Playback: Honorary Oscar Recipient Donald Sutherland Reflects on His Career

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

The film Academy’s Governors Awards ceremony is set for this weekend, honoring filmmakers Charles Burnett and Agnes Varda, cinematographer Owen Roizman and actor Donald Sutherland. Sutherland’s name in particular was a heavy favorite in advance of this year’s honorees announcement, as Oscar recognition for the esteemed star has been elusive. So it’s a perfect time to dive into one of the legendary screen careers.

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Sutherland is currently filming James Gray’s “Ad Astra” and Danny Boyle’s “Trust” (in which he plays oil tycoon J. Paul Getty). So while these kinds of things can have a “lifetime achievement” vibe for some, the actor is still very much at the top of his game. Indeed, his recent schedule has been so overloaded he fell asleep in the dentist’s chair while having his tooth drilled on this very morning, as he’s been flying from Quebec to Los Angeles to Venice to Rome and all points in between.

Despite a still-chugging career, and unlike Peter O’Toole, who initially turned down the honorary Oscar accolade in 2003 stating he still “might win the lovely bugger outright” (he eventually buckled and graciously accepted), Sutherland was instantly overjoyed to be honored in this way, at this time.

“I don’t think I’m overdue but certainly we’re running out of time at 82,” he says with a laugh. “It was a huge surprise.”

In 30 minutes you do what you can with a man who has amassed nearly 180 screen credits in his time. Sutherland digs in on stories about “JFK” and “Ordinary People,” as well as filmmakers like Michael Crichton and Federico Fellini. It was Robert Altman’s “MASH” that launched his star, however, and in turn spawned one of the most successful television series in history.

“I didn’t see it but I was aware of it,” Sutherland says of the Emmy-winning show. “Years later I was in a lineup for the Queen Mother and Prince Phillip, and the man standing beside me kind of elbowed me in the ribs. He said, ‘My name is Alan Alda and I want to thank you for my life.’ And I thought, ‘That’s about as charming and as lovely and as generous as you can be.’ It was brilliant. So I have the fondest memories of that series even though I’m not that familiar with it!”

For more, including discussion of Sutherland’s new film “The Leisure Seeker” and one of the funniest Don Rickles stories you’ve heard, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

Donald Sutherland photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast.
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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