Kiefer Sutherland takes a day off from saving the world to star in a new film. Alison Jones hears why he might be too scared to watch it though.
There is no question that Kiefer Sutherland can play ‘hard’. Think back to his early teen roles when he was a genuine unsettling presence as the leader of the gang threatening River Phoenix and his friends in Stand by Me, or the vampire who took his style cues from Billy Idol in The Lost Boys.
More recently, he has single-handedly averted nuclear wars with his hardness as Jack Bauer in 24.
But when it comes to watching horror films the actor admits he is not so tough. Heck, even cartoons can make him squeal.
“I took my daughter to see Finding Nemo. There’s this one moment when a shark sticks his nose in the boat and I jumped so high my popcorn went in the air and I dropped my soda.”
Given his nervous disposition it is hardly surprising that his daughter, Sarah, questioned what he was doing accepting a role in a potential fright-fest like his new film Mirrors.
Kiefer says he agreed to it because he was a fan of the work of director Alexandre Aja, who made the Hills Have Eyes.
“He did something that reminded me of The Omen and what I liked about Amityville Horror and The Exorcist.”
He confesses he also likes the idea of frightening people more than he likes being frightened.
“It’s fun, the ability to know you are stringing people along to the big jump. From when I was about five I loved to hide behind the chair and scare the shit out of my twin sister. So the desire to do it has no correlation to my ability to watch it.”
Kiefer cites the investment made in the characters as well as the inventiveness of the shocks as the reason why he was drawn to this script.
“As a horror thriller it does all the right things and is genuinely scary, but it is also about a real family that you get to know and care about.”
The 41-year-old actor plays Ben Carson, a former cop who has lost his job and family after killing a man, and has been battling depression with pills and booze.
He takes a job as a security guard in a derelict department store, the scene of a devastating fire several years previously.
“The building is a character in its own right,” says Kiefer. “We found the perfect place in Romania. It was a library that Ceausescu was building and was maybe six months away from completion when he was executed and it was left abandoned.
“We would never have found a building like that in New York.”
The store’s mirrors survived the fire but now seem to be acting as a window to an alternate reality. Given the unstable state of his psyche, even Ben is not convinced that the nightmarish visions he is seeing aren’t an hallucination.
“He’s trapped and isolated because if you think you are going mad there’s a weird place that you put yourself in like ‘maybe if I just sit still and don’t say anything no one will notice...’ Because every time he opens his mouth he sounds insane.”
This hallucinatory theme was similarly explored in Nicolas Roeg’s stylish, and, it has to be said, superior thriller Don’t Look Now, starring Kiefer’s father Donald, where he chased a small figure in red around Venice, believing it to be his dead daughter
The use of mirrors is a familiar device in horror films – from the psychotic killer that suddenly appears behind the victim in previously empty bathrooms, to words appearing scrawled in steamed over glass, or even as a way of summoning a malevolent spirit.
“Personally I have never really liked mirrors,” says Kiefer. “I only have one in my house – in the bathroom, because you need to be able to check yourself and get ready for work. But I don’t particularly like looking at my own reflection. That’s just the way I am.
“With the film I didn’t think very clearly about the fact that I would be looking into mirrors performing scenes and that I would have to watch myself act. That was the most unsettling part.”
He made the movie during a break in filming 24, the real-time action series in which, as US counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer, he has now endured an entire week’s worth of worst days of his life.
“It was very, very tight. I finished 24, got on a plane the next day and was in Romania the day after that and started rehearsals, then we started shooting,” he says.
“When I got back to LA I would shoot five days on 24 and I would shoot weekends finishing up Mirrors. I could have taken a break but it was something I just really wanted to do.”
His success in the series has made Kiefer one of the highest paid actors in television.
It also rejuvenated his acting career which had only really been fitfully successful on the big screen, in spite of the early promise he showede as one of the edgier members of what was termed the Brat Pack, many of whom where his co-stars in Young Guns 1 and 2
At one point, London-born Kiefer – whose full name is Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland and who is named after Warren Kiefer, the pen name of Lorenzo Sabatini, who directed Donald in his first feature film – spent several years focusing on rodeo-riding rather than acting.
The twice married star has a reputation for being something of a wildman in what little downtime he has. He was actually arrested for drunk driving for a second time late last year and spent his birthday (he and his twin Rachel were born on December 21, 1966) Christmas and the New Year in jail serving a 48 day sentence.
He is currently back in the thick of taping more 24. In addition to season seven, there is also a feature length scene-setting prequel which was shot in Africa.
Despite the novelty of the real-time premise having long since worn off, Kiefer believes the series (for which he has won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy) still has the power to excite.
“We’ve done something special with season seven. We ran into more hiccups in season six than we were accustomed to and that put a lot of fight back into us.”
If he ever decides to take another break from acting, and fancies something a little safer than rodeo, he also has a burgeoning career as a record producer with his own label, Ironworks
“My best friend is a guy named Jude Cole who is a phenomenally good musician.
“It started out that he would score films I would direct and we would record songs to sell to films, just for background radio and stuff like that and that started to do quite well. We found a building that inspired us to build a studio.
“We were watching really great artists being overlooked by big labels. The business was changing and companies were getting so bloated and big that if an artist didn’t sell a million records it wasn’t worth their time.
“We can sell 120,000 records and that artist is buying a house. There’s absolutely no reason that you can’t make it on that small level again.
“We’re a tiny label and you have to put everything on the line for it so you have to love the bands. We’ve only got three bands but Rocca DeLucca and The Burden sold close to a couple of hundred thousand records. We’ve got two other records coming out, one from a band called Honeyhoney and another from a band called Billy Boy on Poison.
“One is kind of a cow-punk band, really a unique sound and Billy Boy on Poison is one of the greatest rock ‘n roll bands I’ve ever heard.”
* Kiefer Sutherland stars in Mirrors, which is in cinemas from today.