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April 05, 2010

"24's" Kiefer Sutherland "Living Dangerously:" An Interview with Author Christopher Heard - Part 1

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Sutherland book A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing author Christopher Heard, whose new book, "Kiefer Sutherland, Living Dangerously" is a bio of "24's" Jack Bauer himself, actor Kiefer Sutherland.

What a funny and interesting man!

I mean Heard, not Sutherland--though Sutherland is funny and interesting too, I just didn't get to talk to him on the phone about his book, movies, celebrities and Hollywood fame and fortune.

"Living Dangerously" covers Sutherland's early acting success, his notorious drunken binges, and how acting didn't come from his famous father, Donald Sutherland, but from his Canadian actress mother, Shirley Douglas.

Even though it was recently announced that this will be "24's" last season, if you like celeb bios and you're a Kiefer fan, you'll like this book.  It's a quick read and the stuff about Sutherland's time on the rodeo circuit when roles in Hollywood had dried up, give a unique insight into a talented actor with a wild streak.

Christopher Heard's a veteran celeb interviewer who's written books on Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, director John Woo, and "Titanic" and "Avatar" director James Cameron.

We chatted for nearly an hour--only rudely interrupted when the battery on my phone died--and there was so much good stuff to play with, I've split the interview into two parts. 

Today's Part 1 is about Kiefer, his drinking, "24" and comparisons to Charlie Sheen.  Part 2 on Wednesday will cover Heard's thoughts on Hollywood, Johnny Depp, James Cameron and Mickey Rourke.



Megan Smith:   I know you’ve interviewed Kiefer for articles but did you interview him specifically for the book?

Christopher Heard:  No I didn’t.  I don’t like to do that actually.  If you’re going to interview them I would rather hang out with them for a year, rather than just speak to them a few times. 

There’s a whole qualification of books labeled as being authorized or unauthorized.  I don’t like either term.  Authorized tends to imply, "dictated" whereas unauthorized tends to imply that it’s salacious and gossipy.  Neither one needs to be true. 

But the one thing he didn’t do which I was most grateful for, was hinder it.  Anybody that I called and said, "Could I talk to you about your time with Kiefer, working with Kiefer," they said, well I have to speak to Kiefer first, and if he says it’s okay then I’ll talk to you.  And I was never not granted access to whoever I wanted.

MS:  One of the most interesting parts of the book is his time on the rodeo circuit.

CH:  What I assumed going in was like guys like Steve McQueen and James Dean, there’s a sense that acting is not the most manly of things to do, so they tend to go off and race motorcycles or race cars, or in Mickey Rourke’s case, become a boxer. 

To say, see I actually am a tough guy, not just pretending to be one.

I thought that might have been the motivation in Kiefer’s case, but as I peeled back the layers there was actually much more to it than that.  It wasn’t this sense of Kiefer Sutherland leaving Hollywood.  Hollywood kind of left him.  In doing that, he reconnected with his real love of what he was doing before and how he took his life for granted. 

MS:  The book title is “Living Dangerously” and Kiefer's been known for his crazy outbursts and drinking bouts and some brawling.  And he’s paid his fines and done community service and his time in jail, but having researched him for the book, where do you think that comes from?  

CH:  What I determined as being the root to that is he works really hard.  In the last eight years, the shooting of “24,” that’s like shooting twelve feature films a year.  Most actors of his caliber will do one movie a year, one movie every other year, so he works really hard and this is how he blows off steam.

He’s not a guy who drinks every day, but when he starts it usually ends in a weird binge.

Kiefer Sutherland of 24 smokes an afternoon cigarette while on his phone in NYC

MS:  Yeah but this kind of stuff was going on before “24.”

CH:  Absolutely but he’s just very self indulgent that way.  I think what separates him from guys we’ve been seeing lately, Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, when they get caught doing something like this it's all of a sudden they’re hiding behind lawyers and PR people.  “Leave me alone.  I want my privacy, please respect my privacy.”

Which is all bull.

When actors are coming up, it’s “write about me, write about me, take my picture, write about me.”  But you have a bit of success and it’s "leave me alone."  But I have a publicist to make sure my name is always in the press.

But in his case, he takes it on the chin.  He’ll look you right in the eye and say, “Wasn’t that stupid?”

