Donald Sutherland headlining a TV series at 82
LOS ANGELES—It’s almost shocking to realize that at 82, Donald Sutherland— certainly one of the finest actors who’s been around for several generations—has never won a competitive Oscar. But it’s more surprising that Donald has not even earned a single Academy nomination.
The Academy made it up to Donald when it gave him an honorary Oscar in the Governors Awards last November. Ever gracious, the Canadian gentleman said in his acceptance speech, “I finally found peace in the words of the great Benjamin Kubelsky, who’s also known as Jack Benny, when he said, as I say to you now: ‘I don’t deserve this, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that, either.’ Thank you.”
While the actor, who has won two Golden Globes and received seven nominations, has played many bad guys with his famous penetrating stare, Donald is often humorous in our interviews with him over the years.
Showing no signs of slowing down, the actor, in fact, headlines “Trust,” a new FX crime-drama series which counts Danny Boyle, no less, as one if its directors and producers, and Simon Beaufoy, its writer.
“Trust” is the latest retelling of the 1973 kidnapping in Rome of John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) and how his billionaire grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Donald), initially refused to pay the ransom.
Donald’s take on the oil tycoon comes on the heels of Christopher Plummer’s Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of the senior Getty in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World.” Hilary Swank and Brendan Fraser costar in “Trust.”
In our chat, the father of Kiefer Sutherland also talked about his revelation in Anderson Cooper’s “60 Minutes” interview with him that he rarely watches his own films, including “Ordinary People” and “Klute,” which netted Jane Fonda, whom he was dating at the time, an Academy best actress trophy.
Donald’s marriage to actress Francine Racette in 1972 is his third. “I’ve been married 46 years,” he proudly declared.
“I’m deaf, so I’m going to put my hearing aids,” he said at the start of our interview.
Why do you think people are still interested in the Gettys? I think they’re interested in power and money. And it’s a fascinating family. When you have people like Hilary Swank and Brendan Fraser in it, it’s a very attractive project. From what I understand because I haven’t seen “Trust,” everyone who has seen it says that Danny did a wonderful job, that it’s very evocative of the period.
The struggle with families is desperate and fascinating… The Getty family was an “accident” on the side of the road.
What’s your relationship to power? I’ve never felt that I had much power. Maybe not intentionally, but I always ended up deferring to my wife. I didn’t have the kind of money that Getty had. I didn’t have the kind of money that my fellow movie stars had.
I had a great sense of elation, though … and sometimes that can be misconstrued as power.
For Getty, he didn’t use power in an aggressive way. Some people are bullies with their power. He wasn’t. He was very pragmatic and he was not aggressive. Very specific and extraordinarily well-organized.
How much will you be involved in Season 2? The second season is when everyone is younger. I’d love to go back and visit that, but technically it’s impossible. And I think the third season is when he (Getty) dies.
Hilary Swank said that when you worked with her in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” you gave her interesting advice. I gave acting advice to Hilary?
She was 16 then. I have no idea what advice I gave her. Normally, I don’t give advice to people. The only thing I ever said to my children when they wanted to be in this profession was to be truthful.
You told Hilary that she shouldn’t act with her forehead so much. OK. It was very brave of me (laughs).
In your “60 Minutes” interview, we found out that you rarely watched your movies. Anderson Cooper is absolutely wonderful. We were sitting in the boathouse of a house in Canada. They set up a screen and showed me pieces of my movies. One of them was “Klute,” which I’ve never seen. So I was stunned. I thought I was really good (laughs). It’s true. I was truly surprised.
Are there any of your movies that you would like to watch now? I haven’t thought of that. And when you asked, my stomach just went like this (gestures that his stomach was churning). So, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time in the near future.
Which of your movies did you watch? I went to see “The Leisure Seeker,” and I had a good time. I see very few. With “Ordinary People,” Robert Redford said, “You have to come to the opening night.”
I watched it like this (gestures that he was crouched almost under the seat). I went (gestures that he crawled on the floor). I crawled out of the cinema, over people’s feet (laughs).
So it was not a good experience? You mean crawling out of the cinema (laughs)? It was fantastic. To do the film? It was perfect. Once again, another wonderful script by Alvin Sargent. Mary (Tyler Moore), bless her heart, was fantastic to work with. When we started to do the film, Robert said, “Let’s improvise.” I said, “This script is fantastic.” Alvin has worked very hard. Rather than impose the superficial brain of an actor improvising… I said, “Let’s just do the script.” And that’s what we did.
[But] there’s one scene where Mary is coming down the stairs, and I’m sitting downstairs. I’ve just come to a realization in my marriage. She says, “What are you doing?” I say, “I don’t know whether I love you anymore.” And she just turns and walks out. And I was weeping.
Can you describe your reaction to the honorary Oscar? My wife and I were sitting in Rome. We were shooting the Italian part of “Trust.” It was late in the evening. I got a phone call, and I was told what was going on (that he will receive the honorary Oscar). I passed the phone to my wife, and she was told.
Then, we hung up and we sat there with some spaghetti on the table and a bottle of Acqua Panna. We didn’t say anything.
Finally, my wife looked at me and said, “We’re going to have to lose weight (laughs).” We didn’t. We tried, but we ate the spaghetti. It was wonderful; it was terrific. For an old man who’s never been nominated (for an Oscar)!
I don’t know how the members of the Academy feel. But for the Board of Governors to do this for me, it was joyous.
E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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