Keifer Sutherland playing politics in new series
CANNES, France -- Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland is lot of names to get on the back of a hockey sweater. That’s why Kiefer just goes by Kiefer. As to why playing hockey is no longer on his agenda, read on.
Still known to millions worldwide as one-man army Jack Bauer on 24, the Emmy-winner has a hot new role on his hands: playing U.S. president Tom Kirkman on Designated Survivor (ABC/CTV). Sutherland left Toronto –where the series is shot -- and flew to Cannes last fall to promote the series at MIPCOM, the international TV marketplace.
Friendly and relaxed despite a roomful of publicists and a packed agenda, he took a few moments for an interview on the balcony of his hotel room. He politely apologized for lighting a cigarette, took a single puff, and immediately butted it out. The drama – about a mid-level cabinet minister thrust into the White House after a terrorist attack -- got off to a fast start last fall, drawing close to 2.5 million Canadian viewers.
The series’ success is a nice birthday present for Sutherland, who turned 50 in December. Born in London, Sutherland still has a British passport – a document that came in handy when he shot an extra, shortened season of 24 in The UK three years ago.
“I got to go in the express line at the airport,” he jokes. His time in London was short. His parents – movie star Donald Sutherland and actress/activist Shirley Douglas (Wind at my Back) – moved to Hollywood when their kids were still small.
Kiefer can still remember the cool Jaguar convertible his dad had to give up in order to wheel the two tots around town. Before he was five, Kiefer’s parents had split and home was in Toronto with his mom and sis.
Shooting a TV series in Toronto after all these years away has been great, says Sutherland. “I get to spend a lot more time with my mom and my sister than I normally would.” He enjoyed exploring the old neighbourhood.
“I know it like the back of my hand,” says Sutherland of Toronto. “I can take the subway to work and avoid all that traffic.” It took four months of riding before a subway patron snapped and posted a shot of Sutherland on the TTC. Sutherland shrugged and kept right on riding.
Among the haunts he used to visit were local skating rinks. Young Kiefer played for the East York Bulldogs in the MTHL. This came in handy years later when Sutherland played every Monday night with other hockey-mad actors and ex-NHL players in a recreational Hollywood league established by film and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI, “Pirates of the Caribbean”).
“The hockey was really, really good,” says Sutherland. “Some of the best adult hockey I’ve ever played was played in Los Angeles, which I’ve always found so ironic.”
Sutherland’s TV schedule, plus his burgeoning career as a singer/ songwriter (his first solo album, “Down in a Hole,” was released in 2016), has left Sutherland no time for hockey. He brought his skates north while working in Toronto on Designated Survivor, but his hope this winter was simply to lace ‘me up and take his oldest grandson, Hamish, for a skate at Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto’s City Hall. The boy is now 10.
“My grandson has just started playing and it’s awesome,” says Sutherland. The actor has had plenty of time to refl ecton playing an “accidental” president at a time when America has just elected the former host of Celebrity Apprentice to be the leader of the free world.
“This is the most bizarre election cycle I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he said shortly before the vote last November. “The hyperbole on both sides has gotten to a point that it has created the least flexible population.”
That is one ripped-from-the-headlines theme explored this season on Designated Survivor. Kirkman finds he has to compromise, especially when it comes to his wife (played by Californication’s Natascha McElhone) and family.
“What I like about our opportunity with this show is that, because it’s not real, we can actually have smart, insightful, factual discussions about issues from a perspective of the right and from a perspective of the left and come to some conclusions about where we can compromise.” The man who played the un- flinching Jack Bauer says he’s frightened by what he reads in the paper and hears on TV news reports today.
“If I have a news station on, and I hear these incredible things that are being said, it makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. Then I start reading one of our scripts and I start to calm down. I think this speaks volumes as to what we can potentially do with this show.”