Born July 17, 1935 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, Donald Sutherland survived rheumatic fever, hepatitis and polio as a child to study engineering in college but gave it up to study drama in England’s London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1957. He later spent a year and a half in a repertory theatre in Scotland. He married first wife Lois Hardwick in 1959.
Sutherland began to get small roles in British films and TV from 1962 on, his most memorable role in this period being in 1965’s Die! Die! My Darling in support of Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers. He divorced Hardwick in 1966 and married second wife, Shirley Douglas, the mother of his son, actor Kiefer Sutherland and his twin sister. His breakthrough came in 1967’s The Dirty Dozen, a Hollywood film made in the U.K. by Robert Aldrich, after which he migrated to the U.S.
Stardom came quickly to Sutherland once he settled in the U.S. with his starring role in 1970’s M*A*S*H. He was divorced from Douglas that same year and had a highly publicized affair with Jane Fonda, his co-star in 1971’s Klute. His infamous sex scene with Julie Christie in 1973’s Don’t Look Now were so intense that for years rumors persisted that the two were actually having sex during filming.
Sutherland met third wife Shirley Douglas, the mother of his remaining three children, sometime in the early 1970s. Although they lived together from 1974 on, they were not legally married until 1990.
The actor’s late 1970s successes included The Day of the Locust, 1900 , Fellini’s Casanova, The Eagle Has Landed, The Great Train Robbery, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Murder by Decree.
Sutherland starred along with Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch in Robert Redford’s 1980 Oscar-winning film, Ordinary People for which he was notoriously the only one of the film’s four stars not to receive an Oscar nomination for his widely praised performance. He rode out the remainder of the decade in such films as Eye of the Needle, Heaven Help Us, The Rosary Murders and A Dry White Season. His 1990s films included Backdraft, JFK, The Railway Station Man, Six Degrees of Separation, Disclosure, A Time to Kill and Without Limits for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe.
In the early 2000s, Sutherland’s roles got smaller, but his performances remained noteworthy in such films as The Italian Job, Cold Mountain, Pride & Prejudice, American Gun and Lord of War. In the 2010s, his profile expanded again thanks largely thanks to his villainous role in The Hunger Games and its three sequels. He had a starring role opposite Helen Mirren in 2017’s The Leisure Seeker, the year he finally received recognition from AMPAS with an honorary Oscar for career achievement.
Donald Sutherland remains active with roles in numerous films and TV series keeping him busy at 83.
M*A*S*H (1970), directed by Robert Altman
Sutherland’s breakthrough role was in Robert Aldrich’s 1967 World War II classic, The Dirty Dozen, but his first starring role was in this Korean War comedy-drama in which he created the role of Capt. Hawkeye Pierce, one of three recently arrived surgeons at the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit where his zany cohorts include Elliott Gould as Capt. Trapper John McIntire, Tom Skerritt as Capt. Duke Forest, Oscar nominated Sally Kellerman as Maj. Margaet “Hot Lips” Houlihan and Robert Duvall as Maj. Frank Burns. An Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, one of its five nominations.
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973), directed by Nicolas Roeg
Two years after playing the title role of the sleepy-eyed detective opposite Jane Fonda in her Oscar winning role of the stalked prostitute in the mystery thriller, Klute. Sutherland essayed the role of an American architect living in Venice, Italy with his wife (Julie Christie) on a getaway after the death of their young daughter, begins to question his sanity when he begins having a series of disturbing and fragmented premonitions which coincides with a series of murders in the city. It wasn’t until 1994 that Sutherland debunked the notion that he and Christie had actual sex during the film’s infamous sex scene.
ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), directed by Robert Redford
Robert Redford made his directing debut with this film of Judith Guest’s beloved novel, earning one of the film’s four Oscar which also included Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor which went to Timothy Hutton in his film debut. Hutton’s role of the suicidal son is the film’s centerpiece with Sutherland as his good-natured father, Best Actress nominee Mary Tyler Moore as his bitter mother and fellow Best Supporting Actor nominee Judd Hirsch as his psychiatrist completing the main cast. Sutherland, in a role originally intended for Redford, was oddly the only main player in the film who was not nominated.
WITHOUT LIMITS (1998), directed by Robert Towne
One of two biographical films about the life and death of long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine, Steve James’ Prefontaine with Jared Leto as the athlete and R. Lee Ermey as his coach was released 20 months earlier. Towne’s version with Billy Crudup s the athlete and Sutherland as his coach is considered the better of the two. Sutherland’s powerful, yet unstated portrayal of coach Bill Bowerman earned him a Golden Satellite Award, a Golden Globe nomination and a National Society of Film Critics award nomination. It did not, however, result in an Oscar nomination.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 (2015), directed by Francis Lawrence
Sutherland created the role of the evil President Snow in Gary Ross’ 2012 dystopian epic, The Hunger Games and continued in it under Francis Lawrence in the film’s three sequels, ending with this film three years later. Fifth billed after Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Woody Harrelson in the last two, he earned Teen Choice nominations for Best Villain for both the second and third entries, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 released in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
DONALD SUTHERLAND AND OSCAR
- Honorary Award (2017) – Oscar – Career Achievement