Kiefer Sutherland looks startlingly like his actor father Donald Sutherland, with that same square face and piercing eyes.
“I do see my father in me every day, I see his acting style and I see his looks,” concedes the 36-year-old Canadian. “I am my father’s son.”
Like his father Sutherland has become a good character actor rather than a bona fide film star. He is already a screen veteran himself with over 36 screen credits in a movie career that has been rescued from too many mediocre projects by the hit television real-time thriller, 24.
But it’s his voice that veteran film-maker Joel Schumacher uses in the controversial small-scale thriller Phone Booth.
Sutherland does the disembodied voice of a largely unseen sniper who traps a smug publicist (Irish actor Colin Farrell) in a public phone booth.
“What a voice he’s got, Kiefer’s great, wickedly funny and mischievous,” enthuses Schumacher, who also directed the actor in his 1987 breakout Lost Boys and Flatliners (1990).
“The great thing about Kiefer is because he’s a true character actor he can do anything. He can play the nicest guy in the world or the most evil person, he has it all.”
Phone Booth has a long history getting to the screen. Larry Cohen first conceived the script 30 years ago. It was shot over 10 days in real time in January 2001 and was set for release last autumn, until a real sniper rampage in Washington, D.C. put the release on hold.
Sutherland accepts that real events vertook the release of the film, and says it could be his last film for a while until his commitments to the television series 24 are completed.
“Doing something like this you end up with a short hiatus, and it’s very hard to do a movie in only a few weeks,” he says.
Because Phone Booth was such a quick shoot he could fit it in. He was able to record his role separately and didn’t really get to meet the pub-loving Farrell until after the production.
“Colin (Farrell) really makes me laugh. His first words ever to me were, ’Wanna go for a beer?’,” recalls Sutherland.
While it’s a clever thriller, Phone Booth is really about someone in denial about themselves who’s forced to come clean, says the actor.
It’s not a film that’s expected to be a huge hit at the box office, but Sutherland has got used to that. Instead he’s having to cope with becoming a star on the small screen.
“I’ve been working as an actor for 16 years and I’m surprised at anything I’ve been part of being a success,” he admits. “I certainly can’t tell you why one project works and another doesn’t.”
Some of his choices, like The Vanishing and Article 99 were hardly box office gold.
“I went into every film I’ve done with the best intentions, otherwise I wouldn’t have started it,” he says. “But I also love to work a lot so I chose some projects that weren’t ready.”
Recognised as a member of Hollywood’s brat pack in the 90s after the likes of Flatliners and The Three Musketeers, Sutherland was once tabloid fodder for his fast lane lifestyle, including being dumped almost at the alter by Julia Roberts.
The twice divorced actor (he has a daughter Sarah Jude by first wife Camelia Kath) says he’s now enjoying screen success the second time around.
“When you’re young you think it’s going to just go on forever and then someone hit me with a frying pan and I realised that wasn’t the case. This is the first time I’ve been able to step outside it and go, ’This is good’.”
When he was growing up in Canada with twin sister Rachel, Sutherland says, his mother, actress Shirley Douglas, was the biggest influence on him.
“My parents were separated when I was growing up so I was more aware of my mother’s career than my dad’s,” he says.
Being an actor inevitably makes it hard to keep a stable home life. Sutherland was divorced from his second wife, model Kelly Winn, in 2000.
“I’ve been going away from home to make movies all my life and it’s pretty hard to maintain a relationship,” he once confessed.
When not on set he has a large ranch in Montana, about 100kms from the Canadian border and he still loves to ride. He even won rodeos in the late 1990s.
“There was a time I took a year off from making movies to do the American rodeo circuit, I just needed to figure some things out,” he recalls.
“I was doing things that I wasn’t satisfied with and I needed to take a break and figure out what I had to offer.”
Now he’s no longer the boyish incarnation of his father, he feels good about where he is.
“Sure I’ve matured, you can’t go through this many years and not grow as a person.”