Donald Sutherland - A Bodysnatcher or Just Ordinary People?

Emmy and Honorary Academy Award-winning veteran Canadian movie actor Donald Sutherland acquired 200 screen credits over a career that began in 1962 and spanned 7 decades, until his death in June 2024 at the age of 88.

donald sutherland, canadian actor, 1970s, 1980s, film star, movies, johnny got his gun, ordinary people, painting(Donald Sutherland c 1970s & 1980s Painting: A. Hamilton)

From Nova Scotia to England and California

Donald Sutherland was born July 17, 1935 in Saint John, New Brunswick. Although sickly as a child, he overcame polio, hepatitis, and rheumatic fever – any one of which could have easily killed him off before he even thought of acting. Sutherland’s distinctive voice earned him his first professional entertainment job as a young teenager living in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; he was a local radio station part-time news reporter at the age of 14. After graduating from Bridgewater High School, Sutherland enrolled at the University of Toronto / Victoria University, and graduated with a double major in drama and engineering.

Deciding not to go into engineering, Sutherland moved to England in 1957 to study first at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, then the Perth Repertory Theatre in Scotland. During his time at the University of Toronto, Sutherland had met Lois Hardwick, and they married in 1959.

Acting opportunities in movies filmed in England and Europe began to come his way, beginning with a dual role of minor characters in Castle of the Living Dead (1964), an Italian-French horror movie filmed in Italy and directed by Warren Kiefer. More roles in “B” horror movies followed in 1964, as well as a supporting role (along with Michael Caine and Robert Shaw) in a BBC TV production Hamlet at Elsinore starring fellow Canadian Christopher Plummer.

The cold war movie The Bedford Incident (1965) was Donald Sutherland’s first role with “A” movie actors, starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier. In Promise Her Anything (1965) starring Warren Beatty and Leslie Caron, Sutherland’s role as an autograph-seeker was uncredited. 

Canadian actress Shirley Douglas (the daughter of former Saskatchewan Premiere Tommy Douglas) had moved to England in 1952 to to study at the Royal Academy, returning to Canada in 1957 long enough to meet and marry brewery heir Timothy Emil Sick. Their child Thomas was born in 1959, and they divorced in 1960. Shirley then moved back to Europe and ended up in Rome.

“She did English dubbing for Italian films, she met fellow Canadian Donald Sutherland, who was working on Castle of The Living Dead, his first film. They were married in 1965 [Hardwick and Sutherland divorced first, and some accounts say it was 1966, not 1965] and twins Rachel and Kiefer were born the following year.” – High Profile Shirley Douglas, by Kevin Scanlon, October 18, 1982, The Toronto Star

Douglas’ young son Thomas Sick lived with Shirley and Donald. Rachel and Kiefer Sutherland were born in London, England in December 1966. Actor Kiefer Sutherland is named after Warren Kiefer, the director of Sutherland’s first movie, Castle of the Living Dead; daughter Rachel Sutherland has worked in post-production since 2002. 

Sutherland later said that agents had been promising him work in Hollywood, but were unwilling to pay his fare to get there. In desperation, he borrowed $1,500 from Christopher Plummer.

I had a nerve calling Christopher, whom I hardly knew, and asking him for the loan. When he said ‘sure’ I couldn’t believe I had done it. That was a lot of money in 1966 and it took me two years to pay it back.” – Donald Sutherland, Sunday Telegraph, March 1, 1981

In 1967 Donald and Shirley moved to Beverly Hills with Rachel, Kiefer, and Thomas. Sutherland appeared in Billion Dollar Brain (1967) starring Michael Caine, but his biggest role that year was in the commercially successful World War II movie The Dirty Dozen (1967). The Dirty Dozen had an all-star cast of over 22 actors that included the likes of Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Telly Savalas, Clint Walker, Robert Webber, and Jim Brown.

Savalas and Sutherland soon co-starred again (he played Sergeant “Oddball“) in another WWII film, the Clint Eastwood comedy Kelly’s Heroes (1970), with Don Rickles and Carroll O’Connor. His experience filming in Yugoslavia proved memorable for at least 3 very good reasons, beyond the commercial success of that movie. In later interviews, he told Catherine Rambeau in Diverse actor takes diverse roles, (June 5, 1986) about 2 of them:

  • Young set gofer Jon Landis told Sutherland he was going to be a big director some day, and Sutherland said “You make movies, I’ll be in ’em“. Sure enough, when Landis was casting National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), Sutherland agreed to a featured role. 
  • He contracted spinal meningitis while filming in Yugoslavia, and needed an operation. “I died on the table. I saw the blue tunnel, the light, all that stuff.”

