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The Untold Truth Of Kiefer Sutherland

For more than 30 years now, Kiefer Sutherland has been one of the entertainment industry's most intense, brooding, and gravelly-voiced actors. He's also a reliably solid and versatile performer, always giving his all and even changing his looks so as to disappear into his roles. As a result, we have a plethora of memorable performances in well-loved movies such as Stand by Me, The Lost Boys, Flatliners, Young Guns, and Dark City. After the turn of the millennium, Sutherland became a TV powerhouse with his unstoppable work as counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer on Fox's Emmy-winning drama 24. More recently, he played an unlikely president on ABC's and Netflix's Designated Survivor. 

While he's a Hollywood stalwart who's almost always on the screen, Sutherland has lived a life full of adventure, color, and drama. (Perhaps it informs his unique acting choices.) Here's the untold truth about the many exploits of second-generation Canadian actor and Renaissance man, Kiefer Sutherland. 

Stand by Me was Sutherland's idea

One of Kiefer Sutherland's first movies, and what certainly gave him his breakthrough role, was Stand by Me. In the 1986 coming-of-age ensemble drama, he played frightening bully Ace Merrill, alongside fellow future stars like Jerry O'Connell, Will Wheaton, and River Phoenix. While the premise does involve a bunch of teenagers curious to see a dead body, it's one of the least horrific works ever put to the page by Stephen King. Stand by Me is based on the horror master's novella "The Body," found in the 1982 collection Different Seasons. 

So how did the adaptation come to share a name with Ben E. King's classic slice of early '60s pop-soul? Sutherland inadvertently suggested it, according to the actor himself. "I was teaching River [Phoenix] how to play the guitar," he told iNews, "and at that point the film was still called The Body. The first song I taught him was 'Stand By Me.'" Director Rob Reiner heard them playing, and soon he walked over "and went, 'Oh man, I haven't heard that for so long!'" And according to Sutherland, soon after that, the movie had a new title.

He could've gone back to the future in his own private Idaho

As a major actor for more than 30 years, a lot of scripts have come Kiefer Sutherland's way, some of which became outright classics of the big screen and small screen. Unfortunately, Sutherland didn't make it into the casts of some of those projects, either by losing out to other actors or turning down the opportunity. For example, had his audition gone differently, Sutherland's breakout role wouldn't have been Ace in Stand by Me. Instead, it would've been Marty McFly in Back to the Future. That one still stings. "Even now, and I'm friends with Michael J. Fox, I'm like, 'Oh, man, I wish I'd gotten that part,'" he told blogger Michael Cavacini. 

Other misses were his own fault. "I passed on My Own Private Idaho because I wanted to go skiing and didn't even look at it," Sutherland told OnTheBox.com. "I told myself that I needed to stick to my plan ... and it was a really dumb plan." Instead of Sutherland, River Phoenix got the part.

After 24, TV producers clamored for Sutherland. While he did star in the short-lived Touch and Designated Survivor, he passed on the starring role in what would become a hit. He was offered the part of criminal-turned-FBI collaborator Raymond "Red" Reddington on NBC's The Blacklist. As a result, James Spader got the gig ... after Richard Gere, Bryan Cranston, and Pierce Brosnan also all declined.

Kiefer Sutherland is a country boy

Kiefer Sutherland has family roots in the Saskatchewan prairie, so the desire to be a cowboy or a rancher might be in his blood. And as he lived out the rural, rodeo life for a spell, that inspired him to make a country music album.

"I started team roping in the early '90s, maybe late '80s, and I did that for ten years, and I did it pretty hard," Sutherland told The Boot. He toured with other ropers, and "in the truck," they listened to classic country music. As Sutherland explained, he listened to "Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristoffesron, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson — all those guys wrote in the first-person narrative." Performing in character appealed to the actor in Sutherland, and in 2016 via the label Ironworks (which he owned with Canadian pop-rock singer Jude Cole), he released his debut album Down in a Hole, featuring storytelling tunes like "Not Enough Whiskey" and "Gonna Die." Sutherland followed it up with Reckless & Me in 2019. 

The actor also enjoys the ranch life. He once owned a 813-acre plot north of Los Angeles and as of 2019 lives on another ranch in California where he has plenty of room to ride horses.

Sutherland has a complicated relationship with alcohol

Kiefer Sutherland's country album Down in a Hole includes a song called "Can't Stay Away," a tune about a toxic coupling — inspired by the actor/musician's multifaceted relationship with alcohol.  "One of the things I love to do is go out with my friends and tell stories and have a bunch of drinks," Sutherland told People in 2016, before adding, "Having said that, I can also look back on my life and tell you very squarely that the only bad things that have ever happened to me in my life have been because I like to go to bars and have drinks with my friends."

