Kiefer Sutherland made his name as an actor, but he also has a successful career in music. Ahead of his Dublin concert this month, he talks to
Son of iconic actor, Canadian Donald Sutherland, and Shirley Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland was born into Hollywood royalty. Even his name, Kiefer, William, Frederick, Dempsey, George, Rufus, Sutherland has a regal ring. Although, in the realm of entertainment pedigree counts for little. It takes real talent and a good chunk of luck to make it to the top. In a career spanning over 30 years, Sutherland has cemented his reputation as a skillful and versatile actor, appearing in over 70 films including, Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, Flatliners, Young Guns, and A Few Good Men.
But it was his portrayal of the maverick, counter-terrorist agent, Jack Bauer, in television’s real-time thriller, 24 that turned Sutherland into a household name and America’s highest-paid actor. At 53, he shows no sign of slowing down. As well as preparing for the third season of political drama, Designated Survivor, the Hollywood A-Lister is busy carving a niche as a singer/songwriter. Ahead of his performance in Dublin, I caught up with the star who told me about his latest album, Reckless and Me and why he believes, honesty is the best policy.
“I’m fighting a cold at the minute so please forgive me if I sneeze the whole way through the interview,” he begins, in a decidedly croaky voice.
“I’m very excited about the show and I’m very happy with this record. It’s a lot of fun to play live. Obviously some of the tracks, like ‘Song for a Daughter’ are deeply personal to me. Others, like ‘Something You Love’, are simply just a lot of fun to play. ‘This is How it’s Done’ is old school, kind of Americana, a real drinking song with a driving beat to get the audience moving. There are no deep or hidden meanings. Some friends were complaining that I only write songs about whiskey.”
In 2016 Sutherland’s debut album, Down a Hole, entered the Americana/Folk Album Charts at a respectable No 18. However, the Reckless and Me collection, a fabulous blend of blues, Americano, rock, and country all wrapped up in the star’s inimitable gritty vocals and delivered with a delicious slice of slide guitar, showcases Sutherland’s musical talent at its best. The Special edition includes a bonus CD featuring his concert in Berlin.
“You know, I remember with the first album, thinking that 35 years of doing theatre and film is bound to help me well, at least a little bit. But I was completely wrong. Suddenly, you find that the character that was separating you from the audience is gone. It’s just you, no buffer. Then one time we were doing a show in Michigan, it was a seated audience, meaning, we weren’t playing in a bar and for whatever reason, I just said, you know, I wrote this song over the first heartbreak I ever had, it took me 15 years to write it and this was what was happening and this was what I was going through at the time. The reception I got from the audience was incredible and it made me understand that people are either going through or have experienced exactly the same things I have.
“So that’s why, I started telling stories about my life throughout the show. I felt that whatever preconceived notions the audience might have about me personally, or indeed, that I might have about them, a really good night was to walk away feeling as though we had a lot more in common than we’d originally thought.”
Does he ever find the personal angle a little too intrusive?
“Well, no because it’s elective. It’s your choice. It’s taken me a little bit of time but I feel that as long as you’re honest with people, even about mistakes, in fact, especially about the mistakes you’ve made, people will hear you in a different way. But you have to be really honest. That’s something that even seven or eight years ago, I didn’t understand.”
With a string of accolades, including an Emmy, a Golden Goble, and two Screen Actors Guilds Awards, the Canadian has certainly earned his place among entertainment’s elite. He’s also refreshingly down to earth and, when asked about his days as a rodeo star, seems surprisingly modest.
“Yes, I used to tour on the USTRC (United States Team Roping Championships) going from circuit to circuit with a horse called Reckless. (the inspiration for his first track) I was a team roper. I don’t think, I was that great. You just do the best you can. I think I just had a natural affinity with a rope.
“I’d seen other people try to pick up a rope and just twirl it, it simply didn’t work for them. But I guess, having that natural affinity, helped and encouraged me to learn and try to get better. The thing that really interested me about rodeo, aside from the sheer competitiveness, was getting to travel with a group of other cowboys. Seeing the countryside, being on the road with friends, was something that really got its hooks into me. I guess, it’s a bit like being in a band.”
Much has been made about his past, the drunken brawls and the DUI that, in 2007 landed him in jail where, according to reports, he was a model prisoner throughout his 48 days confinement. His love life has also made headlines. Married twice, first in 1987 to Camelia Kath with whom he has a daughter, Sarah. The couple divorced in 1990. Six years later he married Kelly Winn but divorced in 2008. Perhaps the relationship that proved most newsworthy was his 1991 romance with Flatliners co-star, Julia Roberts who three days before they were due to tie the knot, called the whole thing off, triggering a media frenzy. Regardless of how he felt at the time, 15 years down the line, Sutherland appeared to have developed a more sanguine perspective.
“I commend Julia for seeing how young and silly we were, even at the last minute, even as painful and as difficult as it was. Thank God she saw it,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone. No doubt, it’s the emotional fallout from all such experiences that has helped inspire his writing today.
His name has been linked to several women over the years but in 2017, reports of his engagement to actress/model, Cindy Vela were keeping celebrity magazines busy.
While no subject is barred and the star is happy to chat, I’m reminded that my time is almost up so
Turning from the past, I ask about the future and make an interesting discovery.
To date, his creative talents have enjoyed full reign across the entertainment industry, he’s also had a fair crack of the whip at rodeoing, and he knows how to wield a hockey stick when playing on a celebrity team. But there is one thing that Kiefer just won’t do.
“No, I wont go into politics,” he says emphatically.
“For a variety of reasons. My grandfather, (Tommy Douglas former Premier of Saskatchewan) was a great man and I am immensely proud of him and his work to bring universal health care to Canada. But I made different choices and I don’t think politics is something you can just step into lightly. The bureaucracy involved in running a country, the whole process of being able to galvanize people, implement policies takes a special kind of person and a long time to learn. In reality, the idea that anyone can just pop in and become President or Prime Minister is just ludicrous. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a strong political point of view. I was raised around the subject. We talked about these things around the table, in our house, it was part of life.”
Finally, having mentioned appreciation for the abundance of Irish talent, has he any advice for young artists starting out?
“Don’t stop and don’t give up. There were actors I knew at theatre school who I reckoned had extraordinary talent. But they quit. It’s the artists who told themselves, this is my vocation and no matter what I’ll keep doing it till the day I die that eventually found their way. They may not have achieved success to the degree they’d dreamed about but they make their living at it. So my advice is simple — Don’t give up.”
Kiefer Sutherland — The Academy Dublin, February 29. www.ticketmaster.ie