After starting on the stage in his native Canada, he's thrilled theatergoers on Broadway in Edward Albee's Lolita, at Lincoln Center in Jon Robin Baitz's Ten Unknowns, and in Los Angeles and London in productions of Eric-Emmanual's French play Enigmatic Variations. Sutherland is, however, best known for his film work, which includes such classics as M*A*S*H, Klute, Don't Look Now, and Ordinary People, or his many TV gigs (including his Emmy Award-winning role in Citizen X).
His latest film is The Hunger Games, the big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' novel about a post-apocalyptic future where an annual televised death match between teenagers decides whom among the poor will be fed and who will be starved. TheaterMania talked to Sutherland about his role as President Snow, why he became an actor, and why he loves lending his voice to commercials.
THEATERMANIA: What motivated you to become an actor?
DONALD SUTHERLAND: I'd never been in a theater. I'd never seen a play. I had no idea why I decided I was an actor. I still don't know. I went to the University of Toronto because it had a theater. I was too scared to audition. I made my debut in Toronto in James Thurber's The Male Animal. The opening night when I played my first scene, they laughed. When I left the stage they applauded. And when we did the curtain call, they stood up. I have never, ever had it so good.
THEATERMANIA: Were you aware of The Hunger Games series of books before you took the job?
DS: I knew nothing. I was completely unaware of the fervor and fury that surrounds these books. After I read the script, I pushed it away and said to my wife "I think I've just read something that could change everything."
TM: How could it change things?
DS: It could maybe motivate or activate young people who by and large have been dormant. It could make them stand up and realize the political environment they're in and compel them to change it. Whether they change to the right or the left - I don't know. But at least do something because something must be done.
TM: President Snow is very well established in the books. How did you make him your own?
DS: Any actor gives a character a little piece of DNA. You have the script and you put it into the Petri dish inside your belly, and out comes this fella. So he's part me, and he's part the script.
TM: What do you think of your co-star, Jennifer Lawrence?
DS: You won't find a working actor who is better than her. What comfort you get from watching her -- I'd get the same kind of comfort when I watched Marlon Brando's films. You knew that right or wrong, you were going to be in the hands of someone who would take you into a fantasy. And Jennifer does that.
TM: Even when we don't see you, we hear you in commercials. Are those jobs fun for you?
DS: Doing a voice-over for me is like being Peggy Lee in the studio. It is the best. I take a long time. I do 100 takes. I just do Delta Airlines and Simply Orange. I'm an orange, what can I tell you? Those scripts are so well written that I get great pleasure out of it!