In a Hard Rock Hotel ballroom full of journalists - well-fed from a free breakfast on a Friday at the San Diego Comic-Con - an answer like this is met with smiles of acceptance. The actor, looking casual in jeans and a blue button up shirt, has won horror fans over once again.
Sutherland's contributions to the genre come as frequent as the likelihood of 24's Jack Bauer walking away from a bad guy with a slap on the wrist. In '87, he gave a new face to vampire chic in The Lost Boys. Only a few thrillers followed including Flatliners, Freeway and Dark City. Next, he stars as Ben Carson in Mirrors, the new horror film by Alexandre Aja he is promoting this morning.
In that signature voice we know all too well, the actor candidly notes the film has a peculiar way of creeping into breakfast conversation, as evidenced today and of his first meeting with Aja. Sutherland details his immediate synchronicity with the director. "I had read the script and loved it," he says. "If you took all of the horrific elements out of the script, it still played like an unbelievably strong family drama. This idea of being able to meld these two worlds - I found it an unbelievable opportunity."
He cites subversive '70s offerings The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and The Omen as ideal instances where, beneath the terrifying veneer, real human emotion took root. "All of those films had character-driven plots that made you invest in the characters so the horror was a combination of the affection the audience had with a character combined with this horrific circumstances the character was put in."
Sutherland will agree Aja captured this with his American debut, The Hills Have Eyes. "It dealt with things that are much more different than what we call slasher films. Alex is an unbelievable filmmaker and has such a strong perspective of what he wants to see and how he's going to tell his story. I remember I had been shooting all night, we met at breakfast and I told him, I believe I can make you care about this guy. You have to guarantee me you can scare the shit out of everybody. He smiled and said, Absolutely."
Sutherland's Carson is a security guard attempting to patch his life together. His marriage if failing and he's relying on booze all too often. "He was a police officer who was released from duty because of a questionable shooting of another officer," the actor explains. "Through the story we find he was justified. But he's trying to save his marriage. He's a guy on the mend, making some productive moves in his life, to get back from what is, for him, a deep tragedy. He's in a solid place moving forward. And everything starts to become unraveled when he takes the job." You can thank a malevolent force residing in the film's mirrors for that.
"Every day we were shooting this film we were working in Romania so a large part of our crew didn't speak English. In a very odd way, I felt Alex and I were working alone," he says. "It was like watching two excited children. Him with, How I'm going to scare the audience? and my responsibility of how am I going to get you to care enough about this character? So when something bad does happen, it will hit you with two emotions. And that was a real challenge for me."
When pressed for details on whether his character suffers any jaw-dropping bathroom danger similar to what co-star Amy Smart (seen in all of Mirrors's ads) falls victim to, Sutherland laughs after a pause with "I'm so trained from 24 never to talk about what you don't see. I think each character has their own thing Alex has devised for us to go through physically. Certainly when we got the script, we all talked about that scene in the bathtub, and you've only seen part of it. I don't have anything that expressive but on a different level we've all got our thing."
Sutherland has recently wrapped a 24 telefilm and is completely immersed in its seventh season. Asked if he's at all concerned that audiences will find it hard to remove him from the Jack Bauer role for his turn in Mirrors, he says, "There's such a strong backdrop that 24 presents, that it's very easy to counterbalance something against it. This character is obviously very different. When you put the [Jack Bauer and Ben Carson] together, you will see this is a departure from 24. I'm still trapped in my physical body and with my voice, so there's going to be similarities in everything that I do."
Mirrors opens in theaters everywhere on August 15th.
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