Donald Sutherland obituary


Donald Sutherland, who has died aged 88, introduced his disturbing and unconventional presence to bear in scores of movies after his breakthrough function of Hawkeye Pierce, the military surgeon in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970), one of many key American movies of its interval. It marked Sutherland out as an iconoclastic determine of the 60s era, however he matured into an actor who made a speciality of portraying taciturn, self-doubting characters. This was finest illustrated in his portrayal of the tormented guardian of a drowned lady, in search of solace in a wintry Venice, in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), and of the weak, nervous, involved father of a guilt-ridden teenage boy (Timothy Hutton) in Robert Redford’s Peculiar Individuals (1980).

Though Sutherland appeared within the statutory variety of stinkers which are many a movie actor’s lot, he was at all times watchable. His profession resembled a person strolling a tightrope between undemanding elements in potboilers and people through which he was in a position to take dangers, such because the title function in Federico Fellini’s Casanova (1976).

Curiously, it was Sutherland’s ears that first bought him seen, in Robert Aldrich’s The Soiled Dozen (1967). In the course of the shoot, in accordance to Sutherland, “Clint Walker sticks up his hand and says, ‘Mr Aldrich, as a consultant of the Native American individuals, I don’t suppose it’s applicable to do that silly scene the place I’ve to faux to be a common.’ Aldrich turns and factors to me and says, ‘You with the massive ears. You do it’ … It modified my life.” In different phrases, it led to M*A*S*H and stardom.

Sutherland and his M*A*S*H co-star Elliott Gould had been at odds with Altman as a result of they didn’t suppose the director knew what he was doing as a result of his unorthodox strategies. Within the early days, Sutherland was recognized to have confrontations along with his administrators. “What I used to be attempting to do on a regular basis was to impose my pondering,” he remarked some years later. “Now I contribute. I supply. I don’t put my foot down.”

Sutherland, who was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, was a sickly baby who battled rheumatic fever, hepatitis and polio. He spent most of his teenage years in Nova Scotia the place his father, Frederick, ran an area gasoline, electrical energy and bus firm; his mom, Dorothy (nee McNichol), was a maths instructor. He attended Bridgewater highschool, then graduated from Victoria Faculty, a part of the College of Toronto, with a double main in engineering and drama. Because of a extremely praised efficiency in a university manufacturing of James Thurber’s and Elliott Nugent’s The Male Animal, he dropped the thought of turning into an engineer and determined to pursue performing.

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Sutherland (proper) as Hawkeye Pierce, along with his M*A*S*H co-stars Elliott Gould and Sally Kellerman, 1970. {Photograph}: Album/Alamy

With this in thoughts, he left Canada for the UK in 1957 to check at Lamda (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Artwork), the place he was thought of too tall and ungainly to get wherever. Nevertheless, he gained a yr’s work as a stage actor with the Perth repertory firm, and appeared in TV collection reminiscent of The Saint and The Avengers. He was Fortinbras in a 1964 BBC manufacturing of Hamlet, shot at Elsinore fort and starring Christopher Plummer. He additionally appeared on the Criterion theatre within the West Finish in The Gimmick in 1962.

In 1959 he married Lois Hardwick; they divorced in 1966. Then he married the movie producer Shirley Douglas, with whom he had twins, Kiefer and Rachel; they divorced in 1971. Kiefer, who grew as much as change into a celebrated actor, was named after the producer-writer Warren Kiefer, who put Sutherland in an Italian-made Gothic horror movie, The Fortress of the Dwelling Lifeless (1964). Christopher Lee performed a necrophile rely, whereas Sutherland doubled as a dim-witted police sergeant and, in drag and heavy make-up, as a witch.

In an earlier period, the gawky Sutherland won’t have achieved the stardom that adopted the anarchic M*A*S*H, however Hollywood on the time was open for stars with unconventional seems, and Sutherland was a lot in demand for eccentric roles all through the 70s.

He was spectacular as a moviemaker with “director’s block” in Paul Mazursky’s messy however attention-grabbing Alex in Wonderland (1970), which accommodates a prescient dream sequence through which his titular character meets Fellini. In the identical yr, Sutherland performed a Catholic priest and the item of Geneviève Bujold’s erotic gaze in Act of the Coronary heart; he was the appropriately named Sergeant Oddball, an anachronistic hippy tank commander, within the second world warfare action-comedy Kelly’s Heroes; and he and Gene Wilder had been two pairs of twins in 18th-century France within the broad comedy Begin the Revolution With out Me.

Sutherland was at his most laconic, typically verging on the soporific, within the title function of Alan J Pakula’s Klute (1971), as a voyeuristic ex-policeman investigating the disappearance of a pal and getting deeply concerned with a prostitute, performed by Jane Fonda.

Sutherland and Fonda had been teamed up once more as a few misfits within the caper comedy Steelyard Blues (1973). It initially had a restricted distribution due primarily to their participation collectively within the anti-Vietnam warfare troop present FTA (Fuck the Military), which Sutherland co-directed, co-scripted and co-produced.

Sutherland at all times made his political opinions recognized, though they surfaced solely often in his movies. In among the many many mainstream comedies and thrillers was Roeg’s supernatural drama Don’t Look Now, through which Sutherland and Julie Christie are very good as a pair grieving their lifeless daughter. Regardless of the darkish material, the movie was notable for holding “one of many sexiest love scenes in movie historical past”, in keeping with Scott Tobias within the Guardian, the frank depiction of their love-making coming “like a desert flower poking via concrete”. The actor so admired Roeg that he named one other son after him, certainly one of his three sons with the French-Canadian actor Francine Racette, whom he married in 1972.

