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Donald Sutherland Webchat
On The Mechanic, JFK, 24, and Julian Assange

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A true legend of cinema, Donald Sutherland's late '60s/early '70s purple patch encompassed classics from Dirty Dozen to Don't Look Now, by way of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Klute, Kelly's Heroes and MASH. How's that for a CV? Not one to rest on his laurels - or rest full stop, seemingly - he's gone on to make a whole bunch of other memorable turns in films as varied as JFK, Backdraft and Pride & Prejudice. He popped by to answer questions on all these and his latest role as Jason Statham's mentor in The Mechanic...

Donald Sutherland Webchat

O.Ruiz says: What can you tell us about your experience on The Mechanic?
Not much. I was only there for two days, but my experience watching it was blissful. Simon West did an absolutely fantastic job of taking what is essentially an action picture, and it is perfectly dressed action picture; the action is created in an imaginative way without being explicit or crude; the sex is there but it's never over the top or exploitative. But the key to it all is that underneath all of that is a narrative that is perfectly cogent and coherent and that examines psychologically the relationship between fathers and sons; in this case my character, who is the surrogate father of Jason Statham, and the biological father of Ben Foster.

After my death, those two boys have to sort it out for each other. I have no respect for my actual son, and I have immense love for my surrogate son, and the evolution of that dilemma, the resolution of that dilemma, is just wonderful to watch. Those two actors, Jason has come into his own. There's a scene at the end of the picture, in the cab of a truck, where he expresses as perfectly as any actor could, the melange of guilt, loss, grief, love and regret. I was quite blown away. And Ben Foster, who's a terrific actor, is just brilliant. He does an extraordinary job of creating a neglected son, a son who is resented and resents, who hates and loves, who's vain and arrogant and selfish and smug and stupid and bright. He's fantastic; it's just the most wonderful movie.

hollyrosenblatt says: Were you a fan of the original?
No.

thatfilmlover says:You have famously never been nominated for an Academy Award. Is this something you think about? Is it still something you would like to achieve?
No. And sure! Anything's always a pleasure. The only thing I'm really concerned about now is death, and what kind of a gravestone I should have. What do you think? Should I have nothing? Rodney Dangerfield has a gravestone under which he is buried. All it says is his name and the dates, and under that it says, "Look what's happened to the neighbourhood."

GenreGiant says: You've been involved in several high-profile television series and mini-series such as Dirty Sexy Money and The Pillars Of Earth. As an actor, are television projects becoming just an important as movie projects nowadays?
Kiefer went to the producer of 24 with an idea for me to play Sean Connery to his Harrison Ford. He said, "No. We want him to try to kill you."
Everything's important. I approach them all the same way, with passion and hope and the desire to realise some truth about the human condition. So they're just mediums to allow that.

LizzieBee says: Were you surprised by the furore caused by Don't Look Now and its 'famous scene'...?
No. I didn't know it was a furore.

Aaron says: What do you do to remember your lines in an acting role? I always like to think of your part in JFK as being done in one shot. It's quite a lot to remember.
It was done in one shot, and it was a lot to remember if you think 20 pages is a lot to remember. It took a lot of preparation, not remembering it, but making it organic, real. Making it so that I could stop in the middle of it and answer the telephone and have a conversation about something else and then go back to where I left off as if it were a train of thought buried deep in my brain, not something I had memorised. So it wasn't memorised, it was the voice of the character channelled through me. I was trying to be more pretentious but I can't.

TrainRobber says: Were you convinced by the speech your character made in JFK? Think it's all true?
Yes. Those are the words of Fletcher Prouty, and he spoke to me and I believed him. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Donald Sutherland Webchat

odddaze says: How did you get involved in Animal House?
I'd made a deal with John Landis that I would do something in his pictures. He was a gopher in Kelly's Heroes, and I said I would appear in each of his films until he became a success. So I was a waiter in The Kentucky Fried Movie and a walking billboard in something else.

keniby says: What was the last new film to really dazzle you or what current filmmakers are you a fan of?
I can't actually answer that. It's just not in my head at the moment and I don't want to stop thinking what I'm thinking to think of that.

thatfilmlover says: What in your opinion is the key to having a long career as an actor in the buisness?
That speech in JFK wasn't memorised, it was the voice of the character channelled through me. I believed it.
Not dying young?

Carla says: Thinking about some of your previous films, you have often worked in ensemble casts (Dirty Dozen, MASH, Space Cowboys, etc). Who have you most enjoyed working with?
That is like asking me who my favourite child is. If you think I would be fool enough to answer that, or could answer that, you're nuts!

Shortround says: When you were shooting Revolution in 1985 in King's Lynn, you went to my Dad's restaurant one night for dinner (the Kismet). I, being only six years old at the time, served you and took your order. I was dressed in a mini tux. Glad to be of service to you! I hope you remember it.
Hope springs eternal, Shortround.

B52 says: Has there ever been a director you've been excited to work with just because you were a fan of their work?
Federico Fellini.

Kubasik says: What is your definition of a good director?
Nic Roeg.

Donald Sutherland Webchat

Conor Brosnahan says: My favourite role of yours is X in JFK. When I'm in the mood for an exposition and acting masterclass I always watch just that scene. How did that role come to you and what were Stone and Costner like to work with?
Can I just say that I am a huge admirer of you? Thank you. I was there for half a day, the guys were lovely. They were wonderful, Oliver and Kevin. I was thrilled to have been given that, because I had made a film, produced a film earlier, called Executive Action about the same story. This was close to my heart.

