Actor Donald Sutherland is a legend with an impressive and critically acclaimed film career. His unforgettable roles in films like “MASH”, “Klute”, “The Dirty Dozen”, “Animal House”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Ordinary People”, and so many others have earned him a position as one of our great living actors. And now he’s starring in a new weekly series on television, “Crossing Lines.” He recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about the new series. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: It’s great to see you again. It’s interesting to see you going to do some television work.
Donald Sutherland: It’s such a wonderful show. It just is wonderful. Ed Bernero, who writes it so brilliantly, was the creator of “Criminal Minds” and he and Rola Bauer, the producer – we just have one producer. You look at the shows of television in the United States and you got – gosh I don’t know, I was watching on the airplane when I came in and the list of producers was incredible. We have one and one person who does a lot of work. And that’s Rola. The two of them came to me and said, “Listen, we’re doing this show in Europe about the European Union because it reflects what it was like in the United States in the 30s when you could commit a crime, cross over state lines and wave to the police.”
Ron Bennington: That would be the end of it.
Donald Sutherland: That was it, yeah. And then the FBI that had been created in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt – what ended up being the FBI. They put – what’s his name. Oh God, that shows how tired I am. (Laughs)
Ron Bennington: Well I think it – didn’t it really start to become stronger after the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby?
Donald Sutherland: Lindbergh. Exactly.
Ron Bennington: After the Lindbergh baby is where they start saying, “This is madness. We’ve got to work together.” And Europe – now you can travel all over Europe without stopping.
Donald Sutherland: Yeah, it’s the same as the United States.
Ron Bennington: It’s the same as the United States.
Donald Sutherland: But the problem is, is that there’s no database link. Who the devil was the head of the FBI? … Hoover. Thank God. Anyway then, so that’s what this is about. It’s about the fact that you can commit a serial crime in Italy and another one in France and another one in England and there’s no relationship between those. The police forces of each of those countries can’t connect with the other. And Ed went to Interpol and said, “What are you guys doing? Why don’t you solve these crimes?” He was a cop. He was a Chicago cop for years until 17 years ago when he started writing movies and television. They said, “Well, we can’t. We can’t because we have to get permission from the International Criminal Court in The Hague and you just can’t get it.” And he said, “Okay.” So he wrote a character I play, the prosecutor, who agrees with them. Who doesn’t offer – goes to the court and the court refuses it and then grants it for this one series of crimes.
Ron Bennington: Even though these countries are so close together and doing business together, they still probably have fought 85% of the wars in the history of the world, have been fought on that continent.
Donald Sutherland: On that territory.
Ron Bennington: I was wondering, have we ever had an American TV show that took place in Europe?
Donald Sutherland: That was centered in and situated in Europe? I don’t think so.
Ron Bennington: I couldn’t think of another one.
Donald Sutherland: No, I mean Rola did “World Without End” there, but they were all basically English shows. No, this is an American show and it stars a French fellow, Marc Levoine, an Italian actress, Gabriella Pession, Richard Flood, who is Irish, Tom Wlaschiha, who is German and Bill Fichtner, who is just wonderful.
Ron Bennington: He’s terrific. Always been great. So many great actors are coming to television now. We were just talking about this. We thought maybe it started with “The Sopranos”. We were talking about James Gandolfini today because he just passed away, but it seemed like after that show, all of a sudden so many great projects started to come to TV.
Donald Sutherland: You know, I don’t know the date of “The Sopranos” so I don’t know, but certainly it had to do with Home Box Office and Showtime. And now, but this show for network broadcasting, this is something really extraordinary.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, I watched the pilot episode and it was hard to believe.
Donald Sutherland: Did you watch two hours or one?
Ron Bennington: I think I just caught the one hour of it.
Donald Sutherland: Okay, because what they’ll see on Sunday is two hours.
Ron Bennington: It’s two hours all together.
Donald Sutherland: And you have to see it as two hours because it’s extraordinary.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, and it’s stuff that you wouldn’t have seen on TV just a couple years ago, but network TV has had to step it up because the cable…
Donald Sutherland: The competition with cable is – forget it. If you can watch “Homecoming” why would you watch “Law & Order”?
Ron Bennington: And we’re at a point now where we feel, whether it’s the network, basic cable or film, it’s not like the audience has a problem with – they’ll go in either direction now.
Donald Sutherland: None at all. Even if it’s film, they’ll download it and watch it at home. What Ed wanted to do was break the mold, the template of procedurals. And he created something that’s – I guess you could call it observational because those people, the actors, have created characters who are the best policemen from their countries and have been selected by the Marc Lavoine character. And what they use – they use their heads. They have wonderful equipment, but the equipment that really matters is their observational talent and ability. It’s wonderful.
