Donald Sutherland Biography

PHOTO: Donald Sutherland

Donald Sutherland was born to father Frederick, a salesman and head of the local bus, gas and electric company, and mother Dorothy, a mathematics teacher. He was raised in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, where he went to high school.

He took an early interest in the entertainment industry, working as a radio announcer at the age of 14, for which he earned the princely sum of about 30 US cents an hour. The pay only increased by a small amount when he got his first acting job years later, this time it reached $US12 a week. "And I was incredibly happy," he recalls.

After receiving a rave review in the Toronto Globe & Mail for his performance in a student production at the University of Toronto, he decided he might be able to make a living as an actor. He graduated from a course in engineering and drama, before setting off to England, where he applied to The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda) but was told his size and idiosyncratic looks would not make winning parts easy. However, he was accepted and worked on stage and in television there early in his career. Sutherland then broke into film with a tiny part in the 1963 British romantic drama 'The World Ten Times Over'.

By the time Sutherland came to Hollywood in the mid-1960s, he had to pay special attention to avoid speaking with a British accent. In the 1970s, he began to make it as a leading man. This must have come as a surprise to even the man himself - as a teenager, he asked his mother if he was handsome, she hesitated and then replied, "Donald to be perfectly truthful, no. But your face has a lot of character."

His sex symbol status improved with roles in films such as 'Don't Look Now' (1973), which is still regarded as one of the most compelling thrillers, with its convoluted atmosphere of dread and unforgettable performances from Sutherland and Julie Christie. It may have been a horror but it is well-remembered for the lovemaking scenes. It was rumoured that the pair weren't acting at all during the filming of the racy sequence. Sutherland has since scotched the rumours saying, "it bewilders me how anyone could think me and Julie were doing that for real… There were at least two other people in the room, it was Nic Roeg's artistic vision; it's all entirely in the editing, you don't see anything."

He met his first wife, Lois Hardwick, at university. She was the daughter of a child star of the silent movies. The marriage lasted seven years and then he met Shirley Douglas, the daughter of Tommy Douglas, a socialist politician who was the architect of Canada's welfare state. Shirley bore him twins, Rachel and Kiefer (named after Warren Kiefer, the pen name of Lorenzo Sabatini, who directed 'Castle of the Living Dead' in which Sutherland made his film debut), and pursued radical politics - she was once arrested for raising money to buy hand grenades for the Black Panthers.

The marriage ended but not before his three-year-long affair with Jane Fonda had already begun. It was a fiery union, at the height of Fonda's Hanoi Jane days. After starring alongside her in the murder mystery 'Klute' (1971), he then joined her for a world-wide tour of anti-Vietnam war stage shows. The performances, often held near US military bases for crowds packed with US soldiers, featured other Hollywood liberals and were filmed as F.T.A., a then-common acronym for ‘Fuck The Army’.

Not surprisingly, as the war raged, the film was not widely screened in America and even decades later it is almost impossible to find. "We got together shortly before we made Klute and then we were together until the relationship exploded and fell apart in Tokyo,"he says. "And it broke my heart. I was eviscerated. I was so sad. It was a wonderful relationship right up to the point we lived together."

In 1972, he met the French-Canadian actress Francine Racette, to whom he is still married. Theirs has been one of the most enduring marriages in Hollywood. They had three sons - Roeg, named after the director Nicholas Roeg, Rossif, after French director Frederic Rossif, and Angus Redford, after Robert Redford. Sutherland often speaks about his children and is very proud of all of them. Five of his children work in the movies in some shape or form, including his son by his second wife, Kiefer Sutherland, better known these days as Jack Bauer in '24'. "Offspring are strange and complicated beings,"he says. "I've been incredibly fortunate. If there is a wealth that I've had in my life freely, truly it's my five children."

Donald has worked with cinematic greats including Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Altman, However, at least one of those greats describes him in less than endearing terms. "He's a sperm-filled waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator,"Federico Fellini once said when asked why Sutherland was his perfect choice for the title role of 'Casanova' (1976).

Sutherland owns homes in LA, Canada, New York and Paris, and admits to having "mortgages up to my armpit". However, having houses all over the world has not helped him settle down. "These days I don't seem to belong anywhere… I pay taxes in LA but I can't vote. And I spend a lot of time in Canada, but I can't vote there either."

One of his best qualities is his willingness to own up to his mistakes. He insisted on taking a £30,000 fee for 'Animal House' rather than a percentage of the profits, a decision that cost him millions when it went on to be a worldwide hit. He then turned down 'Deliverance' and 'Straw Dogs' because he thought they were too violent.

His health as a child was never particularly wonderful - he battled polio, rheumatic fever and hepatitis. More recently, during 'Fool's Gold' (2008), he suffered after doing the scuba scenes. "I was walking down the street in Los Angeles on New Year's Eve I got an embolism in my lung," he says. "Nobody told me I was too old to scuba dive, for heaven's sake. I had to have a bronchoscopy; they thought it was lung cancer."

Nowadays, he has again raised to popularity in the TV series 'Dirty, Sexy Money' (2007-09), although one British critic has described the series as 'rubbish', held together by the quality of Sutherland's acting. The critic wrote it was, "a bit like watching King Lear stumble onto the set of Footballers' Wives." At an age where he could be considering retirement, he seems hell-bent on continuing to act. "I'm going to be working until I'm helping them with the shovel."

He seems to have followed this to a tee as he has had a busy few years despite being over 70-years-old. In terms of films, he played Mr Bennett in the movie adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice' starring Keira Knightley in 2005, followed by roles in 'An American Haunting' (2005), 'Reign Over Me' (2007) and voiced the president in 'Astro Boy' (2009). Sutherland then appeared in 'The Con Artist' (2010), 'The Mechanic' (2011), 'The Eagle' (2011) and 'Horrible Bosses' (2011).

In 2012, he featured in 'Treasure Island', 'The Hunger Games', 'Sofia' and 'Dawn Rider'. He will be reprising his role as President Snow in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' in 2013 and will also star in 'The Best Offer' and 'Jappeloup.

Sutherland has also enjoyed a dominating presence on TV starring in 'Commander and Chief' between 2005 and 2006, as well as 'The Pillars of the Earth' in 2010. He has also appeared in 'Moby Dick' (2011).

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