Q & A: Kiefer Sutherland on ‘Touch’, Coming Back to TV and ’24’
Sutherland stars as Martin Bohm, a widower and single father, who is unable to connect with his seemingly autistic son, Jake (David Mazouz). Jake never speaks, shows no emotion and never allows himself to be touched by anyone. Soon though, Martin finds out that Jake has a gift that allows him to see the random events of the universe and how they’re connected.
Touch was created by Heroes mastermind Tim Kring and Sutherland said that even though he wasn’t ready to come back to television, when he read the script, ““It was something that I knew I had to do.”
In this interview, Kiefer talks more about the reason he came back to TV, his hopes for the show and the legacy of 24.
Touch airs tonight at 9/8c on FOX in a special sneak preview. The shows begins airing regularly on Monday, March, 19th.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
At what point did you connect with your character and when did you know that this was a story that you wanted to tell and be a part of?
Kiefer Sutherland: It was funny. I was doing a play in New York on Broadway. I had a film that I knew I was going to go do and so I read Touch almost reluctantly. I don’t think I was completely ready to go back to television yet. I was enjoying some of the different opportunities that I had had. I think it was around page 30, I remember going, “Oh, …,” or I guess something you could print, …, which I just knew I would be so remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity that Touch was.
I identified with him out of the gate. There was something interesting because obviously this is very different than 24.Yet there is a real similar through line in the kind of character of the man. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day and he would never win completely.
You mentioned about how much you like the script. One of the things is that in the history of television when somebody has a great even groundbreaking series like 24, they rarely come back to television and now it’s just been two years since 24 ended. Was it just the script that made you come back or what was it, what prompted you to come back to television?
Kiefer Sutherland: Well, it was a combination of things. I had an unbelievable experience on 24. We shot 198 episodes and I was as excited about shooting the 198th as I was the first. So that experience, and I had a great relationship with Fox, both the studio and the network. And so that combined with this script, it wasn’t even really a choice anymore. It was something that I knew I had to do.
And I remember thinking about it really strongly when I was crossing the street in New York and the person who I work with Susan …, I remember saying to her if we don’t do this, how are we going to feel in September watching it knowing all of its potential and how great we both think it can be. And that answered my question for me. I didn’t want to be sitting there watching this fantastic show in September if I had had the opportunity to be a part of it.
But you’re right, it certainly is a daunting thing having 24 been not only the great experience on a personal level for me, but it was an incredible success. It’s nice to have that in your pocket and let it be, but this was certainly something I just couldn’t say no to, so I think it’s been a little longer than two years, but it feels a lot shorter than that now I have to say.
For people who are used to seeing you on 24 as Jack Bauer in that action star sort of role, how do you convince them to give the show a look? How do you convince them that this is going to be just as entertaining, just as interesting and intriguing as that series was?
Kiefer Sutherland: I don’t know if there is convincing. I think that ultimately almost in the way that 24 started, people that are initially interested, whether they’re a fan of Tim Kring or a fan of mine or like the trailer, they’ll watch it and then if they feel strongly about it, they’ll tell friends and we have to rely on that.
For me personally I feel that there is a great deal of suspense within the context of the show, even in the not knowing what the numbers are and the narrative where the audience actually knows more than the lead character. So I think that even though we’re not blowing things up, I think that there is enough excitement around the drama of this show, that people will not be that thrown by it who enjoyed 24. And we really do rely on you guys telling people about it and hopefully it will be something that grows.
When you see the show, it’s sort of hard to put it into a genre. How would you categorize it?
Kiefer Sutherland: I’ve always felt that this was a drama. This, we’re embarking on the journey of a father trying to connect with his son and trying to have as normal a relationship as he can under the circumstances. That will always be at the heart of the show and it certainly from my perspective it would be, but it has all of those elements.
I think there is an element of science fiction. I think certainly as the show has developed, you guys have seen the first episode, which has a lot of requirements to kind of explain where the show is going. But for us in the subsequent episodes that follow, this really does have a great deal of energy, so there’s an aspect of it that I would categorize as a thriller or suspense and certainly the science fiction component as well. But at its heart it’s a drama.
The way that Touch is set up, there’s obviously such a great opportunity for a rather large roster of guest stars and Martin and Titus Welliver’s character, they had a special connection. So how many episodes is Titus signed on for and is there also a possibility of your father doing an episode?
Kiefer Sutherland: There certainly is always that possibility. The show is a procedural show. Unlike 24 and unlike Heroes, which was a serialized show, these episodes will have a beginning, a middle and an end. But it does not preclude a character who you’ve seen in one episode being able to come back five episodes down the line, and we have in fact done that. I don’t really want to say who. For the people that are going to watch it, I would like them to see that.
