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Donald Sutherland

Donald Sutherlandb. July 17, 1934, Saint John, New Brunswick


“Often, on the movie screen, I look incredibly ugly. The first film I auditioned for, they did a test and didn’t give me the part. They said my performance was terrific, but that the character was a guy next door and they didn’t feel I looked as if I’d ever lived next door to anybody.” – Donald Sutherland

An extremely gifted, occasionally eccentric and idiosyncratic performer, Donald Sutherland is indisputably one of the world’s most versatile actors. He has proven himself adept at a wide variety of roles and acting styles, from broad work in action thrillers to subtle, self-deferential characterizations in domestic dramas, as well as conceptual interpretations in European art films. Defined as much by his almost caricature-like features as by his considerable talent, he began his career as a stage actor – first in Canada, then in the United Kingdom – before making his film debut in 1964. Oddly handsome yet somehow sinister, his unique screen presence, which worked against him when he was first establishing his career, has made him much in demand. He has produced a body of work that is as beguilingly diverse as it is lengthy.

Sutherland was born in New Brunswick and raised in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. As a child he suffered from polio, rheumatic fever, pneumonia, spinal meningitis and scarlet fever and often retreated into his imagination and his dream of becoming a sculptor. By the time he was fourteen, his precocious passion for showbiz found him working part-time as a DJ for local radio station CKBW. In 1952 he began his studies at the University of Toronto, where he became a member of the UC Follies comedy troupe and, despite having never seen a play, performed in numerous productions. After graduating in 1956 with a double major in engineering and drama, he moved to London to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. His lanky, six-foot, four-inch frame, unusual looks and slithery voice were a detriment at first, but after repeated auditions he was finally accepted.

He then worked in repertory theatre in London and had a few small roles on British television before landing his first film role playing two characters – a young soldier and an old hag – in the Italian horror film The Castle of the Living Dead (1964). (So grateful was Sutherland for this opportunity that he named his first-born son after the producer who hired him, Warren Kiefer.) Sutherland’s striking versatility and ability to get under the skin of his characters was also put to good use in two separate appearances as two different characters on “The Saint.” He knocked around Europe playing small, usually creepy roles in such schlocky fare as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) and Die! Die! My Darling (1965) before landing his breakthrough role as a mentally stunted killer opposite Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes in Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1967). His next role, as the chorus leader in Oedipus the King (1967) was further evidence of his malleability.

In 1970 – a tremendous year for Sutherland’s career – he had co-starring roles in the successful Start the Revolution Without Me, directed by Bud Yorkin, and Brian G. Hutton’s Kelley’s Heroes (as the aptly named Sergeant Oddball) and was catapulted to stardom with his performance as iconoclastic surgeon “Hawkeye” Pierce in Robert Altman’s hugely successful anti-establishment farce M*A*S*H. He became a major counterculture star and with this new-found success struck a balance between parts in mainstream entertainments and risky, sometimes politically volatile ventures that reflected his own anti-establishment stance – which saw him devote much of his spare time to anti-war endeavours. He co-starred with Jane Fonda (with whom he was involved in many anti-war causes) in Alan J. Pakula’s popular thriller Klute (1971) and appeared with her again in the incendiary anti-Vietnam War documentary F.T.A. (1972), which he co-wrote and co-produced.

Unlike many other stars, the adventurous Sutherland never shied from unconventional or audacious films – his sex scene with Julie Christie in Nicolas Roeg’s chillingly oblique Don’t Look Now (1973) became legendary for its explicitness – or from playing unattractive, even downright repulsive characters; he contributed memorable depictions of crazed brutishness to John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust (1975) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976). He gave himself fully to the whims of Federico Fellini for the deeply flawed Casanova (1976) and won a permanent place in the hearts and minds of slackers everywhere with his pot-smoking, metaphysics-spouting college professor in John Landis’s Animal House (1978). He also contributed strong work to Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Bob Clark’s multiple Genie Award-winning Murder by Decree (1979).