The third reason? His wife Shirley Douglas had become involved with the Black Panther movement.

“I was leaning on a tank in a field in Yugoslavia making Kelly’s Heroes. Clint Eastwood walked towards me out of the sun like something out A Fistful of Dollars. ‘I have some bad news for you,’ he says. ‘Your wife has been arrested in Beverly Hills for buying hand grenades for the Black Panther Party from an undercover agent of the FBI.’ He was laughing so hard, he fell on the ground.”The grey fox on sex and celluloid, by Sean Macaulay, The Ottawa Citizen, March 23, 2012

Douglas was charged with conspiracy to possess unregistered explosives, but the charges were later dropped. The couple divorced in 1970.

Douglas told the Ottawa Citizen that she moved to Toronto with her three children around 1979, partly so she could guest-star in an episode of The Great Detective, and so that her oldest son Tom could pursue graduate studies.

In the 1980s Douglas’ son Tom was a Ryerson drama graduate acting on stage in Toronto under the name Tom Douglas. TAD / Tom Alan Douglas and wife Cindy’s first child, son Trevor Alexander Duncan was born in June 1985. Tom’s father Timothy Emil Sick died in England in 1994.

More roles in bigger movies followed for Donald Sutherland. The crime caper The Split (1968) starred Gene Hackman, and reunited Sutherland with two of his Dirty Dozen castmates, Ernest Borgnine and Jim Brown. As the 1960’s and his first decade in movies came to a close, Donald Sutherland appeared in his first feature film with Christopher Plummer, Oedipus the King (1968). 

donald sutherland 1969, 1960s television series, the champions, guest star, canadian actor (Donald Sutherland 1969 The Champions)

Television also came calling, with guest-starring roles in The Name of the Game and The Champions in 1969.

The Second Decade in Films: From MASH to Don’t Look Now

MASH (1970) with Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, and Robert Duvall, was Donald Sutherland’s breakout movie, making him a box office movie star in what has become a modern film classic. Sutherland was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his role as leading man “Hawkeye” Pierce in MASH. Sutherland said that he and Elliott Gould thought Altman was crazy, the set was so chaotic; they tried to get MASH director Robert Altman (d.2006) fired. Robert Altman would never work with Sutherland again. Sutherland, on the other hand, would work again with Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, and Robert Duvall in later movies.

1970 was a watershed year for Donald SutherlandOther notable events of 1970 included

  • Italian movie director Federico Fellini had a cameo in Alex in Wonderland, (1970) starring Ellen Burstyn and Sutherland; he later starred Sutherland in Fellini’s Casanova (1976).
  • Sutherland’s marriage to Shirley Douglas was unraveling, aided by his heavy drinking. He met Jane Fonda at a party, and invited her to visit his home with Douglas the next day. “She was very lovely, warm, and terribly open. Certain people look right together, and they looked right together.”  – Shirley Douglas, Sutherland’s Career Under Full Head of Steam, by Ron Base, The Buffalo News, February 11, 1979
  • Sutherland told The Guardian that his 2-year affair with actress and political activist Jane Fonda (who, like his wife Shirley Douglas, had also briefly supported the Black Panthers), shortly before they both began filming the crime drama Klute in New York in 1970. 
  • By the end of 1970, Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas were divorced. Klute (released in 1971) also featured newcomers Sylvester Stallone and Teri Garr in uncredited roles.

Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland helped create an anti-war satirical documentary movie called F.T.A. (1972). They went on to film their third movie, crime comedy Steelyard Blues (released in 1973) before Jane Fonda broke up with Sutherland. Steelyard Blues was executive produced by Donald Sutherland and he earned his first BAFTA nomination for Best Actor for his performance in the movie.

In 1972, while filming the Canadian western Alien Thunder (1974) with native Canadian actors Chief Dan George and Gordon Tootoosis, Donald Sutherland met French Canadian actress Francine Racette. They were a couple from then on, until his death in 2024. When/if they were married, is fuzzy; although some sources state it was 1972 and others in 1990, as late as 1983 Sutherland said they were not, giving various reasons along the way.

