Giving credence to the old idiom that you can’t keep a good man down, Kiefer Sutherland returns to television tonight in Tim Kring’s TOUCH. Cooler still, much like his most famous small screen ego that saw him defeat evildoers twenty-four-hours at a time, the artist formerly known as Jack Bauer will once be asked to save the world. Except this time, as widower Martin Bohm, he’ll be doing so through an autistic son [David Mazouz] whose obsession with numbers may turns out to be a helluva lot more than meets the eye.
When an actor has had the type of success you had with such a groundbreaking series like 24, they rarely come back to television so quickly. What was it about TOUCH that enticed you to return so soon?
Kiefer Sutherland: It was a combination of things. I had an unbelievable experience on 24, we shot 198 episodes and I was as excited about shooting the 198th as I was the first. And so that combined with this script, it wasn’t even really a choice anymore. It was something that I knew I had to do. I remember thinking about it really strongly when I was crossing the street in New York and the person who I work with Susan, I remember saying to her if we don’t do this, how are we going to feel in September watching it knowing all of its potential and how great we both think it can be. And that answered my question for me. I didn’t want to be sitting there watching this fantastic show in September if I had had the opportunity to be a part of it.
In terms of the script, at what point did you connect with this new character of Martin Bohm?
I identified with him out of the gate. There was something interesting because obviously this is very different than 24. Yet there is a real similar through line in the kind of character of the man. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day and he would never win completely and this guy is never going to win either. He’s never going to have the quintessential relationship of a father and a son. Yet he perseveres and that’s a great kind of character statement and so I identified with him greatly on that and I think as a parent as well just the sense of responsibility combined with not knowing what to do all the time. Even though this is again a heightened experience, I think every parent feels that.
For audience members out there who are so used to associating you with Jack Bauer on 24, how do you convince them that this is going to be just as entertaining, just as interesting and intriguing as that series was?
I don’t know if there is convincing. I think that ultimately almost in the way that 24 started, people that are initially interested, whether they’re a fan of Tim Kring or a fan of mine or like the trailer, they’ll watch it and then if they feel strongly about it, they’ll tell friends and we have to rely on that. For me personally I feel that there is a great deal of suspense within the context of the show, even in the not knowing what the numbers are and the narrative where the audience actually knows more than the lead character. So I think that even though we’re not blowing things up, I think that there is enough excitement around the drama of this show, that people will not be that thrown by it who enjoyed 24. And we really do rely on you guys telling people about it and hopefully it will be something that grows.
Could you talk a little bit about working with you on screen son David and forming that on-screen bond with him when he doesn’t talk back to you?
Davids’ an amazing young actor and he’s an amazing young man. He does something that is really I don’t—I think it would be impossible to try and teach an actor to do. He has very limited physical response to anything that I do. He doesn’t talk and yet I can feel his presence even if he’s not looking at me. I can always sense that he’s listening and I think that comes across to the viewer as well. That’s a real gift. He was the first boy out of about 25 young people that I read with and I remember thinking because I was doing the play at the same time, so I could only do five or six or seven kids a day. I remember thinking wow, this kid is amazing. If the other kids are going to be like this, we’re going to find an amazing kid. And I remember it was around the tenth kid, I was still thinking—and all of the kids I have to say were fantastic, but there was something really special with … and then obviously we should just hire the first kid and I’m thinking around 20, I say no, the first kid was still better. And then I read with close to 30 kids and I was finally like would you guys just please hire the first kid. He was just amazing and so that bond kind of started right away. He works a lot of hours with us, and I’ve just been completely amazed by how focused and attentive he is and interested in it. I think that’s a big thing. He’s not being made to do this. I think he actually really does enjoy it and he’s very curious about how to get better and it’s been a phenomenal experience. I really, really do love working with him.
What can you tease about the kind of journey Martin will go on in this first season?
I could tell you a lot. But I think at the beginning of the story we discover Martin who has a son named Jake who in the course or our story we realize has been misdiagnosed with severe autism and in fact is actually just a truly, truly evolved human being that is years and years beyond where my character is and our society is at. And in an effort to communicate with my son, I discover that he has this unbelievable skill set that allows him to interpret numbers and symbols in a way that kind of explain our past and to some degree predict our future and that’s where we start the show off. My journey, very much like the Chinese fable that the story is based on, which was called, “The Red Thread” and the red thread is basically a red thread that is loosely looped around the ankles of all the people that are supposed to come in contact with each other over the course of a lifetime. This thread can stretch and it can bend, but it cannot break, and somehow in our society we have broken this and my son is taking me on a journey to try and put the thread back together.
A special sneak preview of TOUCH airs Wednesday, January 25th at 9PM on Fox and Global in Canada. (The series will return on March 19th in its regular timeslot, Monday nights at 9PM)