Kiefer Sutherland was one of the headliners at the Whistler Film Festival earlier this month. The veteran actor of the hit series 24 was in attendance to receive the Trailblazer Award and screen his latest film, Forsaken. The Western drama is yet another collaboration between Sutherland and 24 director Jon Cassar. The film also marks the first time that he truly worked with his father, Donald Sutherland. Kiefer Sutherland sat down me at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler in Canada for an interview.
I originally conducted the interview on behalf of Blogcritics.org, where the article is entitled “Whistler Film Festival: Interview with Kiefer Sutherland.”
Welcome to the Whistler Film Festival. How are you?
Thank you. I’m great, thanks for having me on your blog.
It’s a pleasure to interview you. Congratulations! You received the Trailblazer Award last night. What does it mean to have the local recognition?
That’s the point: to be able to come home, first of all. I made this Western with my father. We’re both Canadian. It was important to both of us that we make the film in Canada. To be acknowledged for that here in Canada is incredibly special. There’s that old maxim, they say, “You can’t go home.” That’s not 100% true.
For me, it meant a lot and they were very gracious in the audience last night. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to thank people for what they’ve allowed you to do. The truth is [that] an audience has allowed me to have the career that I’ve had. An audience has allowed me to be able to do what I love for a living and the depth of my gratitude for that is limitless. Last night was a nice evening to kind of acknowledge that.
Tell us about your character, John Henry Clayton, in your new film, Forsaken.
My character, John Henry Clayton, left home to fight off in the Civil War. Clearly the war had damaged him. Things had happened. It was a very – all wars are brutal, but this was … He had seen things that forced him to make a decision not to go home. He was ashamed, I think, of things he had done, things he had seen. He was a changed man. He ends up becoming a gunfighter for hire, sort of nomadic from town to town.
Ultimately in a shootout, he ends up killing a little boy and ends up going home to kind of seek forgiveness from his mother. Unfortunately, when he arrives home, his mother has passed away. And he is now left with his father, who he is very estranged from. The film is really a coming together story of a father and a son and finding a way for them both to accept each other for who they are. I think that dynamic, although maybe more extreme in the context of this film, holds true for every father and son that I know. I’ve certainly found it very moving for me and I hope audiences do as well.
You were able to work with your father, Donald Sutherland. Forsaken is the third film that you’re credited on with him. What were you able to learn from your father this time as an actor and what do you think he learned from you?
I know someone put Max Dugan Returns – I was an extra in that. It doesn’t count. I had one line to Matthew Broderick. I don’t want someone to accidentally go – you’ll never find me in it. We did work on A Time to Kill together but we never had a scene together. In the context of [Forsaken], I have huge respect for my father as an actor. So there were so many things that – I wanted to see how he worked. I wanted to have the opportunity to exchange with him.
The night before we started shooting, I was incredibly nervous. What if he’s not going to like the way that I do a scene? What if he’s not going to like the way that I approach the work? What I ended up finding out was that we’re actually very similar in lot of those regards.
The thing I wasn’t counting on was how visceral an effect he would have as my father in the context of a scene. If it was a dynamic scene where we were arguing or very emotional scene in the confession of what he had done, I found myself still looking into my father’s eyes: eyes that I had been looking into since I was born. I was amazed with how easy certain things came. I remember one moment in a scene having to say to myself, “Don’t get in the way. Just let this be.”
It’s not normally how I work. As an actor, I consider myself to have quite a lot of control over the physicality of what I’m doing … the volume [and] the pace in the delivery of the lines, intention, etc. In this I found it to be a much freer experience as a result of who I was working with. And I wasn’t counting on that to the degree that it happened.
Last question: why do you think people find the Old West and the Civil War to be so intriguing?
Well, they’re two different things. The Civil War for one, because you had brothers fighting brothers. You had families that were split down the middle, torn apart, and it was one of the bloodiest wars that America has ever been a part of for the time and still to this day. Given the fact that weaponry was what it was in the 1800s, the casualties were astonishing! It was a brutal, brutal war. I think the divisions of the North and the South are still perceived in the U.S. I think there’s a lot to gain about the history, not only about how the war started, but how it was fought and ultimately was concluded.
The West, on the other hand, is different. I think the West is perceived as a simpler time, when you survive by your strength and your wit or you perished. There was simply right and wrong. I think we look back at that time comparative to now as an uncomplicated time. So for storytelling reasons, that’s a very black and white canvas. That’s a very black and white backdrop, if you will.
The story of a father and a son is very grey and muddy and kind of dirty. I felt the Western backdrop would be perfect to tell this kind of a story and for me it was. Again, it’s up to the audience to decide if they feel the same way. But I’ve always found something very comforting in the simplicity of Westerns. It’s kind of looking back on your childhood and remembering when you were five years old or seven years old. All you wanted to do was go play and at 9 o’clock, you were exhausted and you went to sleep. And that was your life: you got up and you did it again! Everything was simple. It was before you fell in love. It was before you had your own children. Life was just clean and pure and simple. Westerns represent that to me as well.
We’re excited to see how the film does on wide release. Congratulations again and thank you for the interview.
Thank you so much. Thanks!
This interview was published on Blogcritics.org on December 10, 2015, under the title “Whistler Film Festival: Interview with Kiefer Sutherland.”