Francine didn’t want to get married when she was pregnant. It was nothing personal. It didn’t have anything to do with me. She has a fear of weddings. A wedding phobia going back to when she was a little girl.” Donald Sutherland, Sunday Telegraph, March 1, 1981

Donald Sutherland was reunited with fellow MASH actor Robert Duvall in Lady Ice (1973) and again in the WWII movie The Eagle Has Landed (1976), which also starred his former Billion Dollar Brain co-star Michael Caine. The role of IRA member Liam Devlin in The Eagle Has Landed went to Sutherland after co-star Michael Caine passed on the part (not wanting to play an IRA man), and actor Richard Harris was deemed to be too closely associated with the IRA in real life.

The British-Italian thriller Don’t Look Now (1973) was directed by Nicolas Roeg and filmed in Venice, Italy. During the filming of the scene in Don’t Look Now in which Sutherland’s character almost falls to his death in a church, life almost imitated art as he had to do his own stunt, attached by a kirby wire, which was not intended for that purpose. Don’t Look Now created controversy with the graphic sex scene (for that time) between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Although Paramount executive Peter Bart claimed he was visiting on set that day and the sex scene in the movie was real, Sutherland has strongly denied it and said Bart wasn’t on the set. Sutherland earned his second BAFTA Best Actor nomination for his performance in Don’t Look Now, and the film has become a modern movie classic for baby boomers.

Third Decade in Films: Casanova and Ordinary People Acclaim

After living together for two years, Francine Racette and Donald Sutherland had their first son, Roeg Sutherland (b. Feb 1974 in Los Angeles, California). According to Time Magazine, Sutherland helped deliver the baby and took paternity leave – trailblazing for fathers in the early 1970’s. Roeg is named for Donald’s Don’t Look Now (1973) director Nicolas Roeg. Roeg Sutherland is a talent agent with Creative Artists Agency (CAA).

In Fellini’s Casanova (Il Casanova di Federico Fellini) (1976), Donald Sutherland starred as the 18th century womanizer and sexual adventurer Giacomo Casanova. Although Fellini’s Casanova was critically acclaimed, director Federico Fellini said he didn’t like his leading man, and baby boomer audiences didn’t love the movie. Sutherland, for his part, has said he had long been an admirer of Fellini’s work, despite having to shave his forehead and eyebrows at Fellini’s direction.

The Disappearance (1977) was a British-Canadian thriller which saw Donald Sutherland co-starring with live-in love Francine Racette, John Hurt, and Christopher Plummer. Racette and Sutherland’s second son, Rossif Sutherland, was born the following year, in September 1978 in Vancouver, B.C. Rossif is named for French director Frédéric Rossif, who had directed Racette in the movie Aussi loin que l’amour (As Far as Love Can Go) (1971). Rossif Sutherland has been acting in movies and on television since 2003.

Canadian Ivan Reitman co-produced the 1978 comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House, in which “Professor” Sutherland appeared with a younger ensemble cast that included Tim Matheson and Karen Allen. Animal House was a box office smash, and Matheson would reunite with Sutherland twice more onscreen – in The Great Train Robbery (1979) starring Sean Connery and Lesley-Anne Down, and again in the TV movie Quicksand: No Escape (1992).. 

Sutherland was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978. That same year, he was critically acclaimed and he scared the bejesus out of moviegoers in the sci-fi horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) opposite Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum. The following year Sutherland co-starred with Brooke Adams again in the Canadian comedy heist movie A Man, A Woman, and A Bank (1979). 

As the 1970’s came to a close, Christopher Plummer and Donald Sutherland’s third movie together was another British-Canadian thriller, Murder by Decree (1979).

The 1980s – Fourth Decade in Films

Directed by Robert Redford, the box office smash and Academy Award-winning movie Ordinary People (1980) had Sutherland co-starring with Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton. Sutherland has said he loved the experience of working with Redford, calling him an actor’s director. For his performance as loving father Calvin Jarrett in Ordinary People, Sutherland was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actor.

