Sutherland walks in parents’ shoes

Kiefer Sutherland didn’t need a mind reader to tell him that his parents – eminent Canadian actors Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas – fervently hoped that he had no ambition to become a professional thespian.

Once he expressed his fondness for the stage, they prayed that he would drop it quickly in favour of medical school or bus driving. But young Sutherland wouldn’t take a hint, dropped out of school at 16 after watching his mother in an amazing stage production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and joined the closest thing to a circus – an obscure Toronto theatre company.

And now, some 60 feature films later and currently starring in the fourth season of “24” in the award-winning role as gritty counterterrorist expert Jack Bauer, Sutherland fervently wishes that his 17-year-old daughter, Sarah Jude, will not follow him in the family tradition.

“My parents didn’t say anything, but obviously didn’t want me to do this for a living,” he recalled, dead serious, “and for the same reasons I would hope my daughter doesn’t become an actress. It’s a job that can make you incredibly insecure – although I started in this business very young, I do remember not worrying about whether I looked heavy, thin or what people thought of me. It’s a terrible thing when you think everybody’s got to like you and be your friend.”

More than anything, the square-faced and haggard-looking 38-year-old actor (perhaps the result of working 14-hour days as the star/co-executive producer of “24” and cranking out a motion picture on every production break in the series) wants to spare his one and only child from the horrors of Hollywood auditions.

“The audition process for an actor is one of the cruelest things I have witnessed – it’s awful,” he explained, still pained by certain memories.

“You walk into a room with eight other actors and they either look incredibly frightened or are so hyped up that they’re out of their minds that you know they’re going to scare the hell out of the casting director.

“It’s all based on a false energy and I think that’s an odd place for a young person to put himself in, and you have to do it,” Sutherland continued, grousing. “I wouldn’t want it for my daughter, and my parents didn’t want it for their son. True, my parents and I have been successful – after several ups and downs – because we had some tools and some skills to take advantage of certain opportunities. We also know wonderful actors who never got those opportunities. Luck counts, too.”

Unfortunately for Sutherland, Sarah Jude is leaning heavily toward becoming a thespian after tasting success in her high school stage production of “Six Degrees of Separation” as Mrs. Kittredge – her grandfather did another star turn as Mr. Kittredge in the 1993 Hollywood film version.

“Sarah’s actually very good – I was blown away by her performance,” he said, proud and scared at the same time.

“I went to the performance thinking I would give her a nice parental pat on the back like, ‘No, it was great, it was great!’ Instead I was stunned by how articulate she was and how specific her choices were as an actor, including a mid-Atlantic accent. I was amazed at what these 17-year-olds accomplished.”

Left in a quandary, Sutherland can only hope his daughter will embrace motherhood and corporate law someday.

“To discourage Sarah from acting would be a big mistake – I might as well say go do it. That much I remember about being 17,” he explained, laughing. “If God came down and said, ‘Kiefer, you can live but you just can’t act again, what are you gonna do?’ I’d be at a loss,” mused the two-time U.S. Team Roping Champion cowboy.

“Maybe my first instinct would be working with horses and ranching, which I did for a little while in the 1990s. Partnered with another guy, we ran 500 mother cows and 450 calves a year on a big spread near Santa Barbara. When he would go off to rodeos, I would run the show by myself. It helped reinforce my knowledge that there’s nothing else I’d rather do than act.”

And, having experienced gaps in his work schedule from time to time, Sutherland is now acting with a vengeance. On hiatus from “24” for almost three months last summer and fall, he shot a feature film called “River Queen” in New Zealand with English actress Samantha Morton.

Once “24” wraps production in May after a long, exhausting and controversial season battling murderous Muslim terrorists on home turf, Sutherland is off to film a big Hollywood thriller titled “The Sentinel” with Michael Douglas and Kim Basinger.

“A huge fan, I’m very, very excited about working with Douglas.”

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