Total Film

DONALD SUTHERLAND

“I’M KIND OF INTERESTED IN STAYING ALIVE. I DIDN’T CARE SO MUCH ABOUT THAT 30 YEARS AGO. I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO BE ALIVE FOREVER”

Do you smoke?” says Donald Sutherland. He is not offering Total Film a quick puff – quite the opposite, in fact. The 85-year-old wants to ensure a bit of social distancing. “I apologise,” he says. “I have been allergic to whatever comes up by burning tobacco product since 1983.” He used to be a four-pack-a-day man, but after quitting, he developed an allergy to second-hand smoke. “I was in the middle of making a film and we lost insurance, had to shut the film down,” he shrugs.

Firmly establishing he’s safe in TF’s company, he reclines in the library of Zurich’s posh Dolder Grand Hotel. Dressed in a navy suit, light-blue shirt and purple socks, and holding a black cane, he looks statesman-like with that wisp of white hair – immediately recalling his President Coriolanus Snow. His role in The Hunger Games franchise introduced him to a whole new generation, though Sutherland’s six-decade career has never seen him slip from the public eye.

Canadian-born, Sutherland spent his teenage years in Nova Scotia, before eventually coming to Britain to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After rep theatre and TV guest spots, he got his movie break in 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. Three years later, he became a star in Robert Altman’s military comedy M*A*S*H, playing Hawkeye Pierce, leading to a stunning decade-long run, including Klute, Don’t Look Now, Animal House, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Ordinary People.

It was during this period that Sutherland met his third wife, French-Canadian actress Francine Racette. Sutherland already had twins – actor Kiefer and Rachel – from his second marriage, and his time with Racette produced three more actor-sons, Rossif, Angus and Roeg. The roles changed as he got older but the demand didn’t – whether it was playing the pyromaniac in Backdraft, Mr. Bennet in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice or Brad Pitt’s cohort in Ad Astra.

He has two projects on his current slate., a classy slice of Hitchcockian intrigue, casts him as Jerome Debney, a reclusive artist living in the Lake Como estate of a well-to-do art collector (played by Mick Jagger). Meanwhile, in HBO’s must-see miniseries , created by David E. Kelley () and directed by Susanne Bier (), he features as Franklin Reinhardt, influential father to Nicole Kidman’s therapist Grace. Whether he’s eccentric or imposing, you can’t take your eyes off him.

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