“Wouldn’t it be terrible if I just died right here?” says Kiefer Sutherland as he settles himself after a coughing fit in the screening room of Millbank Tower. “At least the show would be a massive hit – for about a week!” he jokes.
We’ve just been treated to the first UK viewing of Touch, Fox’s new drama which will be coming to Sky One later this month. After ten years of playing a no nonsense terrorist hunter with a penchant for the word ‘Damnit’, the last thing we expected was to see him dive back into another large-scale TV series, but apparently he was as surprised to find himself involved as anyone..
“Something like this was the last thing I had in mind,” he explains. “But Peter Chernin asked me to read the script and he was the Chairman of 20th Century Fox when 24 started so I felt obligated to read it, and at page 32 I was like ‘shit!’. I hoped that maybe it would get worse as I went on, but unfortunately it just got better. If 24 taught me anything it was that we work on opportunity’s schedule, it doesn’t work on ours. I missed a lot of chances earlier in my career because I wasn’t flexible.”
Written by Heroes creator Tim Kring, Touch is an expansive global drama (“We wanted to show America what the rest of the world looks like”) which centres on single father Martin Bohm (Sutherland) and his relationship with his mute autistic son, who can’t bare to be touched by anyone. Half way through the pilot, Danny Glover pops in to explain that Martin’s son has been misdiagnosed and is actually something akin to the next step on the ladder of human evolution – he has a talent for numbers and can spot patterns that are invisible to the rest of us. “Imagine how wonderful the world is as he sees it” says Glover at one stage. “No wonder he doesn’t talk, he has no reason to.” The twist comes when Martin realises that young Jake can somehow see into the future and is trying to tell him something..
“The fact that Jake doesn’t talk means that we had to build an on-screen rapport in other ways,” says Sutherland. “And I think that by episode three you can really see that developing. But the development of the relationship between father and son and everything else will be self-contained. Unlike Heroes or 24, it will not be serialised, each episode should have a sense of conclusion, which will be different from what we’re used to.”
This is obviously quite a surprise because serialised drama is so IN right now. From Boardwalk to Homeland, from Game of Thrones to Mad Men.. there are hardly any ‘procedurals’ (as Sutherland dubs them) left, so it will be interesting to see how Touch fares. But before we ponder that, someone drags him back to those ‘chances’ he missed out on earlier in his career..
“There were a few!” he laughs. “But I’ll give you two. I passed on My Private Idaho because I wanted to go skiing and didn’t even look at it. I told myself that I needed to stick to my plan.. and it was a really dumb plan. And I’d just finished Stand By Me and Young Guns about the time that Warner Brothers were making the first Batman film with Michael Keaton and I got a call which asked me if I would be interested in playing Robin. I was like: ‘as in Robin with tights? No!’ I didn’t realise they were going to make the coolest movie ever! They didn’t have a Robin in the end, but I was only 19 so my agent could have helped me out a bit on that one.”
..A smile crosses our face as we imagine Kiefer Sutherland wearing his pants outside his trousers, but he’s already started praising young David Mazouz, who plays his on-screen son Jake.
“Somehow he just moved me. He reminded me of the kid that was left out of games at school,” he says. “He was the first kid I read with when we did the casting. At the time I was doing a play so I could only do 10 readings a day and I looked into his eyes and he broke my heart, so on the first day I was like ‘Wow! If the rest are like this then we’re going to find an awesome kid’, but he was the best on that day. So I did the next ten and I thought the first was still the best. After 30 I said that they should really think about hiring the first kid and after 40 I was just like, ‘Will you just hire the first damn kid!'”
There are similarities between Martin Bohm and his iconic 24 persona (“Martin is more tentative, although no less courageous”) but apparently he still misses Jack Bauer and hopes that 24: The Movie comes around one day..
“24 was a fantastic experience for me for so many reasons, I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here without it. When it debuted, most headlines said things like ‘Kiefer Sutherland Back From The Dead’. I thought ‘Wow! I didn’t realise it was that bad!'” He says, before accepting that it probably WAS that bad..
“I came out of a time when every young actor wanted Robert De Niro’s career. He did a film every three years and it was a real event, so that was what everyone tried to do – it was so stupid! But I realised that if I wanted to be an Olympic athlete, I needed to train every day. 24 gave me a lot more confidence as an actor and I’ve noticed that in other things that I’ve done since.. Jack Bauer was also a great character as well, they don’t come along too often.”
“Will there be a movie? I have to believe that the powers that be will one day get their act together and make a movie. I hope it comes before too long, as the show finished in 2010 and you want to retain some of that and it’ll be difficult to fit it in with Touch, but I hope it happens.”
Someone eventually brings up Homeland, asks him what he thinks of it (“I’ve seen it, it’s great and I think it brings something very fresh to the table”) and what part he thinks 24 played in the new wave of high-end TV drama..
“24 was part of a revolution in TV,” he admits under some pressure, before modestly talking about the influence of other shows. “When ER came out peole were trying to work out how they shot that for the money they did. Then you look at The Wire, Sex and The City and The Sopranos and you realise that cable was given so much more latitude, the networks realised that they had to compete and 24 was part of that. Me managed to shoot it in a way that was relatively affordable.” he sidesteps..
“Where does Touch fit in with that? Well it’s tricky because in my opinion 24 wasn’t a perfect script, but Touch is, so when you say something like that there’s only one way you can go and that’s down.. I just hope people like it.”
Sutherland has more reason to hope it proves a success on many others involved, because once again he’s managed to swing an Executive Producer gig. “It doesn’t mean anything! It didn’t make anything on 24 and it doesn’t mean anything here. It’s when they don’t know what to give you because you didn’t like the fruit basket.. all I have to do is help new actors when they start, because we have such a high turn-over from episode to episode. I should be doing that anyway!”
You suspect that once again, he’s being far too modest..
TOUCH starts on Sky One on Tuesday 20th March at 8pm.