Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds may lead Canada’s assault on Hollywood currently, but they are following in the illustrious footsteps of Donald Sutherland, the original Canadian cinematic trailblazer. Now 76 and a movie star since 1967’s The Dirty Dozen, Sutherland shows no sign of slowing, with The Hunger Games, the first installment of a film franchise based on Suzanne Collins’ famed futuristic trilogy of novels, enjoying global box office success. With the film hitting home video September 3rd, Starburst caught up Sutherland to talk about his role as President Snow and his career so far...
Starburst: You’ve played a judge, general, captain and a priest, but only an animated President (in 2009’s Astro Boy). Were you eager to play a human President?
Donald Sutherland: No! I couldn't give a shit.
I was sent this script by director Gary Ross. I read it and immediately wrote a letter to my agent because I came away from it with my mind terribly stimulated, extraordinarily impressed.
So the film more than lived up to your expectations then?
I am overwhelmed by it. It almost makes me weep. I just loved it; it’s important for this fragmented society that we live in. And it’s not just the United States but the world in general. And I do so hope Barack Obama gets re-elected.
It’s almost as if The Hunger Games could end up being the ultimate reality show, for real.
Oh yes, because movies can make a difference. One afternoon 55 years ago, when I was at the University of Toronto, I went in and saw Fellini’s classic 1954 film La Strada and I came out with such bliss. I was so in love with going to movies that I went back in and bought another ticket for Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. I came out of that film and my life had literally changed.
Were you studying drama at University?
I never studied it! I don't think they even had a course in drama and if they had, I wouldn't have taken it! I did go to LAMDA in London, but I didn't study there either. I left as quickly as I could, it was maybe nine months.
Why did you leave?
Oh, they were horrible, they were evil. They hated me and I was gullible enough not to hate them for nine months. But I do now, I made up for it. They were ruinous. The then principal said, “Your voice is too deep for the English theatre”. She tried to raise it an octave and I went along with her, stupidly. I couldn't even speak for a couple of months. Then she said I should be driving a truck and I said, “Well if I do, don't walk on the street”. So I left and got a job in repertory theater.
Didn’t you work in radio as a teenager?
Yes, in my little town of 5,000 people, by accident, not because I wanted to. I went in to apologise for something and the guy said, “Oh, we need an announcer and I like your voice. Can you do it?” I was happy to do it. I was 14 and that was the start of my “voiceover” career.
How did your parents react when you said you wanted to be an actor?
Well, he didn't say, “That's the stupidest thing in the world”. He just said, “Okay, but you should go and get a degree in engineering”. The University actually had a theatre but I was too shy to audition so I made a bet with someone that I wouldn’t get the part. I went, and got the part - it was a play called The Male Animal by James Thurber - and on the opening night, the audience laughed all through my first scene and the next scene. Then when I left, they applauded. Then I came on to take my curtain call and they applauded and stood up. I have never had it so good since. It was incredible, and I was happier than I’d ever been.
You worked with a very young cast in this film. Were they in awe of you?
Well, I don’t really work with them in this one unfortunately, but all the actors I’ve worked with have been so nice and mind-bogglingly respectful. Maybe it's just because I'm old and enthusiastic.
How do the general public react when they spot you?
With incredible courtesy, except periodically with the Internet now and photographs on it. You do have to be really careful because people try and make it look like you’re their best friend, so you try and avoid that. If I see people taking pictures with their telephones, I try and turn away but, other than that, the people who actually come up and say hello are terrific and that is very much appreciated actually cause you know, it's that they are just nice.
Do you have a proudest moment?
One of them is certainly carrying the Canadian flag at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. As I was walking along, the only thing that went through my head was, “Oh gosh, I wish my mother could see me now.” She had been dead for 27 years. Can you imagine that! I am very much still a Canadian.
The Hunger Games is out now on 2 disc Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download.