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Ron Bennington: It is very interesting how people say, “I was born into this political party, I stay with these beliefs.” And other people are willing to be fluid with their beliefs. I mean, just think of the world you were born in. Could you picture Europe the way it is today? No one saw that coming. No one would have ever believed that the Union could have even taken place.
Donald Sutherland: No, except George Marshall. God, what a brilliant man. What a brilliant man. What brilliant people.
Ron Bennington: And I guess it takes that type of person, and this comes up, that there’s just somewhat a futurist, that sees a world that does not yet exist. And that’s got to be a lonely position for a long time.
Donald Sutherland: This character that I play is, in my heart, modeled after a fellow named Frederic Rossif. He is the godfather of my son. He’s dead now, but he had that vision. The housekeeper in Paris – we live in Paris and we have a woman who has worked with us for a couple of days a week and he lived in our house for a period of time. And he talked to her – this would have been 20 years ago. And she said to Francine a week ago she said, “I can’t believe it. Everything that Frederic told me has come true.” It was inconceivable, but it all came to pass.
Ron Bennington: And there are just some people that are born into the world that can see time lines. They’re kind of in touch with the past, they’re in touch with the future. And they kind of help the rest of us move along that.
Donald Sutherland: Well that’s in theory, and I think in reality, what Ed Bernero is trying to do in this show. And this, what people are going to see Monday at 9:00 here on the east coast, is a great show, but it gets better. We subsequently did 10 episodes. They’re really good. It’s just good stuff.
Ron Bennington: Well you also have to even think, for the planet Earth, it would be so much better if we had some kind of police work as opposed to wars. That if you had a Saddam Hussein, if you could go in there and make an arrest rather than drop bombs on millions of innocent people, how much better would the world be?
Donald Sutherland: Well, but that’s because you have a political – you have an ideological position and you want to pursue it. Why don’t you just listen to the atomic energy people who are telling you he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction? Because it’s – you don’t want to hear it. Because you’re intent is to prove your father was a pussy.
Ron Bennington: Can you stay optimistic about the world? Can you keep optimism or as you watch things go on, does it make you more cynical?
Donald Sutherland: No, no, not cynical. Despair and grief have become a large part of optimism, but the optimism is still there. You have to. You have to be – have some kind of optimism otherwise you might as well be dead.
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Ron Bennington: The TV show “Crossing Lines” — is one that you knew as soon as you got the script for that this is something you wanted to be involved with pretty quickly?
Donald Sutherland: I didn’t actually get the script.
Ron Bennington: Really?
Donald Sutherland: No, I – they took me out to dinner in Paris – took Francine and me out and talked. And I thought about it and I said yes and then he sent me the script. I was in the American Airlines terminal in the, whatever is, Ambassador room in Los Angeles. And this was the time when they were having budget problems and they were cutting back on the pilot salaries and they were doing a work to rule. So, once in a while a plane would go and once in a while it wouldn’t. The plane I was supposed to take to Miami was given to some other – flew to New York, who knows? I don’t know, but I was stuck there. And people were coming up in the lounge saying, “Hi.” And after a while, given my bad mood about the – I was getting a little tired of it. So, I was sitting there with my head pretty much between my legs and I saw these feet come up and stand in front of me and I thought, “Oh God.” And a voice said, “You’re doing something about the International Criminal Court and The Hague.” And I said, “Yes.” And the voice said, “My name is Luis Moreno Ocampo and I was the lead prosecutor for the Criminal Court in the cases of Kosovo and Rwanda.” I said, “Would you please sit down?” And we had the most wonderful conversation. It was just terrific. We even exchanged e-mails. The only thing you’ll see in the show that really echoes him is, I said, “Is there anything significant that you can tell me just about the way you look.” He said, “I’ll tell you one thing. I always wore a black tie.” I said, “You always wore a black tie? Why?” He said, “Because of the lawyers and everybody, I always wore a black tie.” I said, “Okay.” So, when you look – not the first episode, but the episodes after that, my character always wears a black tie.
Ron Bennington: Is that where the real fun is? The researching…
Donald Sutherland: Yeah.
Ron Bennington: You just keep bringing in more and more information.
Donald Sutherland: As much as you can. You put it all together and that’s what all of those actors are doing. They’re just getting as much information as they can and comparing it and calling it down with their observations and producing some kind of truth.
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Ron Bennington: The great Donald Sutherland. Thanks, it’s great to see you again, my friend. It was great to see you again.
Donald Sutherland: Absolutely, lovely to see you.
Ron Bennington: Next time we will do it. I’ll see you next time coming through.
“Crossing Lines” airs Sunday nights at 9:00 et. Go to nbc.com for more information.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.