Nationality: Canadian. Born: Donald McNichol Sutherland in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, 17 July 1935. Education: Attended public schools in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; University of Toronto, B.A. 1956; London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, England. Family: Married 1) Lois May Hardwick, 1959 (divorced); 2) the actress Shirley Jean Douglas, 1966 (divorced), son: the actor Kiefer, daughter: Rachel; since 1974, has lived with the actress Francine Racette, sons: Roeg, Rossif, and Angus. Career: Late 1950s—worked in repertory companies in the United Kingdom; professional debut in London in The Gimmick; also acted on television; 1964—film debut in Castle of the Living Dead; late 1970s—formed McNichol Picture production company; 1981—New York stage debut in Lolita; 1994—in TV mini-series The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Awards: Emmy Award, Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, for Citizen X, 1995. Agent: Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Il castello dei morti vivi (Castle of the Living Dead) (Ricci) (as witch/sergeant)
The Bedford Incident (James B. Harris) (as Nerny); Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (Francis) (as Bob Carroll); Fanatic (Die! Die! My Darling) (Narizzano) (as Joseph)
Promise Her Anything (Hiller)
The Dirty Dozen (Aldrich) (as Vernon Pinkley); Oedipus the King (Saville) (as chorus leader)
The Sunshine Patriot (Sargent—for TV) (as Benedeck); Interlude (Billington) (as Lawrence); Joanna (Sarne) (as Lord Peter Sanderson); The Split (Flemyng) (as Dave Negli); Mr. Sebastian (Sebastian) (David Greene) (as American)
Start the Revolution without Me (Yorkin) (as Charles/Pierre); Acte du Coeur (Act of the Heart) (Almond) (as Father Michael Ferrier); M*A*S*H (Altman) (as Capt. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce); Kelly's Heroes (The Warriors) (Hutton) (as Oddball); Alex in Wonderland (Mazursky) (title role)
Johnny Got His Gun (Trumbo) (as "Christ"); Little Murders (Arkin) (as the Minister); Klute (Pakula) (title role)
The FTA Show (F.T.A.; Foxtrot Tango Alpha; Free the Army; Fuck the Army) (Francine Parker—doc) (+ co-pr, sc)
Steelyard Blues (Myerson) (as Veldini); Lady Ice (Gries) (as Andy Hammond); Don't Look Now (Roeg) (as John Baxter)
S*P*Y*S (Kershner) (as Brulard)
Der Richter und sein Henker (End of the Game; Murder on the Bridge; Getting Away with Murder) (Schell) (as corpse);The Day of the Locust (Schlesinger) (as Homer Simpson); Alien Thunder (Dan Candy's Law) (Fournier)
1900 (Novecento) (Bertolucci) (as Attila); Casanova (Fellini's Casanova) (Fellini) (title role); The Eagle Has Landed (John Sturges) (as Liam Devlin)
The Kentucky Fried Movie (Landis) (as waiter); The Cinema According to Bertolucci (Bertolucci—doc); Les Liens de sang (Blood Relatives) (Chabrol) (as Carella); The Disappearance (Cooper) (as Jay Mallory)
National Lampoon's Animal House (Landis) (as Dave Jennings); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kaufman) (as Matthew Bennel); The Great Train Robbery (The First Great Train Robbery) (Michael Crichton) (as Agar)
Murder by Decree (Clark) (as Robert Lees); A Very Big Withdrawal (A Man, a Woman, and a Bank) (Black) (as Reese Halperin); Bear Island (Sharp) (as Frank Lansing)
Ordinary People (Redford) (as Calvin); Nothing Personal (Bloomfield) (as Professor Roger Kelly)
Gas (Rose) (as Nick the Noz); Eye of the Needle (Marquand) (as Henry Faber); Threshold (Pearce) (as Dr. Thomas Vrain)