Once again reuniting with a former co-star (Chief Dan George from Alien Thunder), Sutherland co-starred with Suzanne Somers in Nothing Personal (1980). For his performance in the Canadian movie Threshold (1981), in which he co-starred again with Jeff Goldblum (from Invasion of the Body Snatchers), he won a Canadian Genie Award.

The World War II spy-thriller Eye of the Needle (1981) saw Donald Sutherland co-starring with Canadian actress Kate Nelligan.

donald sutherland 1981, canadian actor, younger, 1980s movie actor (Donald Sutherland Photo: Alan Light)

Donald Sutherland and Francine Racette’s third son, Angus Redford Sutherland, was born in September 1982 in Los Angeles, California; his middle name Redford in honor of Sutherland’s Ordinary People director Robert Redford. Angus Sutherland also works in the entertainment industry as a producer and actor in 2016.

In 1983, Donald Sutherland teamed up again with former Klute actress Teri Garr in The Winter of Our Discontent (1983), and made his first movie with oldest son Kiefer SutherlandMax Dugan Returns (1983). Kiefer had only a very small part in the film.

By this time, Sutherland and Francine had a home near Georgeville, Quebec, which became an enduring refuge for them. 

I live part of the year in a very remote place in Canada. Usually, scripts are sent to me there in care of a restaurant at the Vermont end of a lake and I take a power boat down – whatever it is, 30 miles – to get them.” – Enigma of Donald Sutherland, by Marilyn Beck, Corpus Christi Times, December 5, 1983

The film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s mystery Ordeal by Innocence (1984) had Donald Sutherland co-starring with Faye Dunaway. Ordeal by Innocence was Sutherland’s fourth and last movie with Christopher Plummer, and his first experience working with actor Ian McShane. Twenty-six years later, Ian McShane & Donald Sutherland worked together again in the TV mini-series The Pillars of the Earth (2010).

A year in which Sutherland lost both of his parents and his sister, ended with a narrow escape from death for Sutherland and his family. In December 1984 the family also owned a farmhouse house near Montreal, a house in Los Angeles, a rented New York apartment, and a 19th century Paris flat.  

The Montreal house blew up this past Christmas. ‘We’d been there only 24 hours when the furnace blew up and ignited the whole inside of the house, destroying everything. It was terrible. Everything in the house was covered with grime and smoke. And it killed the cat. But luckily we all escaped; Francine, the children including my son Kiefer and Maria, the young Portuguese girl who looks after the baby. We left just 45 minutes before the furnace blew.‘” – Donald Sutherland, An Incredibly Happy Man, by Kathy Larkin, The Monitor, February 2, 1985

Despite this, in the same interview Sutherland waxed poetic about his family and life.

Francine is a terrific person. She’s the best mother I know and she works incredibly hard…He (Kiefer) is an actor, a good actor. He is a really nice boy. Just terrific…It’s not possible to have a better life than I have. It’s just the best life in the world. I have been incredibly fortunate. I have been given the opportunity to achieve every fantasy I ever had. I’m treated wonderfully on the streets…I am an incredibly happy man.”

The National Film Board of Canada produced the Donald Sutherland documentary Give Me Your Answer True (1987). Sutherland, Francine Racette, his son Kiefer, and director and cinematographer Richard Pierce (whom Donald has called his best friend), appear in Give Me Your Answer True along with archive footage from many of Sutherland’s earlier movies.

The South African historical drama A Dry White Season (1989) saw Donald Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, and Marlon Brando (d.2004), all agreeing to reduce their salaries in order to get what they felt was an important movie, made. A Dry White Season was critically acclaimed, although it lost money. Donald Sutherland would work with both actors again – Marlon Brando in Free Money (1998), and Susan Sarandon 25 years later in The Calling (2014). 

The Fifth Decade: A Real Pain in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The 1990’s saw Sutherland’s movie roles increasing in quantity and quality over the 1980’s and his younger years. In Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990), he starred as Canadian anti-fascist and medical innovator Dr. Norman Bethune. The cast of Bethune: The Making of a Hero included Canadian actress Helen Shaver and English actress Helen Mirren as Bethune’s wife. Sutherland and Helen Mirren would reunite onscreen in 2017’s comedy The Leisure Seeker.

His love affair with baseball continued; a fan of the Montreal Expos for decades, he was asked to buy the team in 1990 but declined.