I made a fool of myself.  I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed my family, I embarrassed my co-workers.  I wish I hadn’t done that but I did it.  And I’m probably gonna do it again. 

So I think that’s why no matter what he does on these things, he gets sniped at in the press, but he gets a pass on the real hard knock because I think he's so upfront about it.

In saying that, the stuff about the drunk driving is no laughing matter, it’s very, very serious.

MS:  But that’s the kind of stuff I mean.   That’s very self destructive and I just wonder where that comes from.

CH:  I don’t think it’s a conscious feeling of being self destructive but a lot of these guys and Kiefer is one of them, they do feel self-conscious.  The amount of success they have, the amount of money they get paid to do this, and the amount of attention they get for doing something that, in the grand scheme of things is not all that important.

So a lot of guys, and Kiefer I think fits in the top tier of this category, this is how they lose themselves in self-indulgence.  And Kiefer’s been known for his whole drinking career as a happy drunk.  Trying to make people laugh, trying to make people look at him as a regular guy.  In the odd occasion he’ll get belligerent but that’s only when he’s provoked. 

If he’s just left alone, he’ll drink and invade New Zealand male strip revues and pretend he’s one of the dancers.

But the drunk driving stuff is inexcusable. You just hope that a guy who has this kind of proclivity to drunk driving, that you don’t pick up the paper or CNN and see that he’s wrapped his car around a pole and killed himself, or worse, somebody else. 

24-Ep813_Sc1332_0002©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Kelsey McNeal/FOX

MS:  Back to him as an actor.  I think he’s one of those actors who had to age into himself.  He’s a better actor and more interesting since he’s gotten older. I couldn’t have cared less about him when he was younger, but when he hit “24,” when he started to become Jack Bauer, he was riveting, and still is.

CH:  He’s great in that role.  You can’t even see him acting.

MS:  No you can't.

CH:  That observation you just made about him aging into his own, even when he was very young and he was doing “Lost Boys” and “Stand by Me” he wanted to be older.  It’s almost like he wanted to accelerate the process.  He probably knew that.  That’s probably what led him to marry a woman who was 32 years old when he was 20.  And have a child because he wanted to live that life.  But he didn’t allow himself the space to enjoy this life that was washing over him first for a little while.

Which a lot of them get in trouble on that.  Charlie Sheen is the same way.

MS:  Too much money, too young, too early.

CH:  Young and not allowing themselves to just reckon with it.  Ironically, television saved both of them.  How ironic is it that they end up the number one and the number two highest paid actors in TV history? 

What's interesting with “24” is that when an actor connects with a role like this and becomes almost globally iconic that’s not an accident. 

MS:  Well he’s not a robot.  Bauer is committed, single minded and you know how he’s going to react in pretty much every situation.   At the same time, the format of the show which is unique and now people don’t even think about it, they made that work so well, and even that would have been a flop if you hadn’t had somebody like Sutherland who carried it. 

CH:  There’s that weird dichotomy with Sutherland because personally he does not believe in torture, does not believe in capital punishment, but he also has a very fractured and contentious relationship with his teenage daughter, he had a strained relationship with his father, who’s in the same business that he is, so there’s these deeply personal things about Jack Bauer that connect Kiefer Sutherland to him. 

One of the fascinating things about the writing of the show is that there’s regret.  I have to do this, if it needs being done but I don’t want to do it. 

MS:  He doesn’t take pleasure in it.

CH:  Which is actually quite hard to pull off and quite hard to sustain.  Most people attracted to action shows, are attracted to that rush of violence that someone’s doing something that they themselves couldn’t.  What Kiefer brings to Jack Bauer is that in a certain set of circumstances, we hope that we could summon within ourselves, this is what needs to be done.  There’s no time to think about it or judge it or wait.  It’s gotta be done.


Check for Part 2 of my interview with Christopher Heard on Wednesday and read about why he thinks James Cameron's" a jerk," why he was pulling for Kathryn Bigelow to win the Best Director Oscar, how Johnny Depp took him to get his first tattoo, and how a monster got him interested in movies in the first place.

Related Links:

The Kick-Ass Women of "24"

The Clock Has Run Out on "24:"  It's Cancelled


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