After his starring role as the gentle, quietly suffering patriarch in Robert Redford’s Academy Award®-winning Ordinary People (1980), Sutherland entered a rather unremarkable phase of his career, appearing in one forgettable film after another throughout the eighties, though he won a Best Leading Actor Genie in 1983 for his performance in Threshold (1981). Things finally took a turn for the better when he won rave reviews for his starring roles in Euzhan Palcy’s A Dry White Season (1989) and Phillip Borsos’s Bethune: The Making of Hero (1990). (A great admirer of Norman Bethune, Sutherland had first portrayed the famous doctor in the 1977 CBC-TV movie Bethune.) He spent the nineties steadily working in films of varying quality, playing a pivotal figure in Oliver Stone’s controversial JFK (1991), a sinister pyromaniac in Ron Howard’s Backdraft (1991), a Van Helsing-type figure in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), a wealthy New York City art dealer who is conned by Will Smith’s street hustler in Fred Schepisi’s Six Degrees of Separation (1993), a contemptible corporate boss in Barry Levinson’s Disclosure (1994) and a gruff general in Wolfgang Peterson’s virus thriller Outbreak (1995).

He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his work in the TV movie Citizen X (1995) and contributed his best performance in years as legendary track coach Bill Bowerman in Robert Towne’s very fine but little seen Without Limits (1998). In 2000, Sutherland enjoyed renewed critical and commercial success with Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys, an adventure drama co-starring Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and James Garner as geriatric astronauts who get one last chance to blast into orbit.

Appearing in more than one hundred features and TV movies in nearly forty years left little time for stage work. Sutherland has acted in only two plays since the mid-sixties: He played Humbert Humbert in a Broadway production of Lolita in 1981, and in 2000 he returned to the Toronto stage in a production of Enigma Variations produced by his wife, the French-Canadian actress Francine Racette, and translated into English by their son Roeg (named after director Nicolas Roeg).

Sutherland has been married to Racette, his third wife, since 1972. They have three children – Roeg, Rossif (named after director Frédéric Rossif) and Angus – and split their time between residences in rural Quebec and Paris. The former son-in-law of “Greatest Canadian” Tommy Douglas, he was married to Shirley Douglas, mother of actor Kiefer Sutherland, from 1966 to 1970 and to Lois Hardwick from 1959 to 1966. Donald received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1998, and was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2000.

