The Reluctant Fundamentalist is director Mira Nair’s latest meditation of her distinctive subject matter: the exploration of East-West interactions and relations. The movie is based on Mohsin Hamid’s book of the same title and follows the story of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani Columbia grad pursuing his professional goals in the corporate scene of New York and living the American dream until terrorism strikes the United States on 9/11 and he is turned into the enemy. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Jim Cross — the managing director of a high-end boutique Wall Street hedge fund company who hires Changez and becomes somewhat of a father figure to him. However, their relationship dissolves when a cultural divide forces Changez to choose between two vastly different worlds.
In this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Kiefer Sutherland talked about the complexity of his character and why he wanted to do the film. He also gave an update on the status of the 24 movie and the Paul W.S. Anderson historical thriller Pompeii, in which he plays the villain. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
KIEFER SUTHERLAND: I have no idea. I’ve tried to help that along. There’s a lot of moving parts to it. It’s not something that I’m actively pursuing, but if it were to ever happen, that would be great.
So, you would still be on board with the project, if it were to get greenlit?
SUTHERLAND: Yes, I will not be the reason it doesn’t get made.
You’re attached to the new Paul W.S. Anderson film, Pompeii. Who are you playing in that?
SUTHERLAND: I play a Roman Senator who manages to wedge himself in between Kit Harington’s character and Emily Browning’s character. They are both in love, and I am the protagonist in that.
What was it about the project that made you want to be a part of it?
SUTHERLAND: It’s a great big film. It’s as entertaining than anything I’ve read, in a very long time. It’s a great character for me to play. It’s a gladiator movie. This is a film where is there is a very simple right and wrong. I enjoy that, as well.
It looks like it’s going to be a big action-adventure film. Will we get to see you partake in a lot of action?
SUTHERLAND: Yes! I’ve always loved the physicality of acting, so I’m looking forward to it.
What did you like about working with Mira Nair? I understand she liked to start the cast and crew off, every day, doing yoga.
SUTHERLAND: They did, yeah. I did not. I am notoriously inflexible. I can’t touch my toes, so I abstained from the yoga, but she got everyone else going. The great thing about Mira is that she’s the mom you always wanted. There’s a motherly quality to her that’s just extraordinary, and she’s creates an environment for you to try stuff. I think I went through about two or three different dialects before we settled on how I was going to speak in the movie.
What I found interesting about your character was the complexity of him. He represents the good and bad of the Western world. Can you talk about that aspect of Jim?
SUTHERLAND: Well, he certainly, for within the context of our film, provided Riz [Ahmed] with the American dream. When Riz rejected that, on some level, he turned against him, as if he were dead. It was severe, in both ways. There was a severe mentorship that took place because he could see something that would help him or that he could take advantage of. When it no longer served its purpose, he got rid of it.
I thought one of the positive aspects of Jim was that he was willing to take Changez on, even though he didn’t have the right color skin or last name, during a time when things were unsettling with the East in America.
SUTHERLAND: Yes, but at the root of that, he saw something that was going to help him. If you want to talk about it on a larger political level, the United States had allies that they shouldn’t have had, but they provided something. Changez was that. You’re also talking about a character that was gay, that had dealt with a kind of prejudice, on some level. He was compassionate, in one degree, but not in the other.
When your character gets angry with Changez, for leaving the career he gave him on Wall Street, is it because, like you said, he sees something in him that he can benefit from and will no longer be able to do so, or because he thinks it’s irresponsible to leave such a rare opportunity?
SUTHERLAND: I think Changez becomes a horrific mirror for him. Jim – my character – has been chasing this American dream and idea of wealth and opulence, and to be confronted with someone who can let that go is a very frightening moment. Most people, when they’re scared, react in anger.
How did you and Riz Ahmed prepare for the scene where you get so furious at him for leaving? It was so emotionally charged and intense.
SUTHERLAND: It was never written that way. We just kind of made it up, at that moment. We did the scene where he went to walk by me, and I went to grab him. He was kind of startled by that and I told him, “We should do it like this.” Mira inched us into taking it as far as we could.
What is The Reluctant Fundamentalist about to you?
SUTHERLAND: The events of 9/11 had a very profound and heavy impact on me. I was focused on the people in the towers and on their families. I was focused on the people on the plane and their families. Those stories had huge resonance to me, and rightfully so. I hadn’t taken a look at the ripple effect of 9/11 and how it affected the Muslim community or people of color, and the kind of racism and bigotry they had to endure. I was kind of ashamed by that, and that I hadn’t thought of it in a wider perspective. When I read the film, I was terribly moved by that.
You have a lot of scenes with Kate Hudson. What was it like working with her?
SUTHERLAND: That’s actually very funny. She’s fantastic, first off. She had a newborn, and I always thought it was so amusing that it would actually stop a film crew from working. Every once in awhile, the baby would need to be fed, and she was breast-feeding at the time, so we would just stop working. I worked 200 hours on 24, where we stopped for nothing. It was wonderful to see Mother Nature go, “No, you’re going to stop working for about 20 minutes now.” So, I always laughed about that and I thought she was amazing.
Kate Hudson’s character throws what she thinks is an elaborate art gallery exhibit honoring Changez, but it’s actually horribly offensive. Can you talk about what that scene represents and means to you?
SUTHERLAND: That scene articulates a lack of understanding. This was a person who just wanted to be loved and he did not want to be victimized in a sorrowful way, or in a meaner or angry way. He wanted to be able to be who he was. This idea that, because he was Pakistani or Muslim, which he really wasn’t, changed other people’s behavior towards him after 9/11 was an insult, on a personal and emotional level, with his lover who didn’t understand that. It broke his heart.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens in limited release on April 26th.