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Kiefer Sutherland Talks Working With William Friedkin On ‘The Caine Mutiny’

When the late, legendary filmmaker William Friedkin called Kiefer Sutherland to gauge his interest in playing the lead in the Showtime and Paramount+ film The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, the actor hung up almost immediately. But not because he wasn’t interested in working with the director he’d long revered, Sutherland explained. “I thought it was one of my friends making a joke.”

During Sutherland’s appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Television panel alongside producers Annabelle Dunne and Matt Parker, Sutherland revealed that Friedkin had exerted a powerful influence on his professional path from an early age.

“William Freakin was responsible for me,” Sutherland said of his desire to work in film. “I was working as a theater actor – I was only 15, 16 years old in Toronto, Canada. My mother was a great theater actor. It’s the community I grew up in and I was very dedicated to. That was the actor that I wanted to be. And I went and saw The French Connection when I was 15. I didn’t know anything about the film, and my response to it was so visceral and the film was so honest and aggressive. And then obviously the performances of Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman would have affected any young actor.”

He continued: “I left that theater that day knowing that I wanted to make films, and I wanted to make films like that,” Sutherland said. “And it had a profound change in my life.”

Decades later Sutherland received a cold call from the filmmaker out of the blue. “I get a phone call one day and I don’t recognize the number, but I answer it anyways,” he recalled. “This guy on the other end says, ‘Hi, my name’s William Friedkin and I would like to talk to you.’” Assuming he was being pranked by a friend, Sutherland simply hung up.

“And then about two minutes go by and I’m like, ‘That doesn’t sound like any of my friends,’” he said. “And then about two more minutes go by and I’m like, ‘My friends aren’t that smart. Oh shit!’ And I called the number back and he was laughing on the other end. He said, ‘I didn’t think you’d call back this fast.’

“He was generous enough to ask me to do this film, and I was absolutely honored,” Sutherland said. “And it was also very sweet. He went on to kind of give me a couple explanations as to why he thought I should do it – and I’d already agreed to do it once I realized it was really him!”

Pete Hammond, Kiefer Sutherland, Annabelle Dunne and Matt Parker speak on a panel for “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” at Deadline Contenders Television 2024 held at the Directors Guild of America on April 13, 2024 in Los Angeles, Calfornia.

Sutherland also reflected back on his previous experience working with legends while making another courtroom drama, 1992’s A Few Good Men. “The experiences were vastly different, but I think the excitement of a courtroom drama is that the stakes are so high at the root of every courtroom drama, someone’s future is on the line,” he said. “And so that’s exciting stuff to watch, and certainly very exciting to play.”

Sutherland recalled coming in to the set on his day off to watch Jack Nicholson shoot the film’s now-iconic “You can’t handle the truth!” scene, penned by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner.

“I looked around and so many other actors from other films had come on set for that day as well,” he said. “And Mr. Nicholson just knocked it out of the park in one take. And I remember Rob Reiner kind of not knowing what to do, and he walked up to Jack Nicholson said, ‘Do you mind doing that one more time?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re here.’ And Mr. Nicholson did it again, and Rob Reiner went, ‘Well, I guess we’re wrapped. I don’t know what else to do.’ And everyone went home early.”

The incident proved informative for the then-rising star. “I think if you’ve got all your dialogue and everything ready and you’ve got your thoughts ready, and you have the opportunity to do those kinds of things in one pass, that makes for a very exciting moment. And so it inspired me at least knowing that I was going to get this opportunity with Mr. Friedkin. And just make sure you’re prepared.”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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