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People > Famous Scottish Canadians > Donald Sutherland

Scottish Actors

Donald Sutherland (1935- ):

"The harder you work, the harder you're going to have to work. You never get to the truth, but that's what your job is. To find it. The closer you get, the harder you have to work to find it."
~ Donald Sutherland, on acting 1
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland

Canada's legendary film actor was born in St. John, New Brunswick, to Dorothy McNichol and Frederick McLea Sutherland, a salesman who also ran the local gas and electric company. Sutherland was a sickly child, stricken with polio, rheumatic fever, and hepatitis before becoming a teenager. Luckily, none of these ailments left him with permanent damage. At fourteen, he began his first job as a radio announcer for the local CKBW station.

Although Sutherland enjoyed stage acting in high school, his real passion was sculpting. His father, however, persuaded him to pursue a more practical career, so Sutherland forwent his dreams of becoming an artist to enroll in the University of Toronto's engineering program. Three years into his program, he appeared in a student production of Ed Albee's The Male Animal. He was hooked.

Dropping plans to become an engineer, Sutherland left UT to pursue his new passion. Leaving Canada, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where he first met his future wife, Shirley Douglas. Sutherland remained in Britain after graduation to act in small roles in theatre and television; a small part in the 1963 romantic drama, The World Ten Times Over (released in the United States as Pussycat Alley), led to his introduction to the film industry. Notable roles in horror films, such as Christopher Lee's Castle of the Living Dead and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, followed. Sir Roger Moore, star of the British television series, The Saint, recalled that Sutherland asked to use clips of his guest performance in two episodes to show to the producers of a film he was auditioning for in Hollywood. After the producers viewed his cuts, they offered him a supporting role in 1967's The Dirty Dozen, the first of three war movies that would mark his breakout as an A-list actor.

Sutherland then moved to Hollywood with his new bride, Shirley Douglas, and went on to film two more war movies in 1970. He starred as Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce in Robert Altman's 1970 blockbuster, M*A*S*H, and appeared opposite Clint Eastwood as Sergeant Oddball in Kelly's Heroes. Around this time, he and Douglas divorced, and he began an off-screen romance with Jane Fonda while filming the Academy Award-winning detective thriller, Klute. In demand as a leading man throughout the 1970s, Sutherland avoided being typecast by displaying his versatile range in a variety of genres, appearing in films as disparate as Bernado Bertolucci's Italian fascism epic, 1900, and National Lampoon's Animal House.

When Sutherland was cast as pot-smoking professor Dave Jennings in Animal House, the producers offered him a choice of forty thousand dollars up front or a percentage of the movie's revenue as payment. Thinking the film would be a flop, he chose the former. Had he taken the second option, the enormous cult classic would have netted upwards of thirty million dollars.

Sutherland was made an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1978; his career, however, had only just begun. With four decades of acting behind him, Sutherland has appeared in over one hundred films. Although he never captured an Academy Award, he won a Genie for Best Actor for his role in 1982's Threshold, and was further honoured in Canada when he secured a place in its Walk of Fame in 2000.

Over the years, Sutherland has worked alongside some of Hollywood's most famous and respected names, such as Mary Tyler Moore, Susan Sarandon, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, and Dustin Hoffman. In 1997 he paired with his son, Kiefer Sutherland, for the second time in his career for Joel Schumacher's crime thriller, A Time to Kill. The new millennium hasn't marked a slow-down for Sutherland: marking his first return to television since the earliest days of his career with the short-lived Commander-in-Chief and ABC's Dirty Sexy Money, these performances have netted him five different Golden Globe nominations.

Donald Sutherland currently maintains a residence in the Georgetown district of Quebec's Eastern Townships, where he lives with his wife, French-Canadian actress Francine Racette, whom he met on the set of Alien Thunder in 1974.

  1. Sutherland, Donald. Quoted in Maclean's, 2 March 1981
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