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Donald Sutherland's most memorable moments

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Donald Sutherland has appeared in more classics than most actors have appeared on talk shows, usually stealing every scene he’s in. So, as the 76-year-old’s latest film The Hunger Games is released, ShortList sits down to hear some of his favourite career anecdotes.

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

“My only line was going to be, ‘Number two, sir.’ We were sitting around a table — Charlie Bronson, Telly Savalas and Lee Marvin. Quite a group. Clint Walker was there to play Posey, and he was a Native American. He said, ‘I’m representing the Native American people and, as a star in Hollywood, I don’t think it’s correct that I play this stupid scene where I pretend to be a general.’ So Robert Aldrich [the director] pointed at me and said, ‘There, with the big ears. You do it.’”

M*A*S*H (1970)

“I was in love with Elliott Gould. We riffed and danced, we never said the same thing twice. Bob [Altman, the director] was incredibly smart, but I rubbed him the wrong way — he was hired after Elliott and said, ‘I don’t want Donald Sutherland,’ and the producer said, ‘I’m sorry, that’s who’s there.’ He said, ‘I don’t want him getting first billing,’ and the producer said, ‘He has first billing.’ It didn’t make for the greatest relationship.”

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

“I got sick in the middle of shooting. I came to Yugoslavia for a day’s filming and I was out for six weeks. They took me to hospital — I had spinal meningitis. They didn’t have the antibiotics, so I went into a coma, and they tell me that for a few seconds I died. I saw the blue tunnel, and I started going down it. I saw the white light. I dug my feet in, I didn’t want to go — but it was incredibly tempting. You just go, ‘Aw sh*t, man, why not?’”

Don’t Look Now (1973)

“The reason everybody remembers the sex scene is that it reminds them of having made love themselves. If you look at it as a voyeur, there’s nothing. It’s just a married couple — you only see it for a couple of seconds at a time. You’re not observing Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland naked — you’re thinking about yourself. Doing it was the worst. The worst. No, not really. We were naked, we were in a small room, with [director] Nic Roeg and [cinematographer] Tony Richmond and wires to engineers on the other side of the wall, and they’ve got two unblimped [unmuffled] Arriflexes. They were incredibly loud, those old cameras. Nic was yelling at us, ‘All right Julie, tilt your head to the left,’ NERRRRRRRRRRR. It was like that for three hours.”

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

“Federico Fellini, the great director, called me a ‘sperm-filled waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator’. It seemed right. I loved him. He loved me. He used to direct me sitting on my knee.”

National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

“I knew the director, John Landis — he’d been a gofer on Kelly’s Heroes. When he told me they were going to offer me a cut of the profits, I said, ‘No, they have to pay my daily rate.’ It wasn’t a question of choice, it was a question of stupidity, ignorance and pomposity. I lost out on at least $2m. I was so pompous I thought that the artist was supreme and the producers and the money people were the enemy. Bullsh*t. They’re the people who created the possibility for the film to happen. Everybody’s working together, and it was just nonsense on my part. Something that was held over from God knows what bloody book I read.”

Klute (1971)

“That was a joy, making a film with Jane Fonda. We were in love. It was at the height of the ‘Hanoi Jane’ stuff, when the press were attacking her over her opposition to the Vietnam War. They treated her terribly. Look at Ramsey Clark. He was the attorney general, and he didn’t sit on any anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi, but he was saying the same thing that Jane was saying. But Jane was a girl, and he was a guy. If Joan of Arc had been a man she would never have been burned. There’s no question that the same thing happened to Jane.”

Top image: Allstar

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