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

Studio Four series, 1962 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Odd Man series, 1963 (actor; TV, one episode)
Suspense series, 1963 (actor; TV, one episode)
Terry-Thomas, 1963 (actor; TV)
The World Ten Times Over, a.k.a. Pussycat Alley, 1963 (actor)
Hamlet, a.k.a. Hamlet at Elsinore, 1964 (actor; TV)
Il castello dei morti vivi/Castle of the Living Dead, 1964 (actor)
The American Civil War, 1965 (actor; TV)
The Bedford Incident, 1965 (actor)
The Death of Bessie Smith, 1965 (actor; TV)
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, a.k.a. The Blood Suckers, 1965 (actor)
Gideon’s Way series, 1965 (actor; TV, one episode)
Fanatic, a.k.a. Die! Die! My Darling, 1965 (actor)
Promise Her Anything, 1965 (actor)
The Saint series, 1965 (actor; TV, one episode)
A Farewell to Arms series, 1966 (actor)
Play of the Month series, 1966 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Saint series, 1966 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Avengers series, 1967 (actor; TV, one episode)
Billion Dollar Brain, 1967 (actor)
The Dirty Dozen, 1967 (actor)
Man in a Suitcase series, 1967 (actor; TV, one episode)
Oedipus the King, 1967 (actor)
Operation Dirty Dozen, 1967 (appears as himself, uncredited)
Interlude, 1968 (actor)
Joanna, 1968 (actor)
Man in a Suitcase series, 1968 (actor; TV, one episode)
Sebastian, a.k.a. Mr. Sebastian, 1968 (actor)
The Split, 1968 (actor)
The Sunshine Patriot, 1968 (actor; TV)
The Champions series, 1969 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Name of the Game series, 1969 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Act of the Heart aka Acte du Coeur, 1970 (actor)
Alex in Wonderland, 1970 (actor)
Kelly’s Heroes, 1970 (actor)
M*A*S*H*, 1970 (actor)
Start the Revolution without Me, a.k.a. Two Times Two, 1970 (actor)
Johnny Got His Gun, 1971 (actor)
Klute, 1971 (actor)
Klute in New York: A Background for Suspense, 1971 (apears as himself)
Little Murders, 1971 (actor)
F.T.A., a.k.a. The F.T.A. Show, 1972 (co-writer with Michael Alaimo, Jane Fonda, Dalton Trumbo et al.; actor; co-producer with Jane Fonda, Francine Parker)
Don’t Look Now, 1973 (actor)
Lady Ice, 1973 (actor)
Steelyard Blues, a.k.a. The Final Crash, 1973 (executive producer; actor)
S*P*Y*S*, a.k.a. Wet Stuff, 1974 (actor)
Alien Thunder/Le Tonnerre rouge, a.k.a. Dan Candy’s law, 1975 (actor)
Away With Murder, 1975 (actor)
The Day of the Locust, 1975 (actor)
Der Richter und sein Henker/End of the Game, a.k.a. Murder on the Bridge; Getting Away with Murder, 1975 (actor)
1900, a.k.a. Novocento, 1976 (actor)
Il Casanova di Federico Fellini, a.k.a. Casanova; Fellini’s Casanova, 1976 (actor)
The Eagle has Landed, 1976 (actor)
La Spirale/The Sprial, 1976 (narrator)
Bertolucci second oil cinema/The Cinema According to Bertolucci, a.k.a. The Making of 1900, 1977 (appears as himself)
Bethune, 1977 (actor; TV)
The Disappearance, 1977 (actor)
The Kentucky Fried Movie, 1977 (actor)
Les Liens de sang/Blood Relatives, 1977 (actor)
Animal House, a.k.a. National Lampoon’s Animal House, 1978 (actor)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978 (actor)
The Great Train Robbery, a.k.a. The First Great Train Robbery, 1978 (actor)
A Very Big Withdrawal, a.k.a. A Man, a Woman and a Bank, 1979 (actor)
Bear Island, a.k.a. Alistair MacLean’s Bear Island, 1979 (actor)
Murder by Decree/Meurtre par décret, a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes and Saucy Jack; Sherlock Holmes: Murder by Decree, 1979 (actor)
North China Commune, 1980 (narrator)
Nothing Personal, 1980 (actor)
Ordinary People, 1980 (actor)
Wuxing People’s Commune, 1980 (narrator)
Eye of the Needle, 1981 (actor)
Gas, 1981 (actor)
Threshold, 1981 (actor)
A War Story, 1981 (narrator)
Heart of Gold, 1982 (narrator)
Max Dugan Returns, a.k.a. Neil Simon’s Max Dugan Returns, 1983 (actor)
The Winter of our Discontent, a.k.a. John Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Discontent, 1983 (actor; TV)
Crackers, 1984 (actor)
Ordeal by Innocence, a.k.a. Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence, 1984 (actor)
Heaven Help Us, a.k.a. Catholic Boys, 1985 (actor)
