Kiefer Sutherland is back in the spy game, but this time it’s strictly business. Sutherland was a hit as international counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer in 24. Now, in the new Paramount+ series Rabbit Hole, he’s John Weir, a master of deception in the questionable world of corporate espionage. In the midst of some sneaky money-making tricks that hurt the competition, he gets framed for murder by people who are powerful enough to do him and the world a lot of harm.
For Sutherland, it was chance to take on a character who, he reveals with a sly smile, is “not what he seems.” Just one more in wide range of good guys, tough guys, and lovers that has made him a star on screens big and small.
Kiefer admits he was fascinated by the interplay of truth and falsehood and the destructive power of secrets that play out in Rabbit Hole. It reminded him a lot of real life.
Jeanne Wolf: We certainly are in a time when it’s hard to trust. This show has you working both sides.
Kiefer Sutherland: I think we are living in a world where we have never had so much disinformation coming at us from all sides. By disinformation I mean misinformation that’s being used to manipulate us. It’s a perfect storm of technology — the internet, social media, more cable channels than you can count. It’s preying on people’s need to belong. We’ve been kind of estranged from each other since the pandemic, and loneliness plays a huge part.
I grew up with Walter Cronkite and a half-hour of news at 6:30. That was it, and the country believed him. I remember that famous line from Mrs. Nixon when she said the Vietnam War is over, and her husband, the president, said, “What are you talking about?” And she just said, “I was just watching Walter Cronkite and he said it’s over.” Now we have an avalanche of conflicting information coming at us from cellphones and computers and not just a TV set in the living room.
Rabbit Hole deals with that because my character is using disinformation to manipulate people. But he finds it’s a double-edged sword. Three Days of the Condor was a film that we talked about when we started developing this series. The idea that the person who was in charge of knowing all their secrets was somehow having these secrets used against him. It is one of the great primal fears that I think we all individually have as human beings. At the same time, we’re envious of people who seemingly have more information than we do. I think that’s why espionage films and series have always captured people’s imagination.
JW: You are having fun with this new role. Is this a great time in your life and career?
KS: I’ve certainly had some moments in my life that I wish I had lived better. I think self-realization comes with age. I was tough on my mom. I remember after her divorce, she went to work at the theater every night, and I let her know I hated being left alone. I wanted her to feel guilty. I finally told her many years later that I was sorry about how selfish I’d been.
My father [Donald Sutherland] has been one of the most supportive people in my life, even though we only saw each other occasionally when I was growing up. He never criticized me. He just let me know when he thought I was making a mistake. I know I’ll always be compared to him. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt my career. It’s just that I had to work harder in the beginning to prove myself.
Being responsible was a huge benefit of having parents who were actors. Both of them, but especially my mother, had gone through difficult times. So it was drilled into me as a kid how lucky it was to have a job. It’s something I never took for granted. But there was a stretch when I wasn’t working, and I finally learned that self-worth was based on a lot more than whether I was starring in a film or a show. I got a much better perspective.
JW: You have played such a range of compelling men. Is there anything you could have been besides an actor?
KS: I’ve always had a fascination with carpentry. If I’d put as much time and effort into being a carpenter as I have as an actor, I could have saved a lot of money on all the houses I’ve bought and remodeled. I think you can be good at anything if you work hard enough.
Probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with in my whole life is that I care a lot about what other people think. But sometimes you have to fight that and go your own way no matter what. The biggest mistakes I made in my career were when I said to myself, “If I take this movie maybe it will lead to a couple of more.” Now I need to have a great connection with what I take on. I love acting, and I come alive when I do it.
—Jeanne Wolf is the Post’s West Coast editor