Two decades after making a name for himself in Hollywood with horror-themed turns in Stand By Me, The Lost Boys and Flatliners, Kiefer Sutherland is ready to “scare the shit out of everybody” all over again.
As fans of the ever-intense actor continue the long countdown to a new season of his hit series 24, delayed by last winter’s writers strike, they can get their Kiefer fix next month with the horror film Mirrors, an American version of the South Korean chiller Into the Mirror which casts him as an ex-cop-turned-security guard who finds his life and family threatened by a vengeful presence using mirrors as a gateway into the physical world.
Visiting San Diego’s Comic-Con International, Sutherland told Hollywood.com exactly why he decided to go through the looking glass back to his horror-flick roots.
Hollywood.com: What drew you to this particular project?
Horror films – for me growing up, certainly, there wasn’t a genre of film that could give you any stronger a visceral reaction through watching it. I had always heard that as an actor that is something that would draw you to a genre film. You can actually affect an audience that powerfully, and that quickly, so the genre was something I was really interested in. Alex [Aja] had made The Hills Have Eyes which was a film that really kind of harkened back to the 70s horror films. They dealt with things in most films that I think were much more different than what we were now terming as slasher films. Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, The Omen – those films all had character-driven plots that made you invested in the characters. The horror was really a combination of the affection that the audience had with a character, combined with the horrific circumstances that the character was put in. For me, I remember at the very first meeting I had read the script and loved it. If you took all the horrific elements out of the script its still played as an unbelievable strong family drama. This idea of being able to meld these two worlds, these two genres, the drama of a man really trying to put his family back together, combined with the horrific circumstance. I found it an unbelievably exciting opportunity
HW: You’re an Emmy-winning dramatic actor – where did you get to apply that level of craft in a movie built around scares and thrills?
I remember looking at Alex and I said “I believe that I can make you care about this guy. You have to guarantee me that you can scare the shit out of everybody.” He smiled and he said “Absolutely.” That was it – literally we agreed to work together at that point. We were working in Romania for a large part of the film. There was a large part of our crew that didn’t speak English. In a very odd way I felt that many times Alex and I were working alone. I’ll never forget, it was like watching two excited children. Him with “How am I going to scare the audience?” and me with “How am I going to get you to care enough about this character so that when something bad does happen, when that character is threatened, it really is going to hit you with two emotions?” To play hope and fear at the same time was something that was a real challenge for me.
HW: You’ve shown us a few clips and it looks like the intensity is kind of high. Where does your character start and how far does he go?
At the very beginning of the film he’s dealing with the fact that he’s estranged from his wife. He’s living with his sister, I don’t know if we had said, but that’s the dynamic between Amy [Smart]’s character and mine. He’s desperately trying to put his life back together again. He was a police officer that was released from duty because of a questionable shooting of another officer. Through the story we find out that he was actually very justified in that shooting. But right now he’s desperately trying to save his marriage. He’s a very, very heavy drinker. He’s now got a job as a security job at the Mayflower. It would be the equivalent of the flagship Macy’s in New York. He’s a guy who is really on the mend. He’s feeling a lot better about himself. He’s making some very good moves in his life to get past what was for him a deep tragedy. That was losing his job as a police officer and all of these different things. He’s actually I a very solid place. He’s a guy who was actually moving forward. Then obviously everything starts to come unraveled once he takes the job.
HW: What is your favorite horror movie?
This is going to be kind of embarrassing. I think the one that scared me most was not The Exorcist – I know that is IT for so many people. It was not The Omen. There was a film made in 1972 or 73 called The Car. The Car was a movie with a car that was basically possessed by the devil, and it was a black Lincoln, with yellow windows. It went into this small town and basically ran everybody over. This car could go through houses. The only place it couldn’t go was a graveyard or a church. Every time the car came into town the wind would start to blow and music would start to go. I don’t think I’ve ever been scared by anything more in my life. I lived on the 14th floor and I was still scared that this car was going to manage to get through, get up there, and run me over. I wasn’t that young either. I think I was 12 years old. I should have known better. It lasted with me for months.
HW: When you look back at your early film projects, like Lost Boys and Stand By Me as an actor and person, then you see yourself now in this film, what has the journey been like? The growth and lessons learned along the way as an actor?
Well, the lessons learned never stops. It’s a really deep question. Stand By Me was the first film I got to do in the United States. I remember when I first went to go see that film I thought my career was over. Then the film became the success that it was and certainly at that time it was a part of American film history. I realized the first thing was that I should probably not watch my work. The best thing for me to do was to just make it and the audience would be the judge. That has served me quite well. The journey from there to now – 24 has been an unbelievable experience for me. I think that acting is almost like working out. It’s a physical exercise that one has to go through. The more that you train it and the more you use whatever that instrument is… it’s your body, your brain, your voice, and all those thing combined. It’s been an unbelievable tool for me to figure out things that work and don’t. That was a huge learning tool. Again, each film is its own beast. I’ve never believed that anyone took on a film and thought it wasn’t going to be amazing or special, regardless of budget, or things that might be up against it. I certainly figured out over time the ways of breaking down material, ways of interpreting material for myself, and I do it faster. Again, I hope I still approach each project with the same kind of youthful exuberance that I did with something like Stand By Me or Lost Boys. Hopefully though it’s tempered with some experience and ability to add a little more to each project, if that made any sense at all.