‘I’ve often thought about where Jack Bauer is now,’ muses Kiefer Sutherland, who played the flinty counter-terrorist agent in nine seasons of the TV thriller 24, last seen in pistol-wielding action five years ago.
‘Jack might not be in the best place right now but he is a survivor. He’s like a wild boar – you can stab him, you can run him over with a car but he’ll still somehow walk away into the bush.’
The 52-year-old actor agrees that you can hardly imagine Jack on the back nine of some golf course in Miami. ‘No, not for a second,’ Sutherland flashes back, then re-thinks. ‘Unless he was chasing down someone who was on it.’
Donald Sutherland with Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now, 1973. ‘I remember trying to block my dad out with my hand,’ Kiefer Sutherland winces. ‘So that it was only Julie Christie’
You sense that a strong plotline – a good story, whether it be a screenplay, a song or a conversation – is never far from Sutherland’s mind. Having enjoyed ‘the most incredible’ movie career in his 20s and ‘having had high expectations dashed in my 30s’, Sutherland was flattered when Bauer was offered to him and surprised by the show’s global success.
‘I was so grateful that I was doing something that I enjoyed, but more importantly that people were enjoying watching. So, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking, “I wonder why that worked?” I was just so happy that it did. Then got busy making it.’
Even when Sutherland isn’t being Bauer, his own life can still mirror that of the chisel-jawed avenger. He has just stepped off his band’s tour bus for a television appearance in Germany and is reminded of a tumble he took this summer.
‘I was going downstairs getting ready to get off the bus and a car cut in front of us and we had to slam on the brakes,’ he reports. ‘I hit the stairs and cracked a rib. I forgot how much that hurts.’
Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in the hit TV show 24. ‘I was so grateful that I was doing something that I enjoyed, but more importantly that people were enjoying watching’
The gravel-voiced superstar has recently put acting on the back burner and made his second album, Reckless & Me, a collection of self-penned country songs in the rough-hewn style of his musical heroes, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. ‘I am acutely aware of the stigma attached to actors doing music,’ he groans, ‘but the truth of the matter is, I don’t know many actors who could say they played 400 shows in the last five years.’
The road-hardened performer comes from sterling thespian stock. His mother is Shirley Douglas, the Canadian actress and activist; his father, Donald Sutherland, is a towering figure in cinema and, according to his son, the coolest guy ever.
‘He used to drive us to school in a Ferrari he had won in a poker game,’ he reminisces affectionately. ‘In that Ferrari he just played these Bob Dylan records over and over again, singing at the top of his lungs.
‘He was a radical hippy to say the least. He had just finished the film Kelly’s Heroes, so he had really long hair and a huge beard.
‘My father was a political activist as well. He had gone to Vietnam with Jane Fonda,’ Sutherland says, glossing over the Klute stars’ three-year affair. ‘It was just a different time.’
Sutherland senior was also a prime mover in arguably the most controversial love scene in movie history.
During Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 classic Don’t Look Now, Sutherland and Julie Christie engage in four-and-a-half minutes of love-making that proved so convincing it sparked a ‘did they, didn’t they?’ debate that endures to this day.
Both actors have denied that any real sexual contact occurred, Christie dismissing it as ‘pretend sex’ and Sutherland, now 84, insisting last year that ‘it’s not a sex scene’. Yet the rumour persists. Kiefer was 12 years old when he first saw the film and witnessed his father on the job, so to speak.
Kiefer Sutherland on stage in Berlin earlier this month. ‘I am acutely aware of the stigma attached to actors doing music,’ he groans, ‘but the truth of the matter is, I don’t know many actors who could say they played 400 shows in the last five years’
‘I remember trying to block my dad out with my hand,’ he winces. ‘So that it was only Julie Christie. But let’s face it, they moved around too much, so that was very hard to do. But it was also at a time in my life where it was a very erotic thing to see for any 12-year old. I guess the only thing for me to tell you is that I thought Julie Christie was really beautiful.’
Was he aware of the ‘rumour’?
‘Not until I was much older,’ he says. ‘I ended up doing a film in London and both Nic Roeg’s sons were assistant directors on it, and Waldo Roeg would tell me a joke here and there.’
Sutherland is a father himself. His daughter, Sarah Sutherland, 31, is an actress and played Catherine Meyer in Veep.
He recently wrote the moving Song For A Daughter about her. ‘I was home for the first time in almost three years and I was in the kitchen trying to re-familiarise with stuff and found myself looking at the very first picture I had ever taken of her. I got really nostalgic about her when she was a baby. I had cut the cord and the nurse had swaddled her up and passed her back to me.’
He takes a second before adding that he has of course warned his daughter about the hazards of showbusiness and ‘the inevitable bumps in the road’.
‘I think any parent would want to tell their own child, at the right time, “Prepare yourself. It’s not all perfect. But I have faith that if you stay who you are, you are going to be fine.”
‘I’ve always considered myself to be the luckiest person I know, but it doesn’t mean I’ve gotten from point A to point B without getting knocked about a bit.’
At the beginning of Sutherland’s own career, he had 11 hit movies on the bounce. Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, Young Guns I and II, Flatliners… the list is long and impressive.
‘So, in my 20s, I just thought, “This is it. It doesn’t seem that hard to me,”’ he breezes. ‘I had completely taken it for granted that this is what life was going to be like. In my 30s I had a real rough time. My career was in real trouble, and films that I thought were going to work for one reason or another didn’t.’
It was around this time that Sutherland developed a fondness for booze and trouble in equal measure, even spending 48 days in jail (‘which sucked’) for drunk-driving and violating probation in 2008. Yet he remains an enthusiastic whisky drinker.
‘Enthusiastic would be accurate,’ he agrees. ‘And I’ll tell you why. I’ve never had a drink at work in my life. I’m not late for work. I know what I’m doing when I get there, and that goes for music and film.
‘I have friends who can get a little dark drinking whisky, but that’s never been the case with me. Now, I don’t drink tequila for maybe some of those reasons. For me, for whatever reason, Scotch whisky works.’
Even without a glass in hand, Sutherland is quite the raconteur, a gift he inherited from his parents. Even a tangential mention of David Bowie sets him off.
‘I’m 14 years old with bleached white hair, probably wearing eyeliner too,’ he begins promisingly. ‘I was a huge David Bowie fan, and my dad knew it. Bowie was playing in Montreal and Dad took me to the show.
‘I loved the concert and afterwards we went backstage to meet Mr. Bowie.
Dad gave up a night out with Bowie just to make me happy
‘Now David Bowie is not a very tall man. When he opens the door, he is looking straight into my face. He says [deft Bowie impression]: “Hello.” Then he looks up and sees my dad. And with the warmest smile you could imagine says, “Donald! You’ve brought your family… Why?” I then realised the two of them were really good friends and that they maybe had a plan. But he’s brought his dorky 14-year-old son with him.
‘So, my dad gave up a night out with David Bowie just to make me happy. Oh, man…’ the long, wobbly sigh tells its own story.
I wonder what Jack Bauer would make of such namby-pamby emotional nonsense. Sutherland laughs heartily. ‘As I said, Jack’s not in the greatest place,’ he coughs, reaching for a cigarette, building the suspense.
‘But I would certainly be open to one day trying to get him out of that place.
‘I’m not the only one,’ Sutherland hints, with Bauer-like brevity. ‘So, we’ll see what happens down the line.’
Kiefer Sutherland is currently on tour in the UK. He plays London’s Shepherds Bush Empire this Tuesday. His album ‘Reckless & Me’ is out now via BMG. kiefersutherland.net