I think you need $100 million…My wife would kill me. Somebody suggested that last week, and she said, ‘Id leave him. I’d leave him. I’m gone.” – Donald Sutherland’s wife won’t let him buy favorite team, by Michael Farber, Vancouver Sun, August 24, 1990

Donald Sutherland had a supporting role as U.S. Air Force Colonel X in Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991). The large ensemble cast of JFK included Kevin Costner, Ed Asner, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Lolita Davidovich, and Jerry Douglas. Next was a featured role as a pyromaniac in Backdraft (1991) starring Kurt Russell, Scott Glenn, and Robert DeNiro.

In 1992, twenty years after they first worked with together in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1972), Sutherland and Tim Matheson co-starred in the B movie thriller Quicksand: No Escape (1992). He had another reunion – this time with his 1973 Don’t Look Now co-star Julie Christie – in The Railway Station Man (1992).

Donald Sutherland was the older “watcher” Merrick in the cult movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), co-starring Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry. Although interviewers commented on Sutherland’s charm, Buffy the Vampire Slayer director and screenwriter Joss Whedon told A.V. Club in 2001, that he

Eventually threw up my hands because I could not be around Donald Sutherland any longer. It didn’t turn out to be the movie that I had written...”

When asked if was a personality conflict between himself and Sutherland, Whedon clarified “He was just a prick…He would rewrite all his dialogue, and the director would let him.” Although Whedon praised Sutherland’s acting, he was less complimentary about his screenwriting abilities and his attitude.

“He was incredibly rude to the director, he was rude to everyone around him, he was just a real pain…He’s a great actor. He can read the phone book, and I’m interested.”

Joss Whedon later created the highly successful cult television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) because he felt his original script for the movie had not done his creative vision justice…so perhaps Donald Sutherland did Whedon a favor after all.

This was by no means the first time Sutherland’s on set personality was described as difficult, something he owned up to himself 20 years earlier:

I’m not mistaken for being arrogant. I am arrogant. Or maybe it’s insensitive or self-centered. Selfish. I think it’s part of the nature of being an actor. There is a lot of coddling, a lot of self-importance. A lot of self-degradation.” Donald Sutherland, February 11, 1979, The Buffalo News

In 1994, Donald Sutherland appeared in Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, an Emmy Award-winning television mini-series that co-starred Diane Lane. That same year he had a supporting role in the thriller Disclosure (1994) with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.

Donald Sutherland won both the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the TV movie Citizen X (1995) co-starring Stephen Rea and veteran actor Max von Sydow. Max von Sydow had worked with Sutherland in the Paul Gaugin biographical drama Oviri (The Wolf at the Door) (1986).

The film Outbreak (1995) starred Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland. This was followed by the critical and commercial success, A Time to Kill (1996) starring Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Matthew McConaughey. A Time to Kill paired both Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Spacey in their second movie with Donald Sutherland, although Kiefer had no dialogue with his father in the movie.

After appearing in the spy thriller The Assignment (1997) with Aidan Quinn and Ben Kingsley, Donald Sutherland’s performance in Without Limits (1998) as runner Steve Prefontaine’s (actor Billy Crudup) coach Bill Bowerman, earned him critical acclaim and another Golden Globe acting nomination. Sutherland ended the 1990’s with another 37 movies to his credit in one decade.

Cheating Death in His Sixth Decade of Films 

In 2000, the year he became a senior citizen, Sutherland kept up his movie-making pace of 3-4+ movies a year.

Space Cowboys (2000), a film about aging astronauts starring Tommy Lee Jones (who had also appeared in JFK), James Cromwell, and James Garner, featured Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood in their second movie together after 30 years (Kelly’s Heroes, 1970). Space Cowboys did well at the box office and with critics in 2000, and Donald Sutherland was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame that same year. 

The made-for-TV biographical movie Path to War (2002) starred Donald Sutherland, who won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe Award for his performance as Clark M. Clifford, trusted advisor to President Lyndon Johnson. Actress Felicity Huffman, who had been in Sutherland’s 1992 movie Quicksand: No Escape, played President Johnson’s wife, “Ladybird” Johnson.

