Thursday 20 June 2024

RIP Donald Sutherland

News has sadly broken of the passing of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, at the age of 88. One of the best-known actors of his generation, Sutherland had an enormous list of credits spanning almost sixty-five years.

Sutherland was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1935. He began his career at the age of just 14, becoming a news reporter for the local news radio station in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Sutherland had artistic aspirations but also took the precaution of studying engineering as a back-up career. In 1957 he left Canada to study drama in London. After graduation, he spent a year and a half in repertory theatre in Scotland.

Sutherland began his screen career in Britain (leading to occasional confusion about his nationality, helped by his facility with accents). He made his small screen debut in the BBC TV series Studio 4 (1962) and his movie debut in The World Ten Times Over (1963). His early roles were small, but gradually increased in stature. His reliability meant he quickly amassed a very large number of credits. He made memorable appearances in both The Avengers (1967) and The Saint (1965 and 1966). For the latter, with the permission of star and the director of his second episode, Roger Moore, he used his appearance as an audition reel for the film The Dirty Dozen (1967). Sutherland won the role, and his appearance as a Vernon L. Pinkley was highly memorable, despite the film being replete with much better-known actors. Shortly after release and the film's massive success, Sutherland relocated to Los Angeles.

Sutherland quickly capitalised on his success with memorable turns in M*A*S*H* (1970) and Kelly's Heroes (1970). From 1970 to 1972, Sutherland had a relationship with Jane Fonda and starred with her in Klute (1971) and Steelyard Blues (1973). Sutherland solidified his leading man status in the films Don't Look Now (1973), The Eagle Has Landed (1976) and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Sutherland bridged the generation gap to a younger audience with a small but memorable role in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).

Sutherland continued to appear in memorable films, including Ordinary People (1980), A War Story (1981), A Dry White Season (1989), Lock Up (1989), Backdraft (1991), JFK (1991), Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Disclosure (1994) and Outbreak (1995). In 1992 he played the role of Merrick, the Watcher, in the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He reportedly held the script in disdain, and was rude to the film's writer Joss Whedon (although, to be fair, Whedon himself criticised the rewriting of his script). This is why his character is not mentioned in the subsequent seven-season TV version.

Sutherland starred in Space Cowboys in 2000, marking a transition to older roles. Additional turns followed in Cold Mountain (2003), The Italian Job (2003) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Sutherland achieved a late-career renaissance by appearing in the smash-hit Hunger Games franchise as the primary antagonist, President Snow. He starred in The Hunger Games (2012), Catching Fire (2013), Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) and Mockingjay Part 2 (2015).

Remarkably, Sutherland never won or was even nominated for an Academy Award. Perhaps aware of the ridiculousness of that, he was given an honorary Academy Award as a lifetime achievement award in in 2017.

As well as an actor,  Donald Sutherland was known for his anti-war activism, which saw him investigated by American intelligence services in the early 1970s. Sutherland was hyper-focused on acting, not getting into directing or writing like many of his peers. However, Sutherland did find time to pen his memoir, Made Up, But Still True, which is due for publication late this year. 

Donald Sutherland had five children, the best-known of whom is his son Kiefer, with whom he starred in Max Dugan Returns (1983) and A Time to Kill (1996). He is also survived by his wife Francine Racette.

One of the more accomplished actors of his generation, he will be missed.

1 comment:

Wilson said...

From acting to activism, Sutherland has meant a lot to me. Made anything he was in better and worth watching. Im 78, first time I cried at an actor's passing. Will miss him.