In Conversation with Donald Sutherland
Reader’s Digest Canada: First off, congratulations on being a recipient of the 2017 Academy Honorary Award. How did it feel when you got the phone call notifying you of your win?
Donald Sutherland: Like a door opened and a wave of fresh air engulfed me. It means everything to me. Everything.
Your new film, The Leisure Seeker, is about an elderly couple who travel from Boston to Florida in their old RV. It’s an homage to the road movie genre, in its own way.
I’ve travelled everywhere over the course of my long existence, and I love these kinds of films. It was a beautiful script, but Helen Mirren was the key to everything.
You’ve not only worked with Helen Mirren before (1990’s Bethune: The Making of a Hero), but she’s once again playing your wife. What was it like working with her this time around?
She’s extraordinary. I’ve worked with two women who, more than anyone else, have impressed me with their genius: Helen Mirren and Jennifer Lawrence. The intelligence, wit and capability those two have is breathtaking. I love Helen in every respect, in how she conducts herself in a press conference or an interview. Everything about this business, Helen does to perfection.
The character you play suffers from Alzheimer’s. How did you approach that aspect of the role?
I did a lot of research with organizations that train caregivers for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. I approached the role from the other side, as opposed to befriending Alzheimer’s patients themselves. Because nobody knows how a person with dementia feels, really. So I approached it based on how you treat them, and I did a mirror image of that.
Playing a character like this probably makes you think about your own mortality. How are you feeling these days?
I am old, but I don’t feel old. I feel very, very young actually, but my sphincter may be a little old.
There’s a rather funny scene in the film where your character stumbles onto a Donald Trump rally in Key West. Can you tell us about that?
We shot all of that way before the 2016 presidential election. It didn’t make the final cut, but we also filmed some scenes by the Hillary Clinton rallies too. No one in their right mind thought Donald Trump would be elected, and no one in their right mind can believe that he’s been elected, but there’s that.
Although you identify as Canadian, you’re still invested in U.S. politics?
I can’t vote in Canada. I can’t vote in the United States either. The point of actors going “blah-blah-blah” about politics has seemed to me counterproductive, but in terms of my heart and soul, politics has been an integral part of that.
What’s the one issue you feel you can no longer ignore?
I’ll say it three times: climate, climate, climate. I realized it 20 years ago. I started to see jellyfish where jellyfish had never been before. And in the Caribbean, when the water temperature increases by just one degree, that’s massive, because hurricanes feed on hot water. And now they have a President in the United States who doesn’t believe in… oh, never mind.
What advice do you have for young actors and actresses trying to crack into the business?
Be passionate. That’s all there is to it.
The Leisure Seeker makes its wide-release Canadian debut on March 16.