they’ve enjoyed something I did: thank you very much.

• This article was amended on 1 February 2022 because an earlier version incorrectly said that Sutherland’s new album was out on Pheromone Recordings. In fact it’s on Cooking Vinyl.

Kiefer Sutherland’s new album Bloor Street is out now on Cooking Vinyl.


As told to Rich Pelley

The GuardianTramp

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