After an eight season run as Jack Bauer on FOX’s hit TV show, 24, Kiefer Sutherland returns to the small screen starring in the new FOX series, Touch, created by Tim Kring (Heroes).
Sutherland stars as a single, widowed father, Martin Bohm, who struggles to connect with his 11-year-old son Jake (David Mazouz). On tonight’s preview of the “Pilot” episode, Martin discovers that his son is able to predict things before they take place. The episode includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw as social worker Clea Hopkins and guest star Danny Glover as Professor Arthur Teller.
Earlier this week, Sutherland took part in a press call with various media outlets to talk about his new series, what attracted him to the role of Martin Bohm, and about making his return to television.
At what point did you connect with your character and just know that this was a story that you wanted to tell and be a part of?
It was funny. I was doing a play in New York on Broadway. I had a film that I knew I was going to go do and so I read Touch almost reluctantly. I don’t think I was completely ready to go back to television yet. I was enjoying some of the different opportunities that I had had. I think it was around page 30, I remember going, “Oh sh–…” which I just knew I would be so remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity that Touch was. I identified with him out of the gate. There was something interesting, because obviously this is very different than 24.
Yet, there is a real similar through line in the kind of character of the man. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day and he would never win completely. And this guy is never going to win either. He’s never going to have the quintessential relationship of father and son. And yet, he perseveres and that’s a great kind of character statement and so I identified with him greatly on that and I think as a parent as well, just the sense of responsibility combined with not knowing what to do all the time.
Even though this is again a heightened experience, I think every parent feels that. I certainly can speak for myself and say that I have during Camelia’s pregnancy – for nine months I’d have these great fantasies of how I was going to be the greatest dad on the planet. And then [Sarah] was born and a kind of fear came over me like none other that I’ve ever had in my life. I was confronted with the fact that I really didn’t know what I was doing and it was something that I was going to have to figure out as I went.
And I really relate to Martin on that level and just the dynamic between [him] and the son I just find so extraordinary. So for all of those reasons, those were the first things that grasped me.
Was it just the script that made you come back, or what prompted you to come back to television?
Well, it was a combination of things. I had an unbelievable experience on 24. We shot 198 episodes and I was excited about shooting the 198th as I was the first. So that experience, and I had a great relationship with FOX, both the studio and the network. And so that combined with the script, it wasn’t even really a choice anymore. It was something I knew I had to do.
And I remember thinking about it really strongly when I was crossing the street in New York and the person who I work with, Susan, I remember saying to her if we don’t do this, how are we going to feel in September watching it knowing all of its potential and how great we both think it can be. And that answered my question for me. I didn’t want to be sitting there watching this fantastic show in September if I had had the opportunity to be a part of it.
For people out there that are used to seeing you on 24 as Jack Bauer in sort of that action start sort of role, how do you convince them to give the show a look? How do you convince them that this is going to be just as entertaining, just as interesting and intriguing as that series was?
I don’t know if there is convincing. I think that ultimately almost in the way that 24 started, people that are initially interested, whether they’re a fan of Tim Kring or a fan of mine or like the trailer, they’ll watch it and then if they feel strongly about it, they’ll tell friends and we have to rely on that.
For me personally, I feel that there is a great deal of suspense within the context of the show, even in the not knowing what the numbers are and the narrative where the audience actually knows more than the lead character. So I think that even though we’re not blowing things up, I think that there is enough excitement around the drama of this show, that people will not be that thrown by it who enjoyed 24. And we really do rely on you guys telling people about it and hopefully it will be something that grows.
How would you categorize [the show] as far as being maybe science fiction or paranormal fiction or something like that?
No, I’ve always felt that this was a drama. This, we’re embarking on the journey of a father trying to connect with his son and trying to have as normal a relationship as he can under the circumstances. That will always be at the heart of the show and it certainly from my perspective it would be, but it has all of those elements. There’s an aspect of it that I would categorize as a thriller or suspense and certainly the science fiction component as well. But at its heart, it’s a drama.
Could you talk a little bit about work with David Mazouz and forming that on screen bond with him when he doesn’t talk back to you?
He’s an amazing young actor and he’s an amazing young man. He does something that is really – I think it would be impossible to try and teach an actor to do. He has very limited physical response to anything that I do. He doesn’t talk and yet, I can feel his presence even if he’s not looking at me. I can always sense that he’s listening and I think that comes across to the viewer as well. That’s a real gift.
He works a lot of hours with us, and I’ve just been completely amazed by how focused and attentive her is and interested in it. I think that’s a big thing. He’s not being made to do this. I think he actually really does enjoy it and he’s very curious about how to get better and it’s been a phenominal experience. I really, really do love working with him.
What can you tell us about Martin and his journey in this first season?
