More than a decade after the hit counterterrorism series 24 aired its finale, it is a little funny to think that America’s most ruthless hero, Jack Bauer, was played by Canada’s biggest softie, Kiefer Sutherland. Certainly, the actor has made a career of playing kick-butt forces of vengeance, including in his new action film The Contractor, in which Sutherland stars opposite Chris Pine as an ex-military soldier of fortune overseeing a dangerous European mission.
Yet it only takes a few minutes speaking with Sutherland to realize the man is as contemplative, even wistful, as Bauer was intimidating. Especially if the topic is Toronto, the city that welcomed the Sutherland clan when his mother, Shirley Douglas, moved here with Kiefer and his twin sister Rachel in 1975.
Ahead of The Contractor’s Canadian premiere on Prime Video next month, Sutherland spoke with The Globe and Mail about tough guys and easy memories.
We know you best as playing these special-ops heroes, but here you’re playing not so much the hero, but a more rogue element. Are you intentionally looking for these kinds of switch-flip roles?
It’s not that at all – I’m not chasing an idea of a character so much as different ideas. The film’s idea of military people being discarded after their value has diminished – after the government has spent millions of dollars providing them with this lethal skill set – that’s moving. We all feel like that on some level, of becoming less valuable to society as we grow old.
That’s something you think about often: no longer becoming valuable to society?
It’s not something that I dwell on, but I remember even when I was five years old, I felt society had a high regard for the elderly population that is much more substantial than it is now. We live in a consumer society. I mean, you can feel it as an actor. Content is king. We can’t make enough stuff for the insatiable appetite of the streaming services! For 24, that would take audiences 6½ months to consume. Now, it might take four days. As you get older, you don’t feel as current as you once did, you can’t help that.
I know we’re supposed to talk about the movie, but I have to ask about your new rock album, too, which is titled Bloor Street. How has your relationship with Toronto changed over the years?
It’s only changed because Toronto has changed. When we were shooting [the series] Designated Survivor in Toronto for three years, I couldn’t help but notice that all my firsts were happening on those four corners of Yonge and Bloor. My first job at the food court at the Hudson’s Bay Centre. My first meaningful kiss with a girl at the Bloor Street subway station. The first time I got beat up was on the southeast corner. The first time I busked with a guitar. I remember the Harvey’s – I lived in that Harvey’s, and now it’s gone.
So as Toronto changes, those landmarks disappear. But Toronto for me is so special. My mom was in a tough place when we moved here, and the city kind of took her in and us, too, in a way that I don’t think I or my sister anticipated.
A quick anecdote: It was a pretty dramatic move for a seven-year-old kid, and my mother went to get me some hockey equipment to help me adjust. We were leaving the store and the bag was too big for us to carry. From behind us, a man came up and just picked the bag and took it. I thought he was stealing it, but my mother put her arm in front of me and said, “Sweetheart, it’s all right, we’re in Canada now.” He just brought it to our trunk. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. From then on, I was so proud to be a Canadian. So my relationship with Toronto hasn’t changed, except some of the places that I held dear don’t exist any more.
It’s funny: the other day they announced that they were closing the Hudson’s Bay store at Yonge and Bloor, too.
Are they? Wow. I remember that when Eaton’s closed, that was unfathomable to me. But it’s true, if you live long enough, stuff changes and there’s no point fighting it. I have a place in Toronto, still, and my sister and brother live there. And the new show I’m going to do, Rabbit Hole, is going to shoot there in May, too. I still feel connected. My kids live in Los Angeles, so that’s my priority. But the marrow of my bones is formed by what Toronto gave me.
This interview has been condensed and edited
The Contractor streams on Prime Video starting April 14
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