Colbie says: You semi-famously stopped reading reviews after Pauline Kael panned your performance in The Day Of The Locust (a personal favourite). Have you ever lapsed back since then?
What's my definition of a good director? Nic Roeg.
Sure. I went back a little while ago because I was reading a book about Alan Pakula, and I looked up reviews of Klute, a performance that I was quite proud of. And I was really trashed in that.

thatfilmlover says: Apparently you and Elliott Gould both own apartments in the same Manhattan high-rise building. Has he ever popped round to borrow some milk?
The key to your statement is 'apparently', and he does not.

JediBobster says: What did you make of Alan Alda's take on Hawkeye Pierce?
I didn't ever see it, but I can tell you he is an extraordinary gentleman. When we were both standing in a line-up years and years ago, and had never met. We were meeting the Queen Mother. He reached across, and shook my hand, and whispered in my ear, "Thank you for my life." I thought he was absolute bliss.

odddaze says: Do you have any opinions on the upcoming Buffy remake, and any interesting tidbits on the original movie?
No.

Thedude says: What's your passion apart from acting?
My wife. My children. My children. And my wife. I drive a GTR, a car made by Nissan; I got one of the first ones in California. I still have it. It's wonderful. But my passion is the work.

kong says: If you were offered a part in the rumoured 24 film, would you seriously consider it?
Of course. Kiefer came to me when they were doing 24 the series, and said that they wanted to have me play his father. Joel Surnow was the right-wing producer of the thing, I used to call him Surly-now-and-forever, and I said to Kiefer, "If I can play..." - and I was just making a parallel - "...Sean Connery to your Harrison Ford, I would love to do it". So he went to Joel, and Joel said, "No. We want him to try to kill you." I said, "No, I won't do that Keifer, but I tell you what I will do. At the end of the section, I'll come and rescue you, and you'll look up and see my face, I will smile, you will look in wonderment, and I will say, 'I knew your mother 42 years ago.'" And Joel said no.

Big_Pants says: Recently Harrison Ford said there are no good parts for older men, do you agree?
I'm working! My job is to go in and die, and I love it. I find even in the tiniest role, not that I'm presuming to criticise Harrison, because he is probably looking for something that is more complex and would not be satisfied with the smaller things that take just a couple of days to shoot, but sometimes they make me very happy, and this is just personal. That's just me; I've been doing it all my life like that. If you look at Backdraft and JFK and Animal House, they took a day or two to shoot. And I had a wonderful time doing them, and I was able to cull out of them some semblance of truth inherent in the human condition, and that satisfies me.

I think the character in The Mechanic is emblematic, complex. The image and the resonance of him must stay in the minds of Jason Statham and Ben Foster, and the audience, for the entire film. To be able to achieve that, and I think it is achieved in the film, requires a rigid pursuit of a Giacometti-esque discipline to bring the force of nature of that man into very fine intense lines of display that imprint themselves on the minds of the audience watching like a tattoo of a father-son dilemma. How's that for an answer?

Donald Sutherland Webchat

matthooper says: With movies like MASH and Klute, there is a lot of talk about the '70s being a golden age in Hollywood. Do you agree?
It was a golden age for Hollywood because movies were a place where you had to go out to a cinema to look at them, you couldn't see them at home. The country was in a state of cultural revolution, of excitement. Movies were the means of communicating within the fabric of that culture, the thread that spread through it. Everybody went to the movies. They didn't sit at home and watch it, they didn't fast-forward because there wasn't any fast-forwarding. They went and they talked and they yelled. It wasn't so much that the movies were so wonderful, but the environment that was challenging them was so extraordinary. It gave birth to Coppola, to Spielberg, to Pakula, to Nic Roeg – all those guys. It was a grand time, but it had less to do with the movies than with the time.

daysofspeed says: How fondly do you recall playing Oddball in Kelly's Heroes? As a child and as an adult it's one of my favourite performances (do you wish you still had the Tiger tank?).
No, I don't want the goddamn Tiger tank, that's for sure, but I did love playing It. I love it when people come up to me on the streets and say "Woof Woof" and I know what they're talking about. But it was a hard time, because I had spinal meningitis during the first six weeks of that film, and I died, I saw the blue tunnel and stuff. So it was hard, but a joy. And I love Clint. He's a grand man, and I admire him immensely. It was a joy to be with him.

mim731 says: What are your memories of working on Johnny Got His Gun?
Go out on the streets, write on blogs, but never let the British government deport Julian Assange.
I did it because Dalton (Trumbo) was a friend of mine. I wasn't particularly anxious to play Jesus, but I was anxious to be a part of his world because the last five pages of his book were pages that I have spoken to soldiers all over the world. If you get the book and read it, they're really an extraordinary indictment of where the United States is today. How it applies to capitalism, the sources of power – how it applies to the relationship between the US and Sweden. So I urge you all to go out on the streets, to write on every blog you can, never ever let the British government deport Julian Assange. Sweden is doing this for the United States, and the United States is really pissed off. So what? The truth will set you free.

pexy says: What's your favourite thing about Canada?
The beaver. And you figure out whose. I gotta go. Unless anybody has anything else to say?

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