Kiefer Sutherland and David Mazouz in Touch
After going through the time-lapsed roller coaster of famed character Jack Bauer on the hit series 24, it's difficult to imagine anything that Jack, or by extension, Kiefer Sutherland can't do. It's equally as challenging for an actor like Sutherland who's enjoyed such tremendous success for years in one persona, to emerge as a new person viewers must get to know all over again.
Kiefer Sutherland took a few minutes to chat about his latest endeavor as he stars in Fox's new highly acclaimed series Touch, and his outlook on his new alter ego.
At what point did you connect with your character and just know that this was a story that you wanted to tell and be a part of?
It was funny. 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. I think it was around page 30, I remember going, “Oh...,” or I guess something you could print, and I just knew I would be so remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity that Touch was.
I identified with him out of the gate. There was something interesting because obviously this is very different than 24. Yet there is a real similar through line in the kind of character of the man. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day and he would never win completely. 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 and I think as a parent as well just the sense of responsibility combined with not knowing what to do all the time. Even though this is a heightened experience, I think every parent feels that.
I certainly can speak for myself and say that I have during Camelia’s pregnancy when Sara was—for nine months I’d have these great fantasies of how I was going to be the greatest dad on the planet. And then she 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.
Do you like to think that the world maybe does work this way, that everything is connected and maybe we’re just not clever enough or observant enough to see all the working pieces?
Well, I absolutely think it does. Can one focus on every single moment of their life in this way? No, of course not, but anything as simple as someone who is late for a bus one day, all of a sudden they’re not on the bus. They’re taking up other space. They either had to get a taxi and that affects the taxi driver’s life. So yes, I do believe that there is a cause and effect and a ripple effect upon everything everybody does and they have positive consequences and negative consequences.
If you start to focus on the kind of minutiae of that, it’s really quite extraordinary, or should I get on the elevator now or should I wait, and obviously we can’t live our lives like that. But I do believe very strongly that all of us and all of the other things in the context of our planet with Mother Nature, all of these things absolutely have a profound effect. Some of the effects that can be felt are small and some of them are very large and it was really interesting to do a show that focused on that.
One of the things is that in the history of television when somebody has a great, even groundbreaking, series like 24, they rarely come back to television and now it’s just been two years since 24 ended. Was it just the script that made you come back or what was it? What prompted you to come back to TV?
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. So that experience, and 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, 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.
But you’re right, it certainly is a daunting thing having 24 be not only the great experience on a personal level for me, but it was an incredible success. It’s nice to have that in your pocket and let it be, but this was certainly something I just couldn’t say no to, so I think it’s been a little longer than two years, but it feels a lot shorter than that now, I have to say.
For people out there that are used to seeing you on 24 as Jack Bauer in sort of that action star sort of role, how do you convince them to give the show a look?
I don’t know if there is
convincing. I think that ultimately
almost in the way that 24 started, people that are initially interested,
whether they’re a fan of Tim Kring or a fan of mine or 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, I think that there is enough excitement around the drama of this show, that people will not be that thrown by it who enjoyed 24. And we really do rely on you guys telling people about it and hopefully it will be something that grows.
How would you categorize the show: science fiction or paranormal fiction or something like that?
No, I’ve always felt that this was a drama. This, we’re embarking on the journey of a father trying to connect with his son and trying to have as normal a relationship as he can under the circumstances. That will always be at the heart of the show and certainly from my perspective it would be, but it has all of those elements. I think there is an element of science fiction. I think certainly as the show has developed, you guys have seen the first episode, which has a lot of requirements to kind of explain where the show is going. But for us in the subsequent episodes that follow, this really does have a great deal of energy, so there’s an aspect of it that I would categorize as a thriller or suspense and certainly the science fiction component as well. But at its heart it’s a drama.
Could you talk a little bit about working with David Mazouz, who plays your son, and forming that on-screen bond with him when he doesn't talk back to you?
He’s an amazing young actor and he’s an amazing young man. He does something that 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 I remember thinking because I was doing the play at the same time, so 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 I remember it was around the tenth kid, I was still thinking—and all of the kids I have to say were fantastic, but there was something really special with and then obviously we should just hire the first kid and I’m thinking around 20, I say no, the first kid was still better. And then I read with close to 30 kids and I was finally like, "Would you guys just please hire the first kid?" 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 and interested in it. 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.
What can you tell us about Martin and his journey in this first season?
I could tell you a lot. But 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 actually just a truly, truly evolved human being that is years and years beyond where my character is and 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 this thread 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.
How do you feel that Martin allows you to mature in new ways as an actor, given what the material calls for emotionally?
I think again I kind of referred to his loneliness earlier. That’s a tricky thing to play because I don’t want people feeling sorry for Martin, yet I want them to understand that the further he is able to communicate with his son, the more enlightened and enriched his life will be; and he might be able to move past some of the pain that he’s experienced from the loss of his wife and his son’s condition. Those are all real subtle narratives to play. They’re not actually written. They’re tonal qualities and that’s something that I’m trying to focus on a lot with Martin and it’s also something that I felt I really learned at least how to do better through my experience on 24. I think a lot of the things that I learned were trying to focus on little small changes within Jack Bauer, whether it was from season to season or even over the course of one of those days.
What I learned in that process is something that I am trying to bring to Martin; and so that there’s a lot going on, or a lot more going on than what is simply written on the page or what one scene might simply require. That there are through lines within the context of the character that are going from episode to episode. And if we are lucky enough to do multiple seasons, that we’d connect those as well. So that’s really an extension of a technique that I really hadn’t focused on or thought of before my experience on 24 and Touch is a perfect kind of show and Martin is a perfect character to try and weave those things in.
Touch airs Wednesdays, 9 PM EST on FOX.