Max Dugan Returns (Ross) (as Brian Costello); The Winter of Our Discontent (Hussein—for TV); Nothing Personal (Bloomfield)
Crackers (Malle) (as Weslake); Ordeal by Innocence (Desmond Davis) (as Dr. Arthur Calgary)
Heaven Help Us (Catholic Boys) (Dinner) (as Brother Thadeus); Revolution (Hudson) (as Sgt. Maj. Peasy)
The Wolf at the Door (Oviri) (Carlsen) (as Paul Gauguin)
The Rosary Murders (Walton) (as Father Bob Koesler); The Trouble with Spies (Kennedy) (as Appleton Porter)
Apprentice to Murder (Thomas) (as John Reese)
A Dry White Season (Palcy) (as Ben du Toit); Lock Up (Flynn) (as Warden Drumgoole); Lost Angels (The Road Home) (Hudson) (as Dr. Charles Loftis)
Bethune: The Making of a Hero (Dr. Bethune) (Borsos—released in U.S. in 1993) (title role); Buster's Bedroom (Horn); Schrei aus Stein (Scream of Stone) (Herzog) (as Ivan)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Kuzui) (as Merrick); The Railway Station Man (Whyte—for TV) (as Roger Hawthorne); Quicksand: No Escape (Pressman—for TV)
Benefit of the Doubt (Heap) (as Frank); Shadow of the Wolf (Agakuk) (Dorfmann) (as Henderson); Six Degrees of Separation (Schepisi) (as Flan Kittredge); Younger and Younger (Adlon) (as Jonathan Younger)
Disclosure (Levinson) (as Bob Garvin); The Puppet Masters (Orme) (as Andrew Nivens); Punch (Birkinshaw and Fluetsch); The Lifeforce Experiment (The Breakthrough) (Haggard—for TV) (as Dr. "MAC" MacLean)
Outbreak (Petersen) (as Gen. Donnie McClintock); Citizen X (Gerolmo—for TV) (as Fetisov)
The Shadow Conspiracy (The Shadow Program) (Cosmatos); Hollow Point; A Time to Kill (Schumacher) (as Lucien Wilbanks)
Natural Enemy (Jackson) (as Ted); Shadow Conspiracy (Cosmatos) (as Conrad); The Assignment (Duguay) (as Jack Shaw/Henry Fields)
Fallen (Hoblit) (as Lt. Stanton); Without Limits (Towne) (as Bill Bowerman); Free Money (Simoneau) (as Judge Rolf Rausenberg)
Virus (Bruno) (as Captain Robert Everton); Behind the Mask (McLoughlin—for TV) (as Dr. Bob Shushan); Instinct (Turteltaub) (as Dr. Ben Hillard); The Hunley (Gray—for TV) (as General Pierre Beauregard)
Panic (Bromell) (as Michael); Space Cowboys (Eastwood) (as Jerry O'Neill); The Art of War (Duguay) (as U.N. Secretary General Douglas Thomas)
By SUTHERLAND: articles—
Interview, in Show (New York), April 1971.
"Recréer l'univers magique de Fellini," interview with G. Morin, in Cinéma Québec (Montreal), vol. 5, no. 6, 1977.
Interview with R. Schar, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), April 1977.
Interview with J. Craven, in Films and Filming (London), June 1978.
Interview with B. Lewis, in Films and Filming (London), March 1987.
On SUTHERLAND: articles—
Eyles, Allen, "Donald Sutherland," in Focus on Film (London), Autumn 1973.
Films and Filming (London), January 1979.
Current Biography 1981, New York, 1981.
Graustark, Barbara, "Donald Sutherland's Seventh-Inning Stretch," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1984.
Alion, Yves, "Le magnétisme du regard," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), December 1989.
Stars (Mariembourg), June 1990.
Dugger, C., "Playing Close to the Bone in 'Six Degrees'," in New York Times, 5 December 1993.
Filmowy Serwis Prasowy (Warsaw), June-July 1995.
* * *
Donald Sutherland continues a long and distinguished, although eclectic, career in North American and European cinema. He has proven himself adept in 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.