In 2003, Donald Sutherland was in the critically acclaimed Civil War movie Cold Mountain (2003), and The Italian Job (2003) action movie starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham. The Italian Job was a remake of the popular 1969 Michael Caine movie, and filmed in Canada, the USA, and several locations in Italy – Trento, Genoa, and Venice.

donald sutherland 2005, canadian actor, older, senior citizen(Donald Sutherland 2005: Fongtorres)

In a departure from his big-screen roles, Donald Sutherland appeared in two TV mini-series in 2004.

In Salem’s Lot (2004), both actors James Cromwell and Rutger Hauer worked with him for the second time; James Cromwell had been in Space Cowboys (2000) and Rutger Hauer in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992).

Veteran movie actor William Hurt worked with Sutherland for the first (but not the last) time in the mini-series Frankenstein (2004). 

In 2005 Sutherland had 4 movies released, including the independent drama Fierce People (2005) co-starring Diane Lane, one of his co-stars from Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All in 1994. His performance in Pride & Prejudice (2005) as head of the Bennet family, was critically accalimed. 

That same year Donald Sutherland was a regular on the new television drama series Commander-in-Chief (2005-2006) starring Geena Davis, earning a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for his efforts.

Not content with that, he acquired more nominations – for both a Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award – for his performance in the mini-series Human Trafficking (2005).

The television series Dirty Sexy Money (2007-2009) had Donald Sutherland playing patriarch Patrick “Tripp” Darling III. The cast of Dirty Sexy Money included Peter Krause and William Baldwin, now working with Sutherland for the third time (Virus, 1999 and Backdraft, 1991). Once again, Donald Sutherland was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance in Dirty Sexy Money.

Sutherland never became an American citizen, however during the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election he was a blogger for The Huffington Post and supported future President Barack Obama. 

While filming the adventure movie Fool’s Gold (2008) starring Matthew McConaughey (his former co-star in 1996’s A Time to Kill) and Kate Hudson, the 73-year-old septuagenarian told The Guardian that he again cheated death.

 “Walking down the street in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve I got an embolism in my lung. Nobody told me I was too old to scuba dive, for heaven’s sake. I had to have a bronchoscopy; they thought it was lung cancer.”

Seventh Decade and Counting

Donald Sutherland was reunited with one of his Ordeal by Innocence (1984) co-stars, actor Ian McShane, in the historical television mini-series The Pillars of the Earth (2010). Fellow veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent also appeared in The Pillars of the Earth. In the romantic comedy The Con Artist (2010), Sutherland appeared in a film with his son Rossif Sutherland for the first time.

Sutherland took a smaller role as actor Colin Farrell‘s father in the Jason Bateman comedy Horrible Bosses (2011); Colin Farrell and Sutherland had worked together before, in the movie Ask the Dust (2006). It was actor Kevin Spacey‘s third movie with Donald Sutherland, having previously appeared with him in Outbreak (1995) and A Time to Kill (1996).

The 2011 TV miniseries Moby Dick (2011) found Donald Sutherland appearing with Ethan Hawke and his Frankenstein (2004) mini-series co-star William Hurt. 

donald sutherland 2012, canadian actor, senior citizen(Donald Sutherland 2012: Georges Biard)

Sutherland told The Telegraph that he pushed hard for a role in 2012’s The Hunger Games after his agent sent him a copy of the script. Sutherland was inspired by the potential of The Hunger Games as “a catalyst for political awakening”, hearkening back to his younger years in the last 1960’s as a political activist (along with girlfriend Jane Fonda, and wife Shirley Douglas). Sutherland was rewarded with the role of President Coriolanus Snow in what became a 4-movie franchise – The Hunger Games (2012), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Although Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright were in the last three Hunger Games movies, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland each appeared in all four films. Sutherland won the Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Villain in 2013 and was nominated again in 2014.

Sutherland appears in the German-French-Italian-American television series Crossing Lines (2013-2015) as a member of the International Criminal Court’s special crime unit, with Kim Coates and Carrie-Anne Moss. Son Rossif Sutherland had a recurring role on Crossing Lines as a Paris police official, making this their second time working together onscreen (the first was The Con Artist, 2010).

The 2013 crime drama The Best Offer has Geoffrey Rush playing a lonely art expert hired to auction an antique collection. Donald Sutherland is an old friend that helps him get another collection of paintings, while Jim Sturgess is an art restorer. The Best Offer was filmed in Austria, the Czech Republic, and several locations in Rome and Northern Italy, including Bolzano, Trieste, Milan, and Florence.

Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon appeared on screen together 25 years after A Dry White Season (1989), in the crime thriller The Calling (2014). This time span was eclipsed by their The Calling co-star, octogenarian senior Ellen Burstyn, who had last worked with Sutherland 44 years earlier in Alex in Wonderland (1970).

In addition to voicing Captain Charles Johnson in the animated Canadian children’s adventure movie Pirate’s Passage (2015) set in Nova Scotia, Sutherland co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay. A plethora of new and veteran Canadian actors voice parts in the film, many of whom had worked with Sutherland before: his son Rossif Sutherland, as well as Megan Follows, Carrie-Ann Moss and Kim Coates, Colm Feore, Gordon Pinsent,and Paul Gross.

Sutherland can be seen with son Kiefer Sutherland in the western movie Forsaken (2016). They play a disapproving father and his gunslinger so, with Demi Moore in her first Donald Sutherland movie since Disclosure (1994).

More critical acclaim came Donald’s way with his starring performance as J. Paul Getty in the TV series Trust (2019), as well as a supporting role in the feature film Ad Astra (2019), starring Brad Pitt. 

Final Scenes: The Seventh Decade of Films

Finally slowing down – a very little – in the latter half of his 80’s, Donald Sutherland and wife Francine Racette began to spend a bit more time at their summer home near Georgeville, Quebec. They sold their Santa Monica home of 36 years in 2006, and bought a waterfront condo in Miami’s South Beach in 2012. 

I know it seems strange, but I’d been living on the Pacific coast for too long and every day I’d see the sun sink into the seas and I saw my mortality sinking there as well. I kept having dreams about myself laid out on a gurney at Cedars-Sinai (Medical Centre). I needed to watch the sun come out of the ocean in the morning, not sink into it at night. I needed to be back home on the East Coast, on the Atlantic. So I looked at Maine and then I looked at the weather there, and I promptly looked at Miami, which is where I have settled now.” – The Big Interview: Donald Sutherland, by Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star, January 3, 2015

Among his performances in the 2020s were three supporting roles in television mini-series:

  • The Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman mystery-thriller The Undoing (2020). Sutherland plays Kidman’s onscreen father.
  • In the drama-thriller Swimming with Sharks (2022) starring Diane Kruger, with Sutherland as her character’s mentor.
  • The western Lawmen: Bass Reeves (2023) stars David Oyelowo as the title character, and Sutherland is Judge Parker, in his final screen role.

donald sutherland 2014, canadian actor, canadian citizen, senior citizen, octogenarian, hunger games movies, movie star(Donald Sutherland 2014 Photo: Ibsan73)

Son Kiefer Sutherland made him a grandfather and great grand-father when Kiefer’s daughter with his first wife Camelia Kath, actress Sarah Sutherland, was born in 1988. Kiefer’s step-daughter Michelle Kath has two sons. 

Francine and Donald’s son Rossif Sutherland made him a grandfather for the second time in 2016, marrying actress Celina Sinden in February 2016 after the birth of their son. Rossif told ET Canada that both Donald and Francine were present for the birth of his son.

In 2014 Donald Sutherland shared his thoughts about his own mortalityaging, retirement, and death – with GQ magazine:

I’m getting more accustomed to the idea of being dead…But I don’t want to give up living, because I enjoy it so much, and I love working—I don’t expect I’ll ever have to stop. But Alzheimer’s or something like that would render me pretty useless.

Sutherland was given an Honorary Academy Award in 2017. He died June 20, 2024 at the age of 88 in Miami, Florida, after a long illness. Survived by his third wife, Francine Racette, his four sons, and grandchildren.

Note: This article was first published in four parts in 2016, titled Celebrating Seniors – Donald Sutherland is 81. It has been updated, with new and additional content.

*Images are public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, YouTube, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & writer Anita Hamilton's articles are inspired by real historical events, places, and people. Her travel experiences, a lifelong keen interest in history, art, vintage music, books, silent films, classic movies, "golden age" television shows, fashion, & entertainment in general - combined with years of research - make her a subject matter expert with acquired knowledge & expertise on these topics. This, and a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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