stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Donald Sutherland has no time for Donald Sutherland's movies, thank you
The Canadian treasure, soon to be an Academy Honorary Award recipient, waxes mystical about acting, aging and what comes after
Special to The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article
Friday, January 12, 2018 – Page A14

Donald Sutherland won't be seeing his new film, The Leisure Seeker. He sees very few of his films. His characters don't want him to.

"I can watch myself in the rushes, because that's part of a process," he said last September, in a hotel-room interview during the Toronto International Film Festival. "But the character is alive inside me." Even after the movie is finished, "he's not dead yet. So when the editor moves him around - when he's got his arm up by his ear or his hand in his rear end - it's not who he is.

And he gets excited."

Wait, let me get this straight: Donald Sutherland, 82, veteran of more than 120 films and scores of television shows; Donald Sutherland, Canadian icon, father of an acting dynasty, possessor of the warmest blue eyes in the world; Donald Sutherland, whose voice sounds like the purr a cashmere sweater would make, if it could, while it wrapped itself around you - Donald Sutherland believes that there are characters inside him who don't like to see themselves being moved around by someone else?

"Yeah, yeah," he says, delighted to be communicating this.

(He sounds delighted throughout our interview. He seems to live in a state of perpetual delight.) "I've seen Kelly's Heroes and The Dirty Dozen, and pieces of MASH. I keep promising myself I'll watch Klute. But when Bob Redford insisted I watch Ordinary People, I watched the first five minutes, at this great big premiere, then got on my hands and knees and crawled out, over the feet of the people in my row, until I got to the aisle, and then I raced out of the cinema."

Fascinating. No one has ever said this to me. "Oh, I said it to Helen the other day," Sutherland says, referring to Dame Helen Mirren, his co-star in The Leisure Seeker, "and she said, 'That's absolutely right. That's exactly how I feel.' So at least there are two of us."

I've interviewed Sutherland before. I always think I'm prepared for his Buddha smile, his mischievous twinkle and eccentric narrative zigzags, how he'll stop in the middle of one anecdote to tell you another, so a story about how he once watched a Chinese diplomat at the United Nations hold up his pinkie, ring and middle fingers to signify the number three - which he'd never seen before, and "It was so beautiful!" - suddenly becomes a story about how he once picked up a stick and drew female genitalia in the sand of his driveway in Malibu to teach one of his sons where the clitoris is. But he always takes me by surprise.

Thankfully, Sutherland's inability to watch himself doesn't inhibit him from loving what he does. Or celebrating it. He'll receive an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement at this year's Academy Awards, an acknowledgment that many feel is long overdue. He, however, feels "nothing but the most liberating, shoulder-relaxing brilliance. It's the most generous, exquisite thing." Why shoulder relaxing? "It's like a door opened and fresh air came in, and I took a deep breath and my shoulders relaxed," he replies. "My shoulders are always up around my ears."

The award was "a huge surprise," Sutherland continues. He and his wife of 46 years, Francine Racette, "were sitting on the little balcony of our hotel room, eating spaghetti marinara at dusk overlooking the roofs of Rome.

I'd just finished shooting" - Trust, a television series due in March, which covers much of the same story as the current film All the Money in the World; Sutherland plays J. Paul Getty - "and my telephone rang."

Sutherland didn't recognize the number. He gets a lot of robocalls, "where there's a little pause and then someone comes on and says, 'I have the most wonderful opportunity.' I always say, 'Hang on. Take my name off your list. Don't ever call me again.' " (Imagine being told off by Donald Sutherland's voice.)

But this call was from John Bailey, the cinematographer who'd shot Ordinary People, and who in August became president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. "I hadn't heard from John in 30 years," Sutherland says, chuckling.

Balcony, pasta, Oscar phone call - that sounds like paradise. A moment to remember. "Certainly the moment is aware that it's a moment to remember," Sutherland replies, continuing to wax mystical.

While Sutherland is savouring his lifetime achievements, his character in The Leisure Seeker, John Spencer, a beloved English professor, is rapidly losing his memory to Alzheimer's disease.

His spunky wife, Ella (Mirren), takes him on one last road trip in their ancient family RV, and humour-spiked pathos ensues.

Although Spencer endures some intimate humiliations, none of it was difficult for Sutherland to play or think about. He's frank about aging.

"There are a lot of disadvantages," he says. "But I like my grandchildren and my children.

Those people I truly love. I am fascinated that my wife is still, after 46 years, patient with me, most of the time. I'm delighted I can still work."

To prepare for The Leisure Seeker, Sutherland listened to recordings and watched DVDs of caregivers and instructors for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and dementia.

"Because you can't get a lot of information from the patients themselves," he says. "My side was formed from the reverse of the caregivers' side. I inform my characters a lot. If they're wellenough informed, they can take me over. But if I think they're wrong, they can't."

He must have informed Spencer well, because while filming, Spencer took over and said many unscripted lines that Sutherland had not thought of. "But when they came out of his mouth, everyone was delighted, and I recognized they were true," he says. "That's my job, to get as close as I can to the truth of the human problem. And colour it out, and express it. Drama is the exposition of the central core of the human existence. Alexander Pope said, 'True wit is nature to advantage dressed/What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.' That's what you strive for, to get something where people will say, 'Ah, damn, ah, yes,' or 'Ah, that's my mother.' But very few people are able to think, 'Ah, that will be me one day,' " he goes on.

At this moment, his long-time publicist, Catherine Olim, enters the room to wrap things up, and he seamlessly directs his next sentence at her. "Although it was curious, Catherine, earlier today, I had my eyes closed when Eden was doing my makeup. I thought, 'That's how it will be when I'm a corpse.' " "You won't know," Catherine says, then jokes: "But don't worry, we'll get Eden for you."

"How do you know I won't know?" Sutherland asks. "When you're in a coma you can hear people."

"There's a difference," Catherine says.

"You don't know for sure," Sutherland says sagely. "Because I did die. But that's a long story. A story for another day."

He stands, unfurling his long, Lincoln-like body. He embraces me formally. He exits, smiling.

The Leisure Seeker opens Jan. 26 in Toronto and Vancouver.

Associated Graphic

Donald Sutherland plays John Spencer, a beloved English professor who is rapidly losing his memory to Alzheimer's disease, in The Leisure Seeker.

Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Johanna_Schneller Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page