CANNES, France — In the new series “Designated Survivor,” Kiefer Sutherland plays the American president Jack Bauer always wanted to serve.

“That’s a great way of putting it,” says Sutherland, looking lean and crisply dressed during an interview on the balcony of a posh beachfront hotel overlooking this Mediterranean festival town. He has flown over from Toronto to be a keynote speaker at MIPCOM, the international TV marketplace.

Sutherland, who turns 50 this December, still has Jack Bauer stamina. He spent ten years on “24” and is proud of that character and the series that changed his life.

Busy launching a music career with an album (“Down in a Hole”) and a tour, he wasn’t looking to get back into another series. He read the “Designated Survivor” script as a favour to a friend, executive producer Mark Gordon. He was instantly hooked on this story of a decent, ordinary guy suddenly vaulted into a job that was way over his head: leader of the free world.

He also, at first, saw Tom Kirkwood as the opposite of Jack Bauer.

“I don’t think Tom Kirkwood knows how to load a gun,” says Sutherland.

Which makes him a very Canadian American president?

“Yes he is!” says Sutherland. “But what they both have is this dynamic, this desire, this need to serve. And both of them, in the context of both those shows, took on a fight they knew they couldn’t win. They took it on anyway, and I have a lot of respect for those people.”

They remind him of his famous grandfather, Tommy Douglas. Considered the father of universal health care in Canada, Douglas turned a grassroots crusade into what eventually became the New Democratic Party. He was voted the “Greatest Canadian” a few years ago in a CBC series.

“He was also the featherweight boxing champion of Saskatchewan,” Sutherland points out, “so he was a fighter. He took on a fight no one thought he could win or even survive — and I think Tom Kirkwood has risked the one thing he truly loves, which is his family. He’s put them in real jeopardy.”

Sutherland is well aware of the real-life political drama taking place this fall in the United States. He sees “Designated Survivor” as well-placed to comment on what he deems, “the most bizarre election cycle I’ve seen in my lifetime — and I remember Watergate.”

Sutherland, who is not eligible to vote in the upcoming U.S. election, has never met either of the presidential candidates. He did once meet former president Bill Clinton and also enjoyed a few memorable encounters with President Barack Obama.

“The last one was really amazing,” says Sutherland, who was invited to lunch with the president on a fundraising stop in California. Sutherland asked Obama what he thought about Donald Trump entering the race.

“This was three days after he announced,” says Sutherland. The president looked at the actor and said, “Now that’s the gift that just keeps on giving.”

Shooting “Designated Survivor” in Toronto has been a major plus for Sutherland. Much of his youth was spent in the city.

“I know Toronto like the back of my hand. I can take the subway to work and avoid all the traffic.”

Or he could until Torontonians started posting “I saw Jack Bauer on the subway!” shots on social media.

“Yeah, well, that just started,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for four months.”

Being close to family members has been the biggest plus. His mother Shirley Douglas and twin sister Rachel both live in the city, “so I get to spend a lot more time with them than I normally would.”

Sutherland has fond memories of playing hockey for the East York Bulldogs while growing up in Toronto. He still goes for the odd skate and even brought his hockey gear with him while working on “Designated Survivor.”

He misses the Sunday night skates he had playing in a Hollywood league created by “CSI” producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

“First of all, he had the best ice time, 6 p.m., not four-in-the-morning,” says Sutherland. Plus, in the off-season, actual NHLers would sometimes lace up with the usual mix of actors and friends.

Sutherland’s hockey interests, however, have shifted to another member of his family.

“My grandson has just started playing,” he says. “It’s kinda awesome.”

The lad is 10 years old. “I’m so looking forward to being able to bring him up to Toronto and skate at city hall.”

“Designated Survivor” airs Wednesdays on ABC and CTV.


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Cannes, Brioux was a guest of Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund.

Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press

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