Directed by Jon Cassar and written by Brad Mirman, the indie Western Forsaken follows retired gunfighter John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), as he returns to his hometown of Fowler, Wyoming with the hope of repairing his relationship with his estranged father, Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland). However, he quickly learns that the town he left is in far more turmoil upon his return, as the railroad is coming and a criminal gang is terrorizing the ranchers who refuse to sell their land, and he is the only one who can stop them.
At the press day for the film, actor Donald Sutherland spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about sharing screen time with his son, why it took 30 years for them to make a movie together, always knowing that he wanted to be an actor, how his approach to the work is different from his son’s, why he was disappointed with the first cut of the film, and what gets him involved with a project.
DONALD SUTHERLAND: I never think of this business as fun. I don’t know why. I think I’ve actually said something about it being fun, but I don’t think of it that way. It’s not fun, doing it. It’s joyful, it’s passionate, it’s rewarding, it’s a pursuit of truth, but I don’t think of it as fun. It’s not a game. It’s a very serious endeavor for me. It’s not for a lot of people. It was a wonderful job. I’ve wanted to do it since I can remember. I come from Nova Scotia, and I’d never seen a theater or been inside of a theater. When I was 17, my dad asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I thought I would like to be an actor. I didn’t have any idea what it was to be an actor. None. I’d wanted to be either an actor or a sculptor, which are both essentially the same thing. That’s how it all started for me.
Why did it take 30 years for you guys to make a movie together?
SUTHERLAND: We wanted to, we just didn’t ever have a chance. We tried, but it never worked out. I’m running out of time, and a Western is America’s answer to a Greek tragedy, so that’s what we did. [Kiefer] hired Brad [Mirman] to write the script and he had the ideas, and then he and I did stuff on the script to make it a little cleaner to ourselves. And then, we played it. We were just actors working together, and our DNA must have informed it somehow. Certainly, we came out of it purified a little bit.
Did it feel, at times, like you weren’t playing characters?
SUTHERLAND: No, you’re always working. Never was I me, and never have I been me, nor was he him. We were the two characters. But the character that I was playing was informed by my DNA, looking at him informed by his. When you look in the eyes of someone and that’s what you look into, I knew him with my blood. It’s not something you can actually ever get to, I don’t think, without that. It was a huge gift, as an actor.
Was it different to work with Kiefer than you expected? Is your approach to the work very similar, or did you find it to be very different?
SUTHERLAND: I think we’re different. He plans, organizes and intellectualizes more than I do. It wasn’t until I worked with Federico Fellini that I understood what my problem was. When you shoot a film, when it was film, there used to be rushes and normally a director would look at them the next day. All directors look at the rushes, except for Fellini. I asked him why he didn’t and said, “Because it interrupts my fantasy.” What he was trying to say was that he had a three-dimensional, vibrant, living, volatile fantasy going on in his head, and when he looked at rushes, they were two-dimensional and they killed it. I thought, “Oh, my god, that’s what happens every time I talk with a journalist in the middle of shooting and I talk about my character. I describe him, I objectify him, and I kill him.” So, I’ve never spoken with a journalist in the middle of a film. I don’t do the EPK until the very end of a film. I can’t talk about Kiefer’s process, but what he brings to the table is beautiful.
How did you find Jon Cassar, as a director?
SUTHERLAND: I saw the first cut of the film and I was appalled because it was really just a film about a gunslinger, and it was an action film. The relationship between the father and son was peripheral. I complained about that. I was so disappointed, but maybe I hadn’t talked enough with the director. I don’t know. But, Kiefer worked it out. Kiefer took it and re-edited it. I don’t know whether he talks about that. He’s probably more discreet than I am because Jon is a friend of his. Now, it fulfills what I was hoping for, and what we were working on and doing.
As an actor, you don’t have control over the finished product or the box office, so what makes a successful project for you?
SUTHERLAND: I have no idea. I get involved because I think there’s value in the project and because I love the character that is presented to me. I love the opportunity to examine a character, and to have him examine me, live inside me and move my hands. I love that. It’s irresistible. It’s a drug. When I do a film, the days before or the night before, I throw up. Sometimes it’s just in my mouth and I swallow it back, but sometimes it’s real. Whatever it is, it’s hard. I don’t do the first five or ten minutes of my character’s appearance in a movie until the middle of the shooting schedule because I don’t want him to be defined by my nervousness. So, we do the middle of the picture first.
Now that you’ve had the experience working with your son, would you like to work together again?
SUTHERLAND: We don’t have that much time left to do it. I’m 80. I wanted to be Walter Huston to his John Huston. I wanted him to direct me, not in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but something. We’ll see. We can’t predict anything.
Forsaken is available in theaters and on VOD.