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Nicolas Roeg’s horror Don’t Look Now, 1973, through which Sutherland performed grieving father John Baxter. {Photograph}: Casey Productions/Studiocanal/Allstar

John Schlesinger’s rambling model of The Day of the Locust (1975) noticed Sutherland as a sexually repressed character – referred to as Homer Simpson – who tramples a lady to demise in an act of uncontrolled rage. Maybe Bernardo Bertolucci had that in thoughts when he solid Sutherland in 1900 (Novecento, 1976), through which he’s a broadly caricatured fascist thug who exhibits his sadism by smashing a cat’s head towards a put up and bashing a younger boy’s brains out. “And I turned down Deliverance and Straw Canines due to the violence!” Sutherland recalled.

In Fellini’s Casanova, the second of his two weird Italian excursions in 1976, Sutherland calculates seduction below his closely made-up options. The efficiency, as stylised as it’s, nonetheless reveals the struggling soul throughout the intercourse machine.

In 1978 he appeared in Claude Chabrol’s Blood Family, a made-in-Canada homicide thriller with Sutherland taking part in a Montreal cop investigating the homicide of a younger lady. Extra industrial was The Eagle Has Landed (1976), with Sutherland, making an attempt an Irish accent, as an IRA member supporting the Germans in the course of the second world warfare, and as a chilling Nazi in Eye of the Needle (1981). In the meantime, he was the hero of Invasion of the Physique Snatchers (1978), who resists the insidious alien menace till the movie’s devastating remaining shot.

In 1981 Sutherland returned to the stage, as Humbert Humbert in a extremely anticipated model of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, tailored by Edward Albee. It turned out to be an enormous flop, working solely 12 performances on Broadway. Each Sutherland and Albee performed the blame sport. “The second act is flawed,” Sutherland stated. “Albee was purported to have rethought it, however he by no means did.” Albee advised reporters that he had scuttled some of his finest scenes as a result of they had been “too tough” for Sutherland as a result of “he hasn’t been on stage for 17 years”.

Persevering with his movie profession, Sutherland performed a posh and sadistic British officer in Hugh Hudson’s Revolution (1985), and in A Dry White Season (1989) he took the function of an Afrikaner schoolteacher starting to grasp the brutal realities of apartheid. In Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), he held the display screen with an prolonged monologue as he spilled the conspiracy beans to Kevin Costner’s district legal professional hero Jim Garrison.

After having made contact with younger audiences within the 70s with offbeat appearances in gross-out photos The Kentucky Fried Film (1977) and Nationwide Lampoon’s Animal Home (1978), the latter as a pot-smoking professor, he was solid as an unconvincing bearded stranger in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992).

On a extra grownup stage had been Six Levels of Separation (1993), through which he performed an unfulfilled artwork supplier; A Time to Kill (1996), as an alcoholic lawyer (alongside Kiefer); With out Limits (1998), as an enthusiastic athletics coach; and House Cowboys (2000), as an aged pilot. By this time, he was regularly shifting into grey-haired character roles, among the best being his amiable Mr Bennet in Satisfaction and Prejudice (2005).

The Jane Austen novel was additionally featured within the tv collection Nice Books (1993-2000), to which Sutherland lent his soothing voice as narrator. Different collection through which he shone as quasi baddies had been Commander in Chief (2005) – because the sexist Republican speaker of the home against the brand new president (Geena Davis) – and Soiled Horny Cash (2007-09), through which he performed a robust patriarch of a rich household.

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Sutherland with Jenny Agutter within the 1976 warfare movie The Eagle Has Landed. {Photograph}: Itc Leisure/Allstar

Sutherland continued to be energetic properly into his 80s, his lengthy gray hair and beard signifying sagacity, whether or not as a contract killer in The Mechanic, a Roman hero in The Eagle, a nutty retired poetry professor in Man on the Prepare (all 2011), or a unusual bounty hunter within the western Daybreak Rider (2012), bringing extra depth to the characters than they deserved. As President Coriolanus Snow, the autocratic ruler of the dystopian nation of Panem in The Starvation Video games (2012), Sutherland was found by a brand new era; he went on to reprise the function in three additional movies in that franchise, starting with The Starvation Video games: Catching Hearth (2013).

He performed artists in two art-world thrillers by Italian administrators: in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Deception, AKA The Finest Supply (2013), he was a would-be painter serving to to execute multimillion-dollar scams, whereas in Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Burnt Orange Heresy (2019) he was on the opposite aspect of the heist as a reclusive genius focused by a rich and unscrupulous supplier (Mick Jagger).

Except for James Grey’s science-fiction drama Advert Astra (additionally 2019), through which he co-starred with Brad Pitt, Sutherland’s finest late work was all for tv. In Danny Boyle’s mini-series Belief (2018), which coated the identical real-life occasions as Ridley Scott’s All of the Cash within the World, he performed J Paul Getty, the oil tycoon whose grandson is kidnapped; whereas in The Undoing (2020), he was the daddy of a psychologist (Nicole Kidman), reluctantly placing up bail when her husband (Hugh Grant) is arrested for homicide.

For the latter function Sutherland was within the working for a Golden Globe, having obtained an honorary Oscar in 2017, eight years after Leigh Singer on this newspaper named him as one of many 10 finest actors by no means to have been nominated. “Is it as a result of he’s Canadian?” requested the author. Regardless of: Sutherland graced a Canada Submit commemorative stamp in 2023.

He’s survived by Francine and his youngsters, Kiefer, Rachel, Rossif, Angus and Roeg, and by 4 grandchildren.

Donald McNichol Sutherland, actor; born 17 July 1935; died 20 June 2024


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