I’m looking forward to seeing how Touch does with audiences when the Fox show premieres officially on March19, 2012. After eight seasons of watching Kiefer Sutherland kick terrorist tush on 24, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see him as any other character. But after watching the pilot for Touch, I’m willing to give it a try.
Sutherland stars as Martin Bohm, a New York blue collar worker whose wife died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He’s a single dad, raising his 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz), who narrates much of the pilot episode, even though he hasn’t spoken a word his entire life. Jake is also obsessed with numbers and cell phones, and while he seems autistic, both Sutherland and series creator Tim Kring (who helmed Heroes) say he is not.
According to professor Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), Jake is one of those people who possess amazing gifts when it comes to figuring out patterns and connections. This gift also serves to connect Jake with his dad, who uses the information to thwart potentially harmful events from happening.
I recently caught up with Sutherland, who revealed that he wasn’t completely ready to return to television.
At what point did you connect with the character of Martin and know this was a story you wanted to tell?
I was doing a play in New York on Broadway, and I had a film I was going to do, so I read Touch almost reluctantly. I wasn’t completely ready to go back to television yet. I was enjoying some of the different opportunities I had. But I think it was around page 30 where I just knew I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity that Touch was.
And I identified with Martin right out of the gate. There was something interesting, because obviously, this is very different than 24, yet there’s a similar kind of character. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day, and he would never win completely, and this guy is never going to win either. He’s never going to have that quintessential father-son relationship.
And yet he perseveres, and I identified with him as a parent not knowing what to do all the time. During [ex-wife] Camelia’s pregnancy … for nine months I had these fantasies of how I was going to be the greatest dad on the planet. And then Sarah was born, and a kind of fear came over me like none I’ve ever had in my life. I was confronted with the fact that I really didn’t know what I was doing, and I was going to have to figure it out as I went.
So do you think everything is connected, and we’re just not smart enough to piece it together?
I absolutely think it is. Can one focus on every single moment of their life in this way? No, of course not, but even something as simple as someone who’s late for a bus one day … all of a sudden they’re not on the bus, and they’re taking up space somewhere else. Maybe they’re in a taxi, and that affects the taxi driver’s life. So yes, I do believe there’s a ripple effect upon everything we do, and it has positive consequences and negative consequences.
You mentioned loving the script, but were there other things that brought you back to television?
A combination of things. I had an unbelievable experience on 24. We shot 198 episodes, and I was as excited about shooting the 198th as I was the first. And I had a great relationship with Fox, both the studio and the network, so that, combined with this script … it wasn’t even really a choice anymore. It was something I knew I had to do.
And I remember thinking about it really strongly when I was crossing the street in New York. I said to Susan, a person I work with … if we don’t do this, how are we going to feel in September watching it and knowing its potential? That answered my question for me. I didn’t want to be sitting there watching this fantastic show if I’d had the opportunity to be a part of it.
For people who are used to seeing you as Jack Bauer on 24, how do you convince them to give Touch a look?
I don’t know if there is convincing. Ultimately, almost in the way that 24 started, people might be interested because they’re a fan of Tim Kring or mine or maybe they liked the Touch trailer. They’ll watch it and tell friends about it, and we have to rely on that.
For me, personally, I feel that there’s a great deal of suspense within the context of the show, not knowing what the numbers are and the narrative where the audience knows more than the lead character. So even though we’re not blowing things up, there’s enough excitement that people who enjoyed 24 won’t be thrown by it.
How do you categorize the show? Do you see it as a drama, science fiction, paranormal fiction … ?
I’ve always looked at it as a drama. We’re embarking on the journey of a father trying to connect with his son and trying to have as normal a relationship as he can under the circumstances. That will always be at the heart of the show, but there are also elements of science fiction, thriller and suspense.
There’s always that possibility. I’ve conveyed to Tim Kring that my father is someone who I’d very much like to work with. We don’t have a script or a story, but it’s certainly open.
And Touch is a procedural show. Unlike 24 and Heroes, which were serialized shows, these episodes will have a beginning, a middle and an end. But that doesn’t preclude a character you’ve seen in one episode coming back five episodes down the line. We have, in fact, done that, but I don’t want to say who.
There also might be background characters in one episode that will come to the forefront in another episode, but that doesn’t stop each episode from being its own complete little entity. That’s something Tim Kring has done a beautiful job of weaving in and out.
Talk a little about working with David Mazouz and forming an on-screen bond with his character when he doesn’t talk. What’s that like?
He’s an amazing young actor and an amazing young man. He does something that’s really impossible to teach an actor to do. He has very limited physical response to anything that I do. He doesn’t talk, and yet I can feel his presence even if he’s not looking at me. I can always sense that he’s listening, and I think that comes across to the viewer, as well. That’s a real gift.
He was the first boy out of about 25 young people that I read with, and I remember thinking, wow, this kid is amazing. If the other kids are going to be like this, we’re going to find an amazing kid. After I’d read with about 30 kids, I was finally like, ‘would you guys please just hire the first kid?’ All the kids were fantastic, but there was something really special with David.
He works a lot of hours with us, and I’ve just been completely amazed by how focused and attentive he is. I think that’s a big thing. He’s not being made to do this. He really enjoys it, and he’s very curious about how to get better. I really love working with him.
What can you say about Martin’s journey in the first season?
At the beginning of the story, we discover Martin has a son named Jake, who we realize has been misdiagnosed with severe autism. In fact, he’s just a truly evolved human being that is years beyond where my character and where our society is. In an effort to communicate with my son, I discover he has this unbelievable skill set that allows him to interpret numbers and symbols in a way that explains our past and, to some degree, predicts our future.
The story is based on a Chinese fable called The Red Thread, which is basically a red thread looped loosely around the ankles of all the people that are supposed to come in contact with each other over the course of a lifetime. This thread can stretch and it can bend, but it cannot break. Somehow in our society, we’ve broken this, and my son is taking me on a journey to try and put the thread back together.
Who are some of the other characters Martin connects with?
Certainly, Danny Glover, who explains his son’s condition to him. And Gugu [Mbatha-Raw], who plays the worker at Child Services who’s managing Jake’s case. Those are people that will be very important. There’s also Martin’s wife, who was killed on the terrible day of 9/11, and even though she’s not with us, he speaks a lot to her. And I think a lot is going to be between Jake and his father. Martin starts to be able to read a lot of Jake’s physicality and understand what that is, and the audience does, as well.
Loneliness is a tricky thing to play, because I don’t want people feeling sorry for Martin. Yet I want them to understand that the more he’s able to communicate with his son, the more enlightened and enriched his life will be. He might be able to move past some of the pain he’s experienced from the loss of his wife and his son’s condition.
These are all real subtle narratives to play. They’re not actually written. They’re tonal qualities, and that’s something I’m trying to focus on with Martin. It’s also something I learned how to do better through my experience on 24. A lot of the things I learned were trying to focus on small changes within Jack Bauer, whether it was from season to season or over the course of one of those days.
What I learned in that process is something I’m trying to bring to Martin, that there’s more going on than what’s written on the page or what one scene might require. There are through-lines within the context of the character that are going from episode to episode. If we’re lucky enough to do multiple seasons, we’ll connect those, as well. So that’s really an extension of a technique I hadn’t focused on before my experience on 24. Touch is a perfect kind of show, and Martin is a perfect character to try and weave those things in.