Revolution, a.k.a. Revolution 1776, 1985 (actor)
Gauguin, le loup dans le soleil/The Wolf at the Door a.k.a. Oviri, 1986 (actor)
Give Me Your Answer True, 1987 (himself)
The Last Resort, 1987 (himself; TV)
The Rosary Murders, 1987 (actor)
The Trouble with Spies, a.k.a. Trouble at the Royal Rose, 1987 (actor)
Apprentice to Murder, a.k.a. The Long Lost Friend, 1988 (actor)
A Dry White Season, 1989 (actor)
Lock Up, 1989 (actor)
Lost Angels, a.k.a. The Road Home,1989 (actor)
Buster’s Bedroom, 1990 (actor)
Bethune: The Making of a Hero/Bethune, l’étoffe d’un héros, a.k.a. Dr. Bethune, 1990 (actor)
Cerro Torre: Schrei aus Stein/Scream of Stone/La Conquête de la peur, 1990 (actor)
Eminent Domain/La Guerre des nerfs, 1990 (actor)
Backdraft, 1991 (actor)
JFK, 1991 (actor)
Long Road Home, 1991 (actor; TV, uncredited)
People of the Forest: The Chimps of Gombe, 1991 (narrator; TV)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992 (actor)
Quicksand: No Escape, 1992 (actor; TV)
The Railway Station Man, 1992 (actor; TV)
Rakuyô/The Setting Sun, 1992 (actor)
The Poky Little Puppet’s First Christmas, 1992 (narrator)
The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power series, 1992 (host; TV)
Benefit of the Doubt, a.k.a. Daddy’s Home, 1993 (actor)
Le Fleuve aux grandes eaux, 1993 (narrator)
Great Books series, 1993 (narrator; TV)
Red Hot, 1993 (actor)
Shadow Catcher, 1993 (voice)
Shadow of the Wolf/Agaguk, 1993 (actor)
Six Degrees of Separation, 1993 (actor)
Younger and Younger, 1993 (actor)
A Century of Cinema, 1994 (himself)
Disclosure, 1994 (actor)
The Lifeforce Experiment, a.k.a. The Breakthrough; Dead Men Talk; Le Silence de la liberté, 1994 (actor; TV)
Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, 1994 (actor; TV)
Punch, 1994 (actor)
The Puppet Masters, a.k.a. Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, 1994 (actor)
The War of the Worlds: Great Books, 1994 (narrator)
Citizen X, 1995 (actor; TV)
Hollow Point/Arsenal de pointe, 1995 (actor)
Outbreak, 1995 (actor)
A Time to Kill, 1996 (actor)
The Shadow Conspiracy, a.k.a. The Shadow Program, 1996 (actor)
The Simpsons series, 1996 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Assignment/Le Mandat, 1997 (actor)
Natural Enemy, 1997 (actor; TV)
Fallen, 1998 (actor)
Free Money, 1998 (actor)
Inside the Actors Studio series, 1998 (appears as himself; TV, one episode)
Without Limits, 1998 (actor)
Behind the Mask, 1999 (actor; TV)
Instinct, 1999 (actor)
The Hunley, 1999 (actor; TV)
Virus, 1999 (actor)
Virus: Ghost in the Machine, 1999 (himself)
The Art of War/L’Art de guerre, 2000 (actor)
Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows, a.k.a. American Masters: Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows, 2000 (appears as himself)
The Making of Space Cowboys, 2000 (appears as himself)
Panic, 2000 (actor)
Space Cowboys, 2000 (actor)
Threads of Hope, 2000 (narrator)
AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Thrills: America’s Most Heart-Pounding Movies, 2001 (appears as himself)
The Big Heist, 2001 (actor; TV)
Breaking Down the Walls: The Road to Recreating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 2001 (host)
Da wan, a.k.a. Big Shot’s Funeral; Happy Funeral; The Funeral of the Famous Star, 2001 (actor)
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, 2001 (voice)
Queen Victoria’s Empire series, 2001 (narrator)
Uprising, 2001 (actor; TV)
Fellini: Je suis un grand menteur, a.k.a. Fellini: I’m a Born Liar; Fellini: Sono un gran bugiardo, 2002 (appears as himself)
A Man for all Stages: The Life and Times of Christopher Plummer, Life and Times series, 2002 (appears as himself; TV)
The Magic of Fellini, 2002 (appears as himself; TV)
Path to War, 2002 (actor; TV)
Baltic Storm, 2003 (actor)
Cold Mountain, 2003 (actor)
The Italian Job, 2003 (actor)
Piazza delle cinque lune/Five Moons Plaza, 2003 (actor)
Sex at 24 Frames Per Second, 2003 (appears as himself)
Aurora Borealis, 2004 (actor)
Frankenstein, 2004 (actor; TV)
Life and Times: Arthur Erickson, 2004 (appears as himself; TV, one episode)
Salem’s Lot, 2004 (actor; TV)
Fierce People, 2005 (actor)

Note: Updated to June 30, 2005


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