Among those headline-making events, there was the time he spent about seven weeks in jail for a drunk driving charge (his fourth since 1987), which he incurred while on probation for another drunk driving offense from 2004. In April 2010, security guards threw Sutherland out of a London strip club after he got drunk, took his shirt off, screamed, and danced around. But the actor has no intentions of laying off the sauce, preferring to "work really hard" so he can create special moments with friends and limit the bad times "than to just simply stop." As Sutherland explains, "That's a choice I've made, and I live with that choice."

His grandfather invented socialized health care

Kiefer Sutherland has some famous relatives. It's widely known that his father is Donald Sutherland, the often intense and widely acclaimed star with a career that stretches back 50 years and includes M*A*S*H, Animal House, Don't Look Now, and The Hunger Games. Kiefer's mother is Shirley Douglas, a prominent Canadian actress and the daughter of Tommy Douglas, who served as the premier (head of government) of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961. In fact, Kiefer Sutherland's maternal granddad created government-paid health care (or Medicare) for his province, a system later adopted by the whole of Canada. That's such a treasured part of Canadian life that in 2004, CBC viewers named Douglas "the Greatest Canadian."

Sutherland is, of course, very proud of his grandfather's remarkable contribution to Canadian life, and he'll loudly defend that legacy. While Douglas lead the progressive, left-wing New Democratic Party, in 2019, Ontario premier Doug Ford tweeted a link to an editorial by Lisa MacLeod, his minister of interior, comparing their government's more conservative policies to those of Sutherland's grandfather. "I think Tommy Douglas would approve," MacLeod wrote. Sutherland publicly responded with a measured but withering letter via Twitter. "I personally find your comparison of your politics to his offensive," it read in part. "So I can only ask, as the grandson of this man, for you to stop posting his picture and using his name as part of your political agenda. After all, I knew Tommy Douglas and you Sir, are no Tommy Douglas."

How he loved (and lost) America's sweetheart

There are certainly movies more romantic than 1990's Flatliners, the story of a bunch of medical students who purposely make themselves die for scientific reasons. And yet it's there where Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts fell for each other. "We were young and very much in love," Sutherland told People (via AOL) in 2016, but then "this wedding that was supposed to be something between the two of us became something so big."

They set a date for June 1991, with a ceremony to be held on a 20th Century Fox sound stage decorated to look like "a garden-like paradise," according to People. Beef filets, champagne, roses, a four-tier wedding cake, and a turkey-shaped groom's cake were ordered to accommodate 150 of Hollywood's "glitziest and ritziest" guests. But then a few days before this wedding of the decade, they called the whole thing off, which took Sutherland by surprise. "She dumped him," a source close to Roberts told People. But why? Well, Sutherland may have gotten too close to a go-go dancer named Amanda Rice, but Roberts said it just didn't feel right anymore. "I quite honestly believe that Kiefer knows that it's the best thing for himself and for me that it didn't happen," Roberts told Entertainment Weekly, before adding, "Somehow or another, it turned into Kiefer being left at the altar. Well, I just don't understand that, quite frankly."

Here's some ink about Kiefer Sutherland's ink

Kiefer Sutherland is clearly the kind of guy who craves adventure and lives life to the fullest, which means he's gotten a tattoo or two along the way. "I have a lot of tattoos — it's kind of a disease," he told The Mirror. After getting his first one at age 16 — a Chinese symbol for "strength" — to mark the event of leaving home, it became a ritual. "Anytime I went through something in my life that mattered to me, I had this desire to make a tattoo out of it."

While Sutherland has many tattoos, his 24 character Jack Bauer did not, leaving the show's makeup crew with the tedious task of covering them up everyday. The show's third season plot line required Jack to have a tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his arm. Oddly enough, Sutherland decided to get the tattoo for real, so he'll have that 24 souvenir forever.

These roles could've been huge for him, if they'd ever existed

On the other side of Kiefer Sutherland's "ones that got away" coin are the projects that the actor wanted to make, but didn't get to because they all fell apart somewhere along the way. Coming off of his star-making turns in Stand by Me and Young Guns in the late '80s, Sutherland said that he was approached for a role in Batman. "I got a call which asked me if I would be interested in playing Robin," he told OnTheBox.com. "I was like, 'As in Robin with tights? No!' I didn't realize they were going to make the coolest movie ever!" Also, Robin didn't make it in to 1989's Batman anyway, so Sutherland didn't have a chance to change his mind.

