A Touch of magic
Playing the father of a special needs boy in his latest TV show has led to a bit of soul-searching for actor Kiefer Sutherland, writes Darren Devlyn
FAME can be seductive, but for many it can prove self-destructive. Hollywood is littered with actors who have had big profiles and bigger pay packets, but struggled to keep their lives on the rails.
Kiefer Sutherland has seen contemporaries cursed by fame that possibly came too soon.
Many of the so-called Brat Pack who shone alongside him in the ’ 80s — Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Lou Diamond Phillips, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy — have since had careers that fizzed completely or spluttered like second-hand lawnmowers.
Part of the secret to longevity, Sutherland says, is not placing too much stock in your own hype.
As the star of films including The Lost Boys, Flatliners and The Three Musketeers, he discovered what it was like to be ego-stroked.
Sutherland, however, has also seen the showbiz pendulum swing the other way. Before espionage drama 24 revived his career and made him super-rich, his prospects had plummeted.
A depressed Sutherland left Tinseltown, moving to his ranch near Santa Monica.
He spent the best part of two years competing in rodeos, until the role of agent Jack Bauer in 24 restored his credibility and bank account — he allegedly pocketed a cool $40 million for the final three seasons of the show.
He loved playing Bauer, but when the curtain came down on the series he felt no inclination to take on another punishing TV schedule.
He was doing a play on Broadway and felt he finally had his freedom back when Heroes creator Tim Kring and the original producers of 24 approached him with a script for a new show, Touch.
He says his imagination was captured by the idea of playing struggling baggage handler and single dad Martin Bohm, whose special needs son, Jake (David Mazouz), has never spoken but seems able to predict the future. ‘‘ I was very guarded, but read the script mainly out of respect for the people involved,’’ Sutherland says. ‘‘ I got to page 30 and thought, ‘ oh s..., I’m in trouble because I’m fully in love with this script’.’’
Sutherland has spent enough time in the career wilderness to not complain about the lifestyle of a primetime star. But he does stress there is a pressure in being a TV drama leading man.
A network has invested heavily in you. The hopes, and earning potential, of a cast and crew hang largely on you when you are the show’s drawcard. If the show fails and people who work with you are suddenly unemployed, it is easy to feel like it’s your fault and that you didn’t do enough to make the show successful.
‘‘ My memories of 24 are of when it was a well-oiled machine,’’ Sutherland says.
‘‘ You forget about what it’s like to be nervous (at the beginning) . . . ohmy God, what ONLINE Our iPad special report looks at the Brat Pack actors who have made headlines for all the wrong reasons. if nobody watches? All those fears come to the fore. We’ve been so relieved that people are enjoying the show.’’
Part of the show’s appeal to Sutherland was that he identified strongly with the role of guilt-ridden parent.
He has been married and divorced twice and has a daughter and three stepchildren. His father, actor Donald, divorced his mother, Shirley Douglas, when Kiefer was four and he was largely raised by Douglas.
‘‘ After reading it, and certainly during the playing of it (character), I realised how many things I had taken for granted with my children, and how unbelievably lucky I was,’’ Sutherland says.
‘‘ The scene that stuck out to me the most was when I (Martin) was telling him (screen son) about a baseball game. Because behind all that were the dreams of being able to play catch with my son, and take him to a baseball game, and be able to very selfishly try to mould him into a smaller me, but better.
‘‘ That moment broke my heart because I thought, what would it be like not to be able to hug my daughter when I put her to bed.’’
Do some homework on Sutherland and you won’t read much about his role as a dad. Headlines suggest he’s a man who at times has needed more than a little help from his friends to get home safely from a bar.
He’s comfortable with the level of media coverage he receives, even if some of it is unflattering.
‘‘ I like people and people have been really nice to me.
‘‘ It doesn’t mean I don’t do stupid things on my own, but I would have done those regardless of what I do for a living,’’ he says.
‘‘ I was lucky to have my father being my father.
‘‘ If I went to a baseball game with my dad people would ask for an autograph.
‘‘ I knew that was part of it if you were lucky enough to become successful.’’ Touch, Channel 10, Sunday, 8.30pm
Reflective: Kiefer Sutherland with his Touch co-star David Mazouz.