Monday, June 20, 2016

Kiefer Sutherland Discusses the Appeal of ‘The American West'

Denny Gentry introduced me to Sutherland at a team roping in Albuquerque. He seemed like an ok guy, and he certainly has some interesting things to say in this interview.

by Kimberly Potts

AMC’s new docu-series The American West details the stories of American legends like Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Sitting Bull, who factored heavily into the development of the country during the period between 1865 and 1890, the time frame the Robert Redford-produced miniseries covers.

The network couldn’t have chosen a person more passionate on the topic than actor and musician Kiefer Sutherland, who narrates several segments throughout the eight-part series.

Sutherland, the Young Gun whose iconic 24 character Jack Bauer is arguably the modern pop culture cowboy, talked to Yahoo TV about growing up in Canada and idolizing American Westerns; the very personal reasons why he loves the lifestyle of the American West; his rodeo days; how his next TV project, ABC’s buzzed-about drama Designated Survivor, has its own Western themes; and how his affinity for Westerns and great storytelling led him to his new career as a songwriter and singer (his debut album, Down in a Hole, will be released in July, and his first single, “Not Enough Whiskey,” is available now).

You recently starred in the Western Forsaken with your dad. You’ve done several other Western-themed projects. What draws you to this genre?I think there’s a kind of innocence that we perceive about the West. You were either good or you were bad. Certainly from a storytelling point of view, the American West has provided this incredibly vast canvas. Then the things that were dealt with in the West were perceived to be very simple: The West provided untold opportunity, and it was where men and women could survive by their wits and their strengths, or peril by their weaknesses. It kind of was the beginning of the personification of the American dream, that if you had the fortitude and courage to go forward, you could stake a claim and make a name for yourself. I think in a world that has become infinitely, or at least perceivably, more complicated, there’s something very refreshing about being able to tell a story that is seemingly that black and white, like many of the Westerns that I grew up loving, Shane, Red River … those stories were, in fact, that simple.
You talk in this Saturday’s episode of The American West about Jesse James and his gang. What are some of your favorite true-life Western tales?Certainly with Jesse James, you can go to a film like The Long Riders that explained from their point of view everything they had suffered through with regards to the Civil War, and that terrible divide in this country’s history, and their desire to live outside the fold. As a Canadian, I have to say it’s a very different perspective than I [had] growing up. Someone once tried to define how you would say Canadians are different than Americans. When you take a look at America, certainly in the late 1800s going into the early 1900s, into the industrial revolution, Americans growing up would buy the dime store novels of the American outlaw, whether that was Billy the Kid or Jesse James. There was a real outlaw spirit that helped define the American West. Having grown up in Canada, all of those dime store novels were about the Canadian Mountie. There was no Canadian revolution against the British. There was an American one. I think it was a way of articulating that American spirit and that American love of the people who go outside of what are maybe legal parameters to try and decide for themselves what they think is right or fair. Jesse James and the Youngers certainly fall into that category.
You’ve also competed on the rodeo circuit. You’re about to release your country music album. Is it fair to say that you have an affinity for the Western lifestyle?I do, for a variety of different reasons. I was a team roper and a calf roper, and the team roping was what I would compete in. My understanding of the rodeo is something that is very different than maybe someone from New York City who would watch it on television. I grew up with my mother, a single mom. She raised myself, my sister and my older brother really on her own. I am always amazed when I look back on how little money my mom had, how well fed we were. And when I started doing the rodeo, I realized through the history of the rodeo that there were farms and ranches in the West that would come together and help at very specific times, through hay baling in the summer seasons, branding, cattle delivery. They came and worked together because it was really the only way they could survive. One of the things the rodeo did, and how the rodeo was born, was you would have four or five ranchers come together, and they would do the brandings together. Then the cowboys in these impromptu competitions would show advancements they had made in learning how to break horses, learning how to rope, etc. At the heart of the rodeo, they were learning these skills.
The truth is that America figured out how to feed itself before any other large nation. I really attribute that to the skill of the American cowboy and ultimately translate it into my life in the early ‘70s that my mother, on a very, very little budget, could feed us meat in a way that really you couldn’t do in any other country. I really attribute that fact to the skills and know-how of everything that the American cowboy learned from the beginnings of the rodeo even up until now. Just for that reason alone, to kind of see that impact they had on a national level, working from a series of small ranches in Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, that’s pretty impressive to me. That was the beginning of that mattering to me...more 

Here's The American West trailer with Sutherland:

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