Interview By: Bruce Bluett
Donald Sutherland has been a staple on the American silver screen for many years. Like so many fine actors of our cinema, he is Canadian. Nevertheless he has entered into the American consciousness through his endless streak of solid and seamless performances on film and known in television. His most recent achievement is the newest adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Predjudice. Sutherland plays Mr. Bennet, the father and head of household opposite young Kiera Knightly who plays his daughter Elizabeth. Pride and Predjudice, being a much beloved classic, is sure to undergo heavy praise and scrutiny in it’s current conception. Sutherland commented on the different receptions the film has received in Europe and North America.
“Henry James did say that Americans love a tragedy with a happy ending” says Sutherland. “All the screenings in England said to end it with Mr. Bennett and Lizzie. But everyone here said they wanted a perfectly romantic scene.”
This didn’t come as a surprise to Sutherland, who has been a journeyman of film since the 1960’s. When it came to dealing with this period piece, he did have issues adjusting to shooting in the film’s several locations; including small stuffy houses of England in the 1700’s.
“I actually prefer to work on a movie set. This is an unreal occupation and I like to contain and continue that unreality in a studio. I don’t like a camera movement being limited by an existing wall. I like to fly that wall out. I don’t want to suffer a 35mm lens because this terrific room they have me in can only accommodate that short a focal length. I don’t like that 35mm lens because it distorts,” explains Sutherland.
The so-called ‘unreal occupation’ of acting has garnered him worldwide recognition. Sutherland recalls a story of a Scottish flight attendant who recognized him in the past. ” “The flight attendant said ‘You’re Donald Sutherland ain’t you, you’re not nearly as ugly as you look on the television’â€¦ that’s a 35 mm lens for you,” he jokes.
Besides featuring in Pride and Prejudice , Donald Sutherland is starring in his first weekly television drama Commander and Chief on ABC. He plays Nathan Templeton, the conservative speaker of the house. He expresses his elation at trying his hand in a new form of drama.
“I’ve never ever done a television series, only on The Saint and Man in a Suitcase and Gideon’s Way in England in the early 60’sâ€¦it’s a character that runs through the series as opposed to the work I’m familiar with which has a beginning a middle and an end â€¦and the time I’m actually working is very short. Here I have a beginning and then I’m off. I’m a character who’s creating myself. It’s like a plate of shrimp and one is wiggling his tail and saying I’m a lobsterâ€¦that’s me.”
Sutherland also enjoys fleshing out a character that has so many current parallels to the history we are making for America right now.
“It’s thrilling, it really is a thrilling way to work. I’ve played loads of characters that have nothing to do with Donald. It’s an interesting challenge that titillates and tantalizes me. It’s limitless the creative possibilities with this. ABC has been incredibly generous in allowing me to examine his three levels, his public, behind the scenes, and his life with his wife. You can expose everything because there is so much to be exposed. These are real people. Making war to impose peace on people is a real thing. Killing you to save your life is a real thingâ€¦that’s a good political mandate”.
You can see Donald Sutherland in Pride and Prejudice in theatres nationally on November 23, 2005. Commander in Chief airs on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM EST on ABC.