In 2000, producers adapted the Oscar-winning 1997 film L.A. Confidential into a pilot for an ongoing television series. Set in the 1950s, Sutherland would have starred in the hardboiled, noir-ish show as Detective Jack Vincennes, taking over for Kevin Spacey, who played the role in the movie. Unfortuantely, no network ordered this L.A. Confidential to series, and so it died a tragic death.

He doesn't watch Kiefer Sutherland movies

Accounting for the many hour-long episodes of 24 and Designated Survivor and his dozens of movies and other projects — many of them blockbusters and modern classics — it's safe to say that tens of millions of people have seen a Kiefer Sutherland production, with a lot of those people going so far as to call themselves "fans" of Kiefer Sutherland's acting. But you know who's decidedly not among them? Kiefer Sutherland. He never watches his on-screen work, and he hasn't done so in more than 30 years. 

"I haven't watched an episode of 24, no," he said on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2014 (via Digital Spy). "But I know how it goes, I have read the script." Quips aside, it all goes back to Stand by Me in 1986. "I had a girlfriend, and we went to the cast and crew screening, and I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do with the character," Sutherland said. "I was standing there, we watched the movie and everything I thought I wanted to do, I hadn't done at all." Watching his performance left him "mortified" and convinced that his career was "over." Fortunately, he's still going strong today, although he's probably the only person on the planet who doesn't like watching Kiefer Sutherland act.

He's got 24 problems

Even with a long resume full of popular films like The Lost Boys and A Few Good Men, Kiefer Sutherland's signature role, and the one with which he'll always be associated, is Jack Bauer, the indefatigable Counter Terrorist Unit agent who endured one bad day after another on Fox's innovative, real-time action thriller 24. 

Sutherland's relationship with the character is complicated. "24 was probably the most dynamic part of my career. I did that for ten years, loved playing the character," he told Closer Weekly, before adding, "Yeah, I was incredibly grateful to have had that opportunity." Also, 24 was often brutally violent. Jack Bauer didn't shy away from torturing bad guys, which led to the notion that the show somehow endorsed cruel and unusual punishments for political prisoners reportedly utilized under the watch of Republican president George W. Bush. "I never understood that," Sutherland told iNews. "My politics lean to the left, so how the show was ever perceived as right-wing is beyond me." He added that 24 is "a f*****g TV show," and that if one removed the violence, then "you've got nothing."

Nevertheless, Sutherland signed a three-year contract extension worth $40 million in 2006, making him the highest-paid actor in dramatic television. But then maybe money doesn't matter to the actor, because later on, he really wanted 24 to kill off Jack Bauer.

He's Kiefer Sutherland, not Jack Bauer

While Kiefer Sutherland gets deep into character for his roles, he tries to keep a separation between himself and the men he portrays in film and on TV. "As much as I loved playing Jack Bauer," Sutherland told Us Weekly about his long stint on 24, "I'm not him. I'm not as tough." Really? 

Well, in the same interview, Sutherland casually mentioned that around 2005 or so, "I was held up at gunpoint by two guys while walking my dog. I was on the ground, and I thought, 'If I die here, I'm going to be really p****d.'" Sutherland survived the counter, barely worse for the wear. "The one thing I said to them was, 'Please don't shoot my dog.'" Of course, that's just the rational way to handle a situation like that.

However, he's also a guy who spent a probably unpleasant 48 days — corresponding with the 2007-08 holiday season — in a Glendale jail on drunk driving and probation violation charges. So yeah, it definitely seems like Sutherland is his own man.

The story behind his simple, mildly profane catchphrase

There's a dark irony to the long run of 24 on network television. "You can't swear, but kill as many people as you want," star Kiefer Sutherland said on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2014. That's in response to Fallon's reveal that Sutherland said the D-word on the show a total of 144 times — which puts it in frequently-used TV catchphrase territory alongside Steve Urkel's "Did I do that?" and Homer Simpson's "D'oh!" "I think that number is half the number of people I killed on the show," Sutherland joked. (In reality, his character slaughtered a little over 250 people.)

It's an unlikely signature line, seeing as how it's just one word, and a commonly uttered one at that. But it did perfectly convey Jack Bauer's frustrations in a TV-friendly way. "There's no other expletive you can say on network television," Sutherland explained. "There were so many moments from the very first day we shot to now where, not only as a character, but myself as a person, needed something to get out of the scene and that seemed to be the word."