Kiefer Sutherland wasn’t reluctant about ‘Fundamentalist’

April 24, 2013

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Mira Nair’s film of the novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” isn’t about terrorism, Kiefer Sutherland observes, but about the reaction to terrorism – a very different thing.

“It’s what I was moved by when I read the material,” Sutherland, 46, says, relaxing in a conference room of a Union Square hotel in Manhattan. “My focus on 9/11 was on the victims – in the towers, in the planes – and all that loss.

“But I didn’t think of the profound ripple effect it had on people of the Muslim faith, on people of color – of the effect it had on them here and abroad. This script made me focus on the reaction – from suspending our own civil liberties to being able to get through that initial anger and deal with the specific problem, as opposed to just lashing out.”

In the film, Riz Ahmed plays Changez Khan, a Pakistani who goes to Princeton and rises quickly to become a Wall Street analyst, who is hired by Sutherland, as the head of a firm who spots Changez as a young man with a future. But that future starts to crumble after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which doesn’t necessarily radicalize Changez so much as alter the way he is perceived in the U.S.

“I love the character Riz plays,” Sutherland notes. “He understands, he empathizes – hey, the kid is living the American dream. But if you keep telling someone that they’re something – even if they’re not that thing – eventually they’ll become that thing. In our reaction to 9/11, I think we alienated a lot of people who could have helped us deal with the real problem.

“When I read the script, I was really moved by it. I found the script unbelievably enlightening. I hope people who see the movie are as moved by it as I was by the material. Ideologically, it represented how I felt.”

It seems ironic to Sutherland, who spent 2001-10 starring on the counter-terrorism thriller “24” on TV, that no one so far in interviews has mentioned the show – with its explicit and melodramatic use of torture as a regular plot device. But Sutherland is ready when it is mentioned.

“My response is simple: For starters, we were shooting the first season of ‘24’ six months before 9/11 happened,” he says. “And ‘24’ was born out of a fantasy. We were trying to create a new format with which to tell a story. The torture sequences were a great dramatic device that gave the show a sense of urgency and dynamics. Whereas this film is a response to a reality. To me, the difference is night and day.”

Sutherland notes that a lot of reaction and opinions about terrorism following 9/11 were “born out of ignorance. That leads to prejudice and racism. It’s too easy to issue a blanket indictment of a group of people. If you take a minute to learn about the situation before you form an opinion, it helps. But that’s something we do – myself included.”

Since the end of “24,” for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe, Sutherland has been working relatively steadily, doing a revival of “That Championship Season” on Broadway and, most recently, in the two seasons of the series “Touch.” While that show doesn’t look like it will be back for a third season, Sutherland says, “I had a great time. I really enjoyed the second season. I loved the pilot script and just decided that I’d rather do it than regret not doing it. I also like working. I seem to do better when I’m working than when I’m not.”

Currently filming “Pompeii” for director Paul W.S. Anderson, Sutherland also hopes to finally make a film with his father, Donald Sutherland, a western they plan to shoot in Calgary in August.

“It’s the first time we’re working together,” Sutherland says. “It’s one of those one-shot deals, where you want to find something that is going to be special. When Jane and Henry Fonda finally worked together, it was ‘On Golden Pond.’ You only get to do something like this once.”

He’d also like to do more theater, and has a particular interest in finding a new play to work on.

“I guess that’s partly my fault – I might not be on top of anybody’s list, when it comes to access to new material,” he says. “So I do revivals of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (which he did in Canada with mother Shirley Douglas) and ‘That Championship Season.’ What I’d like to do now is find a new play I was excited about.”

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