One of the most restless nights of sleeping Kiefer Sutherland says he ever had was before he had to act for the first time with his father. The actor, 47, and his dad, Donald Sutherland, play estranged father and son in “Forsaken,” and the combination of heavy scenes and his pop’s legacy got to him.
“The second we started working it all went away,” Kiefer tells us. “There’d be moments in a scene when I was looking in my real father’s eyes and there was no need to suspend my belief. It was real on some level, and quite cathartic. It’s something I’ll carry with me till I die.”
In the film Kiefer plays a gunslinger who’s put down his arms after the Civil War. He returns home to find his mother dead and his father, a local pastor, still furious with his life decisions. Making things worse are local ne’er-do-wells (led by Brian Cox) who have been stealing land by force, all but ensuring that Kiefer’s John Henry Clayton will turn Jack Bauer — eventually and reluctantly.
“Forsaken” reunites Kiefer with someone else: director Jon Cassar, who helmed 59 episodes of “24.” John Henry could be read as the anti-Jack Bauer: a dangerous man who doesn’t want to unleash his darkest impulses, who doesn’t want turn to action. But subverting his screen persona wasn’t what drew him to the project.
“My initial interest was to do a film with my father,” Kiefer explains. “He’s done so much extraordinary work and he’s someone I’ve had great respect for as an actor. It just took me 38 years to get into a place to do this.”
“Forsaken” isn’t the first movie to feature both Sutherlands. They were in “A Time to Kill,” though not at the same time, and Kiefer did a bit part in 1983’s “Max Dugan Returns,” though again they never exchanged dialogue, and he was only in it because he happened to be visiting Donald at the time. That film proved to be Kiefer’s screen debut, and after being nominated for a Genie, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscar, for 1984’s “The Bay Boy,” he headed to Hollywood to follow in the footsteps of both his father and his mother, also an actor and who split with Donald when Kiefer was four.
“I think both of them were concerned about me [becoming an actor], just like I was concerned about my daughter making the same choice,” Kiefer says, referring to Sarah Sutherland, who currently plays Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ downer daughter on “Veep.” “It doesn’t work out for many people, and the people it does work out for it becomes a long road. I had left school at such an early age to do it that I didn’t have a lot to fall back on, which I think concerned them the most. But I was driven to do it, and I’ll always respect my parents — once they voiced their disapproval — for letting me find my way.”
Kiefer says he’s treated his daughter the same way, and has been sometimes shocked at how independent she is. “I offered her two different parts [in ‘Forsaken’]. Both parts I really wanted her to do, and I really needed someone great to do it. And she turned me down,” he says, chuckling. “She really is making a concerted effort to cut her own path. The only time I heard about ‘Veep’ was when she told me was going to do it. She certainly didn’t ask me for advice.”
“Forsaken” returns Kiefer to the Western, a genre he started in back during 1988’s “Young Guns” and its 1990 sequel. “I think ‘Young Guns II is a better movie, because all of us actors were a little older,” he confesses. Those films also instilled a love for horses, which led him to become involved in rodeos, which he keeps up. He won his first roping competition in 1992, and only had to cut back in 2000, when “24” started and took over his life.
He’s said he has no interest in returning to the show that made him big again after a bit of a slump. If he wanted to do more rodeo with his free time, he’d still have to contend with the fact that he’s pushing 50.
“Driving a horse from zero to 40 miles per hour in two strides is a little harder on my back,” Kiefer says. But roping is still a snap. “You can actually get better at that over time. You just learn to control a rope and once you get that down it’s no different than throwing a baseball. The problem is horsemanship: As you get older, the bones start to rickety-rack a little more.”