Sutherland achieved stardom in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H as Hawkeye Pierce in 1970, but he had been acting (in Europe and Canada) in a variety of character parts during the 1960s. In an earlier era, the tall, gawky-looking Sutherland might not have achieved the stardom that followed M*A*S*H, but Hollywood in the early seventies was open for male stars with unconventional looks. He was hired for the title roles in Paul Mazursky's Alex in Wonderland and Alan Pakula's Klute, yielding attention in the latter to Jane Fonda's riveting prostitute, Bree Daniels. Sutherland was known to have had antagonistic relationships with some of his early directors (it is an oftreported story that Sutherland and Elliott Gould attempted to get the studio to fire Altman from M*A*S*H), but by the mid-seventies he had rethought his role in the collaborative process. "What I was trying to do all the time was impose my thinking," Sutherland later remarked. "Now I contribute. I offer, I don't put my foot down."
As his career continued, Sutherland would offer his services to many of the brightest directors of the age—John Schlesinger, Bernardo Bertolucci, Federico Fellini, Claude Chabrol, and Louis Malle, among others—but he would have the misfortune of doing so as those directors embarked on some of their more problematic films.
Sutherland's commitment to a director's vision would, however, serve him well in Nicolas Roeg's brilliant Don't Look Now, where his willingness to become the object of Julie Christie and Roeg's erotic gaze was unique even in that era's tradition of frontal male nudity. Don't Look Now's John Baxter provided Sutherland with a role that balanced his ability to display subtle nuance through a generally repressed character who could, occasionally, display great depths of emotion. Later, continuing to work in Europe with Bertolucci on 1900 and on Fellini's Casanova, Sutherland would take heroic dives off the artistic cliffs his directors put in front of him. While his work as the monstrous fascist Attila in the former would eventually win him respect and even a certain amount of awe (and surely contribute to casting directors' willingness to give him larger-than-life roles in the future), it was considered an embarrassing misstep at the time. Fellini's conception of Casanova would, however, effectively turn Sutherland into a life-sized marionette in one of the Italian auteur's worst pictures.
If Sutherland's allegiance to some directors would backfire in the direction of "overacting," his commitment to Robert Redford in Ordinary People (1980) and Fred Schepisi in Six Degrees of Separation (1993) would require him to defer attention to the films' other cast members. Surely Sutherland's work in Redford's film equaled Mary Tyler Moore's and Timothy Hutton's, but as a gentle man trying to hold his family together, it was not the kind of performance that impressed casual viewers or won awards. In Schepisi's adaptation of John Guare's dazzling play, Sutherland was given the script's one underconceived part—art speculator Flan Kittredge who is locked into a life by rote while his wife Ouisa has the epiphanies. Still, Sutherland was able to suggest a certain sorrow over a life of unconsummated possibilities.
Perhaps Sutherland's work as a villain, or at least a character prone to malevolence, in numerous films such as Eye of the Needle, Lock Up, Backdraft, and Disclosure, used him to most impressive effect in the eighties and nineties. Eye of the Needle's Nazi spy Henry Faber was a complex and bone-chilling characterization; Sutherland's Warden Drumgoole in the Stallone film Lock Up evoked his Attila; and in Disclosure, as Michael Douglas's corporate boss, Sutherland was able to use his flashing eyes, curling upper lip, and imposingly large frame to subtly convey malevolent intent without any direct acknowledgment within the script. Sutherland did give at least one completely stunning performance in this period as a sympathetic Paul Gauguin in the 1986 film The Wolf at the Door, but few saw that French-Danish co-production.
Still, one wishes for more opportunities for this risk-taking actor, one of the most talented of his generation. In the late nineties, Sutherland would be heard doing voice-overs for Volvo commercials and turning in still more villainous performances in such films as Outbreak, where boredom seems finally to be creeping into his performances. Considering the quality of the scripts, it is hard to entirely fault him for this.
—Daniel I. Humphrey