TAGGED AS: Paramount Plus
Kiefer Sutherland is back in another thrilling series with worldwide life or death stakes. Unlike 24 or Designated Survivor, however, the threat isn’t necessarily a terrorist bomb or political attack. Rabbit Hole is all about corporate espionage.
Sutherland plays John Weir, a consultant who orchestrates blackmail and other manipulative missions for his clients. In the series premiere, Weir makes sure an investor sees a damning newscast to influence his sale of company stock. As the luck of Sutherland’s TV characters would have it, Weir himself becomes the target of manipulative attacks and goes on the run.
This Is Us producers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa created Rabbit Hole, the first two episodes of which are now streaming on Paramount+. The series co-stars Charles Dance as Dr. Ben Wilson, Meta Golding as Hailey Winton, Enid Graham as Josephine “Jo” Madi, Walt Klink as The Intern, and Jason Butler Harner as Miles Valence.
Sutherland spoke with Rotten Tomatoes over video from Austin, Texas, where the show premiered at SXSW.
(Photo by Paramount+)
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve done shows where terrorist violence was the threat. Does the threat of financial manipulation put a new twist on the dramatic stakes?
Kiefer Sutherland: It changes them, right? It’s not even just financial manipulation. It’s manipulation period. It’s the manipulation of the truth of anything that is important to you. In this case, what was important to my client was a financial entity in the market. They wanted to buy a particular share, but they wanted to buy it at a certain cost. I manipulated a situation that made someone believe that their stock was worth less than it was. They sold it off and my client bought it.
The point being is that we can use technology now to make someone believe something is true when it’s absolutely not, and it creates a circumstance for my character to go — when he’s caught and it turns around on him — that he goes from being the hunter to the hunted. The thing that I was most interested in was having a character that was going to go from a place of real strength and confidence and do a 180-degree turn to where they were vulnerable and weak. It’s in that vulnerable moment that at least I, as an actor, believe that that character is then really receptive for an audience.
(Photo by Michael Gibson/Paramount+)
When I’m watching something, I’m acutely aware — and we’re all vulnerable on a daily basis; we go from feeling good to nervous or afraid — so it’s something that I just find uniquely identifiable. Based on that character’s behavior in that moment of vulnerability, we either like that character or we don’t. So those were the things that I found really interesting from an acting point of view.
I was not aware that corporate espionage was such a thing. And it is. It’s not a product of someone’s imagination in a writers room. This is something that really happens, and it’s not just stealing people’s patents and secrets. This is about manipulating information so that they think something is more or less valuable than it actually is. And the fact that Wall Street and world markets are operating under this pressure, I found that fascinating.
Since it does begin with financial manipulation, has it educated you about where you keep your money and made you a little more wary about which institutions you trust?
Sutherland: I’m pretty luddite with regards to that. The most important kind of thing that I ever needed to understand with regards to creating a financial portfolio and planning for retirement was diversify, diversify, diversify. Yesterday [March 10], we had the second largest bank collapse [Silicon Valley Bank] in American history. They collapsed because they weren’t diversified. So I don’t get too exotic. I’m not Ashton Kutcher. I wish I was that clever, so I don’t get too exotic with my finances, but I’m certainly aware of the fact that the FDIC only protects $250,000 per account. Why would you be so silly to leave millions and millions of dollars in a bank uninsured? But again, it’s a complicated world and technology is what’s driving a lot of this. So it’s a fascinating thing and I’m sure there will be some investors on Wall Street that will watch this show and it might change their point of view about what to do with their money and how to protect it.
(Photo by Michael Gibson/Paramount+)
On your network shows, you had to use clean language, even in the most dangerous crises. Has it been freeing to be able to use streaming language on Rabbit Hole and swear when John gets really freaked out?
Sutherland: You know what’s funny? No, it hasn’t been. When I was doing Designated Survivor, the first two seasons were on ABC and the third season was on Netflix. I swore once to make a point in the scene, and I could’ve found seven different words to do that as well. So I was surprised by that. That’s probably a very different answer than I probably would have given you at 25. It’s used as an expletive more than a swear word for me, almost like a rhythm punch, but I didn’t find it freeing creatively. Having done 13 years of network television, I thought it would. Maybe I’ve just been beaten into submission, but it didn’t make much of a difference for me.
(Photo by Michael Gibson/Paramount+)
Has every show since 24 been easier since there’s only one screen and you’re not filming four screens simultaneously?
Sutherland: We’re certainly not showing four screens simultaneously. In 24, the truth is I still worked with one camera. There might have been a B or C camera even set up, but I was really focused on my main camera. So my relationship with the camera didn’t change during the dynamics of 24 vs. any other show. 24 comparatively though is just grueling, right? It was very physical, and we were making 24 episodes. We were making the equivalent of 12 feature films a year. Those were being written from the ground up. These were not old scripts, so that part of it was really hard. Designated Survivor not much easier. We were doing 22 episodes then. So I have to be honest, when people started complaining about doing eight episodes, I would laugh at them which I enjoyed doing a little. To do eight episodes well is really hard, but historically, for me at least, it was a much kinder schedule.
(Photo by Marni Grossman/Paramount+)
Does John get to use humor to deflect more situations than some of your other, more stoic characters?
Sutherland: Absolutely. I think the only time I ever think Jack Bauer ever smiled was when he killed Nina Myers. That says something about him. What I thought was really interesting — it’s a real testament to the writing skill of John and Glenn — is that you have a thriller that is dynamic enough to have the stakes being life or death. And you have the drama of that thriller being dynamic enough that this person loses friends and people that are close to him and they die. That somehow in the middle of all of that, they’ve managed to weave in a love story and be nuanced enough to create a kind of sense of humor around that character through all of those events, albeit sarcastic, but that is a real substantial comedic line through this piece. That really is a testament to their writing skill and something I was so glad to be able to be a part of, because you and I both know that no one’s knocking down my door to get me to do their next comedy. So it was a really nice opportunity.
(Photo by Michael Gibson/©Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection)
This might sound random, but I remember before the Flatliners remake came out, you suggested you’d be playing your original character as a teacher now. Then the movie came out and you had a different name. Did they film it both ways, where you could’ve been reprising your role from the original movie?
Sutherland: No, they shot it the way [it ended up]. Changing someone’s name, that could very easily have been justified and explained as someone trying to be anonymous. I always felt it was the same character and that’s how I chose to play it. That was what was going through my mind when I was doing the dialogue. Sometimes, it’s interesting, if it was just there for me, it helped inform me about what I wanted to do and it doesn’t matter that anybody else knows about it or sees anything.
Meg Ryan did an amazing thing in a film once. We did a movie called Promised Land and she had to have a nervous breakdown toward the end of the movie. At the very beginning of the film — we shot in order — we did a road trip from Reno, Nevada, all the way to Salt Lake City, and we were filming the whole way. In the scenes, she would pop these little sugar pills. I noticed that she was doing it and I didn’t know why. She was doing it in the scene on camera.
Then when she had the nervous breakdown, she did such a beautiful job with it. It was extraordinary. I said, “Was that why you were taking the little pills?” She said yeah. She was taking the little pills as if they were a caffeine tablet and that they were as much for the nervous breakdown as anything else because she couldn’t see it in the script. But she still had to get there so she made up this little through line for herself and it worked extraordinarily well. It was a great lesson that I learned from her on that film.
I choose to agree with your interpretation too.
Sutherland: Cheers, cheers, cool.