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Donald Sutherland Reflects on a Life and Career Marked by Cinema

In a loose and free-flowing on-stage interview held at the Lumière Festival this past Sunday, Donald Sutherland reflected on his decade-spanning career with a tone that mixed personal irreverence alongside genuine veneration for the art form that brought him this far.

“I love filmmakers, I really do,” said the Canadian actor, who delighted the local audience by turning down a translator and speaking in fluent French. “They are part of my life, and I named my four sons after directors I worked with.”

The actor named his first son after “Castle of the Living Dead” director Warren Kiefer, his second after “Don’t Look Now” director Nicolas Roeg, and his third in honor of personal friend Frederic Rossif, but ran into a bit of a snag once his fourth son came into the world.

“I wanted to name another son after [“Ordinary People” director] Robert Redford, but when then the child was born [a woman at the maternity ward] said ‘no you can’t do that, you can’t name a child ‘Redford,’” laughed Sutherland. “So we named him Angus — Angus Redford.”

Though the actor regaled the audience with ribald stories about Claude Chabrol, Bernardo Bertolucci and Jacques Tati, the overall event had a markedly personal focus as Sutherland mulled over his own improbable beginnings.

“I come from a small town of 5000 inhabitants,” he started. “When I was sixteen years old, my father brought me into his car – as was the tradition in Nova Scotia, where I’m from – and took me for a quick drive. He then stopped on the side of the road and asked what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to become an actor, and he said, ‘Ok.’”

“I have no idea why I thought to become an actor,” he remarked. “Neither of us had ever been to the theatre before.”

He then sped forward a few years, to his days as a student at the University of Toronto.

“In Canada [back then] we didn’t have acting schools,” noted Sutherland, “so I studied engineering for three years while and doing theatre and taking auditions on the side. At one point I made a bet with [someone from U of T]. He said, ‘I’ll bet you a dollar you’ll get that next role,’ and I bet a dollar I wouldn’t.”

“I lost the bet,” he added.

As in his recent remarks at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Sutherland once again rang a warning bell about the crisis of climate change and the threat that it poses to future generations.

Only this time, Sutherland named names, both by cheering on his “Klute” co-star Jane Fonda for her recent arrest at a climate change protest this past Friday, and by calling out the U.S. president.

“We have children, we have grandchildren – and they can’t live in Trump’s world. I cannot participate in the [upcoming] U.S. election because I’m Canadian,” implored the outspoken actor. “But those who can, must!”

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