Photography: Vera Anderson | Getty Images

This interview was originally published in 2011. Donald Sutherland was known for his roles in M*A*S*H film to The Hunger Games. Throughout his long career, which spanned over 50 years, he appeared in over 200 films at TV shows. Following the Canadian actor’s death on June 20, aged 88, we revisit his ‘What I’ve Learned’ interview with Esquire.

The United States would have been a lot better off if Benjamin Franklin had had his way and the national bird had become the wild turkey. It’s just a different kind of emblem than the eagle.

Getting old is like having a new profession, except it’s not a profession of your own choosing.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a sexual involvement without love. I’ve never had a one-night stand. Though I was fascinated by Richard Burton saying that living with Elizabeth Taylor was like having a one-night stand every night.

Mendacious people, you’ve got to see their eyes.

Anyone who’s in a coma, talk to them. Because they can hear you.

The first word I said was neck. My mother turned around and said, “What did he say?” My sister said, “He said, ‘Neck.’ ” My neck was killing me. That was a sign of polio. One leg’s a little shorter, but I survived.

I don’t get impressed. I admire. I love. But I do not get impressed. It’s a fault.

My ass was in Animal House. John Landis said he filmed it only for the rushes. He promised my wife that he wouldn’t put it in the film. But he did put it in the film — and my wife never spoke to him again.

If you go back and look at what Obama’s done — it’s not as much as he wanted. But shit … it’s really something. It’s more than anybody else has done for fifty years.

During the sixties, my wife at the time was arrested for buying hand grenades, which was one reason I would be audited.

America has had an awful lot of wars since 1945. Since then, there’s been only a matter of months when America hasn’t been engaged in some kind of conflict or another.

When a soldier walks through an airport and I’m sitting in a seat, I don’t give a shit that I’m seventy-six. I stand up for that brother and give him my seat.

Having a near-death experience prevents you from going into a deep sleep ever again.

Tiger had an easy life and a very hard life. A child prodigy — going through all that crap to please his father. Suffering through all the dilemmas, the contradictions. He made himself an angel, only he wasn’t an angel. Then came the humiliation of that angelic persona being shattered in front of him, shattered by a woman with a 3-iron, and suddenly he’s cast out in the desert. And he can’t play golf. It’s not because he can’t play golf. It’s because he’s no longer the person who can play golf.

I haven’t found anything hard about being an actor except rejection, and I don’t even find that so hard.

You know Whistler? The American painter? A great, great, great, great wit. Truly wonderful. A genius. He said something very funny around Oscar Wilde. And Wilde said, “God, I wish I’d said that.” And Whistler said, “You will, Oscar.”

It’s ludicrous, with the way our life span works, that people retire before seventy or seventy-five.

My children are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful people. They’ve taught me humility, pride, and fear.

There was this politician in Canada, his name was Tommy Douglas. While he was campaigning, someone yelled at him, “Tell us all you know, Tommy. It won’t take very long.” And Tommy yelled back, “I’ll tell you what we both know, it won’t take any longer.”

It’s interesting how many good writers have really good women surrounding them.

Joyce was blind and near death when he was being interviewed in Switzerland. The interviewer said of his wife, Nora, “She’s been your secretary, your housekeeper, your editor, your muse, your guide, and now she’s your eyes. What do you have to say about that extraordinary intimacy?” And Joyce said, “I would know my wife’s fart in a room full of farts.”

Talk about the power of story. I remember going up to the theater in New York at eleven o’clock in the morning on the first day M*A*S*H opened. These were the days before advertising, and the only word of mouth was from one screening in San Francisco two months earlier. We went to the theater early to see if it was going to sell any tickets. The line was twice around the block.

I don’t think as forward as next year. Goodness, you’re a very brave man.

The spirit of mankind is not going to help me through my death. My death is a lonely little journey that I’ll take myself.

You know Dalton Trumbo? He wrote Johnny Got His Gun. He was one of the blacklisted writers. Spent time in prison. Lost everything. Got everything back. Wonderful fellow. The last thing he said to me was “Don’t forget to be happy.”


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