Entertainment & Arts

Kiefer Sutherland leaves Jack Bauer behind

Media captionKiefer Sutherland stars as a widowed father in Touch

With 24 star Kiefer Sutherland returning to TV screens next week in new US drama Touch, the actor talks about how he was lured back to television.

"To this day I get called Jack Bauer more than my own name, but it always puts a smile on my face," Kiefer Sutherland says, referring to his starring role in the hit series 24.

Sutherland played the no-nonsense counter-terrorist agent who saved the US from attack for eight series.

The groundbreaking real-time drama saw Sutherland win a Golden Globe and Emmy during its run between 2001 and 2010.

Although he planned to take a break from television, the Canadian actor has found himself back on the small screen in new US drama Touch, created by Heroes writer Tim Kring.

"The last thing I was looking for was another TV show," the 45-year-old says.

"Someone sent me the script and I felt obliged to read it out of respect to Tim, and it was around page 32 that I said: 'Oh no!'

"Then I prayed for the next 15 to 20 pages it would get worse, and it didn't - it got better. And by the end of it, I just knew the opportunity was just too great to miss.

Image caption Newcomer David Mazouz stars as Sutherland's on-screen son Jake

"One of the things 24 taught me was you work on opportunity's schedule, it doesn't work on yours, and the script just moved me."

Red Thread of Fate

Sutherland's new role sees him play Martin Bohm, a single father who is unable to communicate with his mute 11-year-old son Jake, who never allows anyone to touch him.

Diagnosed with autism, Jake is obsessed with numbers - but when he appears to start predicting the future, Bohm searches for answers.

He is led to an expert on gifted children (played by Danny Glover), who tells him his son has been misdiagnosed. Instead, he has just evolved to see numbers and patterns in a way which enables him to connect unrelated events.

The series is loosely based on the Chinese fable Red Thread of Fate, which suggests an invisible thread is connected to those destined to meet.

Each episode sees Sutherland's character struggle to make sense of Jake's numbers and find the people they are connected to, in order to realign the thread when it is broken.

The series travels the globe, connecting people from around the world, with the first episode visiting New York, Tokyo, Dublin and Baghdad - complete with subtitles as each character speaks in their native tongue.

"Tim was fascinated with the idea of interconnectivity, and as much as we have huge cultural, religious and language barriers, there are common denominators regardless of where we're from," Sutherland says.

'Broke my heart'

Surprisingly, although Jake (played by David Mazouz) is silent in the show, his character articulately narrates it.

Sutherland has nothing but praise for the young actor, who is able to show emotion without having the words to back it up.

"When we were looking for the young boy, we read about 35-40 children, and he was the first boy I read with," he says.

"I had a connection with him - when I looked into his eyes, he broke my heart. The challenge for him is to be so disconnected physically from me as his father and yet somehow connect to me in a way the audience can relate to."

Sutherland's role in the drama is quite a contrast to those used to seeing him in 24.

Martin Bohm is emotional, afraid of heights and is even floored by a punch in the first episode. Not very Jack Bauer-like at all.

But the actor believes there are some similarities. In preparation for his role, Sutherland spoke to parents of children with special needs who "had a kind of courage that reminded me of Bauer".

He says: "They face a similar situation day in, day out, and yet they confront it with the same enthusiasm and love.

"I was awed by that strength, and it's something I tried to incorporate into this character."

24: The Movie

Despite audiences' expectations of him as Bauer, Sutherland says he's not daunted by the prospect of taking on the new role.

"For me as an actor, it's exciting to take a character that is vastly different from something I've done before, and that's what I've got to do with Touch," he says.

"24 ran for a long time and I'm optimistic that people will be open to watching something different."

Image caption Creator Tim Kring has said the character of Jake will never speak in the show

Nevertheless, Sutherland hasn't left the character totally behind, as there are plans for a feature film to continue the 24 story.

A script has been written, but production has been delayed by an ongoing search for a director.

"One of the reasons leaving 24 was not as harsh as it could have been was because I always thought I would be able to go back and play the character again," Sutherland says.

"I have to hope the powers that be will one day get their act together and make this movie.

"But in their defence its difficult because the window between the end of Touch and hopefully another season is very small."

So after his work on the series, does Sutherland now believe we are all connected in some way, or in the notion of fate?

"I think we all believe in fate on some level," he says.

"You always hear if a guy wins the lotto he was in the right place at the right time, or if something terrible happens they were in the wrong place.

"What we forget to acknowledge is how many things had to happen to put them there in the first place, and that's really what the show examines."

Touch begins on Tuesday 20 March at 20:00 GMT on Sky 1 HD

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