You know him mostly as Jack Bauer, the man who (consistently) saved the world in 24. But out of character, Kiefer Sutherland is kind, gracious and down to earth – and nothing like the intense television character he personified for several years. We recently had a chance to speak with Sutherland on a press call as he promoted his new series Touch, a drama based on the concept of connections and what happens when people are destined to meet. Sutherland was passionate about not only his love for the work that he does on the show, but also for what he hopes viewers will take away from it.
On what grabbed him about the show and when he connected to the character:
“I was doing a play in New York on Broadway. I had a film that I knew I was going to go do and so I read Touch almost reluctantly. I don’t think I was completely ready to go back to television yet. I was enjoying some of the different opportunities that I had had, and I think it was around page 30…I just knew I would be so remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity that Touch was. I identified with him [Martin] out of the gate. There was something interesting because obviously this is very different than 24, yet there is a real similarity in the character. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day and he would never win completely…and this guy is never going to win, either. He’s never going to have the quintessential relationship of a father and a son. And yet he perseveres and that’s a great kind of character statement and so I identified with him greatly on that. I think as a parent, as well, just the sense of responsibility combined with not knowing what to do all the time – I think every parent feels that. I certainly can speak for myself and say that I have during my wife’s pregnancy – for nine months I’d have these great fantasies of how I was going to be the greatest dad on the planet. And then my daughter was born and a kind of fear came over me like none other that I’ve ever had in my life. I was confronted with the fact that I really didn’t know what I was doing and it was something that I was going to have to figure out as I went. And I really relate to Martin on that level and just the dynamic between him and his son, I just find that so extraordinary. So for all of those reasons, those were the first things that grasped me.”
On what made him want to return to television:
“Well, it was a combination of things. I had an unbelievable experience on 24. We shot 198 episodes and I was as excited about shooting the 198th as I was the first. I had a great relationship with Fox, both the studio and the network and so that combined with this script…it wasn’t even really a choice anymore. It was something that I knew I had to do. And I remember thinking about it really strongly when I was crossing the street in New York and the person who I work with, Susan…I remember saying to her if we don’t do this, how are we going to feel in September watching it and knowing all of its potential and how great we both think it can be? And that answered my question for me. I didn’t want to be sitting there watching this fantastic show in September if I had had the opportunity to be a part of it.”
On why you should tune into the show:
“I think that ultimately, almost in the way that 24 started, people that are initially interested will watch it whether they’re a fan of Tim Kring or a fan of mine or whether they like the trailer. They’ll watch it and then if they feel strongly about it, they’ll tell friends and we have to rely on that. For me personally, I feel that there is a great deal of suspense within the context of the show, even in the not knowing what the numbers are and the narrative where the audience actually knows more than the lead character. So I think that even though we’re not blowing things up, that there’s enough excitement around the drama of this show that people who enjoyed 24 will not be that thrown by it.”
On forming the bond with David Mazouz, who plays his on-screen son Jake:
“He’s an amazing young actor and he’s an amazing young man. He does something that is really – I think it would be impossible to try and teach an actor to do. He has very limited physical response to anything that I do. He doesn’t talk and yet I can feel his presence even if he’s not looking at me. I can always sense that he’s listening and I think that comes across to the viewer as well…that’s a real gift. He was the first boy out of about 25 young people that I read with and because I was doing the play at the same time, I could only do five or six or seven kids a day. I remember thinking wow, this kid is amazing. If the other kids are going to be like this, we’re going to find an amazing kid. And all of the kids I have to say were fantastic, but there was something really special. He was just amazing and so that bond kind of started right away. He works a lot of hours with us, and I’ve just been completely amazed by how focused and attentive he is. I think that’s a big thing. He’s not being made to do this, I think he actually really does enjoy it and he’s very curious about how to get better and it’s been a phenomenal experience. I really, really do love working with him.”
On his character’s journey for the season:
“I think at the beginning of the story we discover Martin, who has a son named Jake, who in the course or our story we realize has been misdiagnosed with severe autism and in fact is just a truly, truly evolved human being that is years and years beyond where my character is and where our society is at. And in an effort to communicate with my son, I discover that he has this unbelievable skill set that allows him to interpret numbers and symbols in a way that kind of explain our past and to some degree predict our future and that’s where we start the show off. My journey is very much like the Chinese fable that the story is based on, which was called “The Red Thread” and the red thread is basically a red thread that is loosely looped around the ankles of all the people that are supposed to come in contact with each other over the course of a lifetime. This thread can stretch and it can bend, but it cannot break, and somehow in our society we have broken this and my son is taking me on a journey to try and put the thread back together.”
Touch premieres tonight on FOX at 9pm.