There also might be characters that are way in the background on an episode that will come to the forefront in another episode. But it doesn’t stop each individual episode from being its own complete little entity. And so that’s something I think Tim Kring has done a beautiful job kind of weaving in and out.
Could you talk a little bit about working with David and forming that on-screen bond with him when he doesn’t talk back to you?
Kiefer Sutherland: He’s an amazing young actor and he’s an amazing young man. He does something that is really I don’t—I think it would be impossible to try and teach an actor to do. He has very limited physical response to anything that I do. He doesn’t talk and yet I can feel his presence even if he’s not looking at me. I can always sense that he’s listening and I think that comes across to the viewer as well. That’s a real gift.
He was the first boy out of about 25 young people that I read with and I remember thinking because I was doing the play at the same time, so I could only do five or six or seven kids a day. I remember thinking wow, this kid is amazing. If the other kids are going to be like this, we’re going to find an amazing kid.
And I remember it was around the tenth kid, I was still thinking—and all of the kids I have to say were fantastic, but there was something really special with … and then obviously we should just hire the first kid and I’m thinking around 20, I say no, the first kid was still better. And then I read with close to 30 kids and I was finally like would you guys just please hire the first kid. He was just amazing and so that bond kind of started right away.
He works a lot of hours with us, and I’ve just been completely amazed by how focused and attentive he is and interested in it. I think that’s a big thing. He’s not being made to do this. I think he actually really does enjoy it and he’s very curious about how to get better and it’s been a phenomenal experience. I really, really do love working with him.
Because you only have a limited way of communicating with Jake, who are some of the actors, characters, that are really going to become Martin’s touchstones? So that we really get to see emotionally how he’s reacting with this new journey?
Kiefer Sutherland: I think Danny Glover certainly is a character that is explaining his son’s condition to him, and then Goo Goo plays the worker at Child Services that is managing Jake’s case. Those are people that will be very important. There’s Martin’s wife who was killed on the terrible day of 9/11. Even though she is not with us, I think he speaks a lot to her. Then I think a lot is going to be between Jake and his father. I think already in the first five episodes their ability to communicate has grown exponentially. Martin starts to be able to read a lot of Jake’s physicality and understand what that is and the audience does as well even though other people might not understand it in the context of our show.
But I think one of the things, one of things that moved me the most about the piece was that I felt that Martin was terribly alone; and I think that that’s going to be an aspect of the character and certainly through the piece as well. So that’s going to play into it in a large way.
Can you talk about The Confession and the difficulties or the challenges that come into play when you’re doing an Internet series?
Kiefer Sutherland: I think the real challenge, because I think The Confession was from a production standpoint was quite high end with regards to a lot of things that have been produced for the Internet. The real difficulty is trying to figure out how to galvanize and pull in an audience because the Internet is so fragmented that there is no real kind of central post, if you will. The movie business has theatres. Television has set scheduling. The Internet is kind of when you want it, how you want it and trying to really corral an audience was what we found to be the most difficult. But I think that that’s starting to explain itself. The more things are produced for the Internet, the clearer it becomes how to go about finding that audience.
The one nice thing about coming back to network television whether we do it or not is you certainly can corral an audience and as long as your product is, as long as what you’re presenting is worth an audience seeing. So that’s an exciting part when we were making Touch is that we knew that if we did a good job that people would see it and there’s something very exciting about that. It’s why we do it.
How do you feel that your character, Martin, allows you to mature in new ways as an actor, given what the material calls for emotionally?
Kiefer Sutherland: I think again I kind of referred to his loneliness earlier in one of the earlier questions. That’s a tricky thing to play because I don’t want people feeling sorry for Martin, yet I want them to understand that the further he is able to communicate with his son, the more enlightened and enriched his life will be; and he might be able to move past some of the pain that he’s experienced from the loss of his wife and his son’s condition.
Those are all real subtle narratives to play. They’re not actually written. They’re tonal qualities and that’s something that I’m trying to focus on a lot with Martin and it’s also something that I felt I really learned at least how to do better through my experience on 24. I think a lot of the things that I learned were trying to focus on little small changes within Jack Bauer, whether it was from season to season or even over the course of one of those days.
What I learned in that process is something that I am trying to bring to Martin; and so that there’s a lot going on, or a lot more going on than what is simply written on the page or what one scene might simply require. That there are through lines within the context of the character that are going from episode to episode. And if we are lucky enough to do multiple seasons, that we’d connect those as well. So that’s really an extension of a technique that I really hadn’t focused on or thought of before my experience on 24; and Touch is a perfect kind of show and Martin is a perfect character to try and weave those things in.