Grownups know Donald Sutherland, 82, from M.A.S.H. and Klute, and kids love his evil President Snow in The Hunger Games. He’s a Hollywood patriarch whose five kids all work in show biz (son Kiefer on Designated Survivor and granddaughter Sarah as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ daughter on Veep). No wonder he was drawn to playing oil patriarch J. Paul Getty in Trust (premiering March 25 on FX), about the 1973 kidnapping of his teen grandson, John Paul Getty III, played by Harris Dickinson.
Do you have anything in common with the oil baron Getty, once the richest man in the world?
He liked numbers. I like numbers.
J. Paul Getty is the opposite of your sensitive dad in 1980's Oscar-winning family tragedy Ordinary People.
That movie meant a lot to a lot of people. People stop me on the street to say, “Thank you. I called my mother, I called my father, I called my brother.” They’ll talk about depression, about loss.
Did you keep in touch with Mary Tyler Moore, who played your wife in Ordinary People?
I did, yeah. Toward the end, I spoke mostly with and through her husband, because she was deaf and then blind. I would write to her.
You play a scarier father figure in Trust. The elder Getty had a harem, a pet lion, a reputation for excess and eccentricity. Was he mentally ill or just corrupted by money?
He was absolutely not mentally ill. He had an extraordinary intellect, was a great linguist. But the fact that his children had a huge fortune waiting for them when he died — and didn’t work, didn't think intelligently, didn’t have the instinct to negotiate — was just such a disappointment.