Charming, villainous vet of silver screen dies

Actor Donald Sutherland managed to switch effortlessly from character roles to romantic leads.

Actor Donald Sutherland managed to switch effortlessly from character roles to romantic leads. Photo: AAP

Donald Sutherland, one of Canada’s most versatile and gifted actors, who charmed and enthralled audiences in films such as M*A*S*H, Klute, Ordinary People and the Hunger Games films, has died at the age of 88.

The actor, whose lengthy career spanned from the 1960s into the 2020s, died on Thursday, his son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, said on social media.

The tall actor with a deep voice, piercing blue eyes and mischievous smile managed to switch effortlessly from character roles to romantic leads, opposite the likes of Jane Fonda and Julie Christie.

He also played his share of oddballs and villains during a career that began in the 1960s.

One of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the 1970s, he remained in demand for film and TV projects into his 80s.

Known for his unconventional looks and his versatility as an actor, Sutherland played a wide range of memorable characters.

These included a rascally army surgeon in M*A*S*H (1970), a quirky tank commander in Kelly’s Heroes (1970), a small-town detective in Klute (1971), a stoned and libidinous professor in Animal House (1978), a local official facing an alien presence in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and a despairing father in Ordinary People (1980).

He won a new generation of fans with his glorious portrayal of a despotic president in The Hunger Games (2012) and its sequels.

“I wish I could say thank you to all of the characters that I’ve played, thank them for using their lives to inform my life,” Sutherland said in his speech accepting an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2017.

Sutherland was born on July 17, 1935, in Canada’s New Brunswick province, and was raised in Nova Scotia.

He performed in school productions in college, moved to Britain to hone his craft, then to the US, where his first big break came as a member of a top-notch ensemble cast in the war film The Dirty Dozen (1967).

“It was funny at the beginning with The Hunger Games to walk through an airport and suddenly you feel this tug and you look down and it’s some young person – always a girl, never a boy,” Sutherland said.

“Her mother is standing there and they say, ‘Could you take a photograph with my daughter?’. And we’d be standing beside each other and I’d be looking at the camera and the girl would say, ‘Could you look mean?’.”

Sutherland was considered among the best actors to never receive an Academy Award nomination for any of his roles.

He was married three times and had five children, including Kiefer.


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