Donald Sutherland On Alzheimer’s and running off with Helen Mirren
THINK OF as a road trip movie for the life welltravelled set, less and more “Donnie and the Dame.” That’s Canuck acting legend Donald Sutherland, 82, and Dame Helen Mirren, 72, who play a married couple battling Alzheimer’s and cancer respectively and who break from the shackles of their daily routines to peel off in their camper van for one final adventure. MIKE CRISOLAGO: Why are hopeful films about aging important? DONALD SUTHERLAND: There is a hopefulness in being old if you get out there a little bit. If you stick yourself in a corner and don’t move, it just gets worse and worse. I work because it’s a passionate endeavour. I don’t know what it’d be like to retire but I guess just so long as you don’t give up. MC: Helen Mirren said she enjoyed spending hours in a camper van with you. DS: All I can tell you is that, one day, we were driving along the road, and they were filming behind us. And I turned to her and said, “What if we just go?” And she said, “Could we?” And I said, “Should we?” And she said, “Probably not.” And then we accelerated and, suddenly, the [production people are] going, “Slow down!” So the temptation was there, always. MC: What sort of research did you do for your role? DS: My mother had dementia ... but probably the most influential aspect of my preparation was an organisation called Pines of Sarasota. They train caregivers for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. They have courses, video demonstrations ... and by studying that, I got the reverse. MC: Does playing a character like this make you consider your own future pursuits? DS: You’d hope that I would learn something from something but I never do. I just keep going as if nothing’s going to change, and then a foot falls off. MC: You received an honourary Oscar at the Governors Awards in November. What does that mean to you? DS: It has been the most encouraging, wonderful [experience]. Francine, my wife, and I were in Rome. We’re sitting on the balcony and we have a bottle of water and two plates of spaghetti marinara. And the phone rings. I answered it, and a voice says, “Donald, it’s John Bailey.” He said, “I have been made president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” And I said, “Congratulations.” He said, “No, no, no. I’m phoning to congratulate you.” It was thrilling. And I said, “Speak to Francine.” He spoke to Francine. And then we hung up and ate spaghetti marinara.