I could tell you a lot. But I think at the beginning of the story, we discover Martin, who has a son named Jake, who in the course of our story we realize has been misdiagnosed with severe autism and in fact, is actually just a truly, truly evolved human being that is years and years beyond where my character is and our society is at.
And in an effort to communicate with my son, I discover that he has this unbelievable skillset that allows him to interpret numbers and symbols in a way that kind of explains our past and to some degree predict our future, and that’s where we start the show off. My journey, very much like the Chinese fable that the story is based on, which was called, “The Red Thread,” and the red thread is basically a read thread that is loosely looped around the ankles of all the people that are supposed to come in contact with each other over the course of a lifetime. This thread can stretch and it can bend, but it cannot break, and somehow in our society, we have broken this, and my son is taking me on a journey to try and put the thread back together.
Because you only have a limited way of communicating with Jake, who are some of the actors, characters, that are really going to become Martin’s touchstones, so that we really get to see emotionally how he’s reacting with this new journey and being able to convert through this process?
I think Danny Glover certainly is a character that is explaining his son’s condition to him, and then Gugu plays the worker at child services that is managing Jake’s case. Those are people that will be very important. There’s Martin’s wife, who was killed on the terrible day of 9/11. Even though she’s not with us, I think he speaks a lot to her. Then I think a lot is a going to be between Jake and his father. I think already in the first five episodes, their ability to communicate has grown exponentially. Martin starts to be able to read a lot of Jake’s physicality and understand what that is and the audience does as well, even though other people might not understand it in the context of our show.
But I think one of the things that moved me the most about the piece was that I felt that Martin was terribly alone, and I think that that’s going to be an aspect of the character and certainly through the piece as well. So that’s going to play into it in a large way.
How do you feel that Martin allows you to mature in new ways as an actor, given what the material calls for emotionally?
That’s a tricky thing to play, because I don’t want people to feel sorry for Martin, yet I want them to understand that the further he is able to communicate with his son, the more enlightened and enriched his life will be, and he might be able to move past some of the pain that he’s experienced from the loss of his wife and his son’s condition.
Those are all real narratives to play. They’re not actually written. They’re tonal qualities and that’s something that I’m trying to focus on a lot with Martin and it’s also something that I felt I really learned, at least how to do better through my experience on 24. I think a lot of the things that I learned were trying to focus on little small changes within Jack Bauer, whether it was from season to season or even over the course of those days.
What I learned in that process is something that I am trying to bring to Martin, and so that there’s a lot going on, or a lot more going on than what is simply written on the page or what one scene might simply require. That there are through lines within the context of the character that are going from episode to episode. And if we are lucky enough to do multiple seasons, that we’d connect those as well. So that’s really an extension of a technique that I really hadn’t focused on or through of before my experience on 24, and Touch is a perfect kind of show and Martin is a perfect character to try and weave these things in.
Do you think we’ll ever anytime down the line get a second season [of The Confession]? And can you talk about the difficulties or the challenges that come into play when you’re doing an Internet series, and then you kind of transition to network television, which might have it’s positive, but certainly you might have to be a little bit more restricted regarding creativity, because of certain demographics that are at play, the viewership and everything like that.
Okay, to answer the first part, yes, I would love to do a second part of The Confession. There certainly is a story there that Brad Mirman and I have discussed. John Hurt had a wonderful time on the show, as I did and so we would both love to do that.
I think the real challenge, because I think The Confession was from a production standpoint, was quite high with regards to a lot of things that have been produced for the Internet. The real difficulty is trying to figure out how to galvanize and pull in an audience, because the Internet is so fragmented that there is no real kind of central post, if you will. The movie business has theaters. Television has set scheduling. The Internet is kind of when you want it, how you want it, and trying to really corral an audience was what we found to be the most difficult. But, I think that that’s starting to explain itself. The more things that are produced for the Internet, the clearer it becomes how to go about finding that audience.
With regards to transferring back into network television from an experience like that, I don’t find any real shift in creativity. When I take a look at what I think Tim Kring is doing with this show, I certainly haven’t been a part of anything more creative. Certainly there are language issues that primetime television might restrict you for, but in all fairness, if you can’t convey an idea and an emotion within the vernacular that is provided for you by network television, then I think you have a problem in your ability to tell a story. So it’s never been a real issue for me.
The one nice thing about coming back to network television, whether we do it or not, is you certainly can corral an audience and as long as what you’re presenting is worth an audience seeing. So that’s an exciting part when we were making Touch is that we knew that if we did a good job that people would see it and there’s something very exciting about that. It’s why we do it.
The special preview of the “Pilot” episode of Touch airs tonight after American Idol on FOX at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Photo credits: Brian Bowen Smith/FOX