Donald Sutherland and Scotland: Looking back at the actor's Scottish roots and pride at his Scottish heritage

Donald Sutherland in Eye of the Needle - which was filmed on the island of Mull.Donald Sutherland in Eye of the Needle - which was filmed on the island of Mull.
Donald Sutherland in Eye of the Needle - which was filmed on the island of Mull. | Getty Images
The much-loved actor had a number of connections to Scotland - and had fond memories of the country.

With an acting career spanning five decades, Donald Sutherland - who died this week - was one of the Hollywood greats.

The towering Canadian starred in nearly 200 films and television programmes, making his name in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a string of hits including The Dirty Dozen, M*A*S*H, and Kelly's Heroes.

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He would continue to be a familiar face on both the big and small screen until his death - just last year saw him star as Judge Isaac C. Parker in television western Lawmen: Bass Reeves.

His commitment to seeking out new and interesting roles meant that he connected with generation after generation - his part as President Coriolanus Snow in the Hunger Games franchise the latest to win a new army of young fans.

His son, Kiefer Sutherland, followed his father into the acting business and has been similarly successful, starring in hit films such as The Lost Boys and Young Guns and era-defining television shows like 24.

Yesterday he paid tribute to his father saying: “With a heavy heart, I tell you that my father, Donald Sutherland, has passed away. I personally think one of the most important actors in the history of film/ Never daunted by a role, good, bad or ugly. He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived.”

What many people don’t know about Sutherland, however, is that he had a number of links to Scotland.

Here are his Scottish links, and what he’s said about the country.

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What was Donald Sutherland’s Scottish ancestry?

Donald Sutherlad was born in 1935 inthe Canadian city of Saint John, New Brunswick, but his family have Scottish roots.

His grandfather was a Scots church minister and he has previously spoken about his pride at his Scottish ancestors, saying: “We are descended from Peter Sutherland who came over from ­Scotland in the 1770s to fight in the Revolutionary War”.

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How did Donald Sutherland get his first acting break in Scotland?

After deciding he wanted to be a professional actor, Donald Sutherland left Canada to travel to London in 1957, where he studied at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He didn’t last a year in the institution and abandoned his studies to head north to Scotland where he spent a happy 18 months serving an acting apprenticeship at Perth Repertory Theatre.

His first role was playing Heracles in The Rape of the Bell by Benn Levy and he spoke about the experience in a 2011 interview with the Daily Record, saying: ““Here is a very nice moment and I don’t want to go anywhere. One time when I came on stage, I hit my foot and tore off my big toe nail. But I didn't feel a thing till I walked off stage and I screamed. Then I went back on stage and again I felt nothing because the adrenalin was pumping."

He added: I was grateful for the time I spent at Perth Theatre. It was my first real acting job and it gave me real confidence and security. It was the first theatre I ever played where the audience actually laughed when I was being funny.”

He was paid the grand sum of £8 a week by the Rep, and took some time to get used to the notorious Scottish weather, saying: “Canadians are used to cold but in Scotland they didn’t build for cold. I’d a two-room cottage near Bell’s distillery and I’d wake up covered with frost.”

He shared the accomodation with first wife Lois Hardwick, fellow-actor Michael Sheard and his girlfriend.

Sheard, who would himself became a successful actor with roles in everything from Grange Hill to Doctor Who, wrote about Sutherland in his autobiography, saying: ““I have a good claim, incidentally, to being the catalyst which set Donald Sutherland on the road to mega stardom. Later on in that season at Perth we did a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts. Don desperately wanted to play the lead part of Oswald, but they gave it to me. As a result Don left Perth Rep in a huff and walked straight into a film career, starting with Hammer Horrors and followed very shortly by The Dirty Dozen!”

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Where did Donald Sutherland eat his favourite fish and chips?

During his time with the Perth Repertory Theatre, Donald Sutherland toured several Scottish towns with roles in a variety of plays, inclding stops in Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Arbroath.

It was in the latter town that he made a great culinary discovery, explaining: “The best fish and chips come from Arbroath. The best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.”

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What Donald Sutherland movie was filmed in Scotland?

Donald Sutherland retuned to Scotland in 1980 to film The Eye of the Needle.

The World War II film is about a German Nazi spy who discovers vital information about the upcoming D-Day invasion. He is trying to get back to Germany but finds himself stranded with a local family on the isolated Storm Island, off the coast of Scotland.

Filming took place on the island of Mull and Sutherland later revealed in an interview that he was so good in the role that it caused some concern, explaining: “When I made the Eye of the Needle and the woman next door saw it, she came and found my wife in the kitchen and said, ‘How can you live with him?’”



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