Exclusive Interview with David Sutcliffe

SutcliffePicDavid Sutcliffe, who was most recently seen in TNT’s Proof, was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and grew up in Grimsby and St. Catharines, Ontario.

His childhood and teen years were spent dedicated to sports. He began acting while attending the University of Toronto when a lower-back injury forced him to quit the varsity basketball team.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1998 and has since made a name for himself with roles in such shows as Gilmore Girls, Private Practice, and Cracked.

Keep reading to see what he had to say when we had the chance to talk to him this week.

What are your plans now that your show [Proof] is canceled? 

“That’s a good question. I mean, I just found out a couple of days ago. I think that everybody thought that might be possible so it didn’t come as an enormous surprise and I’ve been through this before many times. It’s just kind of a part of the business. So, you know…to be honest, it gets easier and easier. I think the saddest part and the hardest part is that you create these little families and you fall in love with everybody and it’s like, a relationship, and all of a sudden the relationship’s over. You stay friends with people but it’s not the same as going to work with people every day that you love and admire and respect. So when that’s taken away, that’s the hardest part of it. And also, you know, you buy in, right? You give all your energy to the show and you believe in it and so, you know, that’s the hardest part. But, you know, I’m working on a movie right now. I’ve got all kinds of stuff going on, so I’m not too worried about it. But yeah, I’ll be looking for the next thing. I don’t know what that’s gonna be exactly, but, you know, I’ve managed to stay afloat in this industry for a – “

A long time.

“A long time! I know! I’m a veteran! A survivor!”

A survivor, yes!

“I’m very proud of that.”

I know! You should be! So what’s the movie you’re working on? Is there anything you can tell us?

“Yeah! Definitely. The movie’s name is Milton’s Secret. It’s based on a novel, sort of a kids’ book, that was co-written by Eckhart Tolle, the well-known spiritual author who wrote The Power of Now and A New Earth. You’ve probably seen him on Oprah and other things. But he wrote this book with this co-writer whose name I’m blanking on, but it’s a kids’ book and it’s a narrative story about a kid who’s getting bullied at school and his parents are fighting and having economic problems. It’s just a big kind of crisis in his life. And his grandfather, who was a war veteran, comes to visit and he sort of becomes this sort of spiritual guru guy. That grandfather is played by Donald Sutherland. He sort of teaches the kid how to manage life in a kind of philosophical way. How to stay present. How to stay in the now and the kid uses the lessons he learns from his grandfather to deal with his issues with school and the issues with his parents. So it’s a nice feel-good, family movie.”

It seems like your last couple projects have had that spiritual aspect to them. Is that something that appeals to you? 

“I’m definitely, definitely drawn to that. I have a real interest in psychology and spirituality. You know, I’m somebody who’s spent a lot of time in self-exploration in a lot of different ways, whether it’s in therapy, group therapy, and also meditation. I have a real interest and passion about this kind of stuff. I don’t know if I find those projects or if those projects find me, but somehow we find each other. I’m drawn to that. I mean, obviously, Milton’s Secret and Proof are two totally different kinds of things, but there is a connectedness there that interests me. Sure.”

You’ve also seemed to play a lot of doctors and detectives. Has that been on purpose? 

“Well, I think, you know…I hadn’t really played a cop, like, ever until a few years ago with a Canadian series on CBC called Cracked. Yeah, I’d always thought that I’d play a cop because I grew up kind of a jock. Not that I was a tough guy, but I related to that mentality. That cop mentality. Sort of the macho environment that’s involved with the cop world. I mean, the sports world. I related to it. I never would have been able to predict getting cast more in, you know, (chuckles) romantic comedy projects or sitcoms or things like Gilmore Girls. It just kind of went that way. That was sort of a surprise to me. But I have some kind of knack for it, I guess.”

The ex who wants to get back together…

“Yeah. There are some ways in which you get a little bit typecast. Which is fine by me. I was just happy to be working and I got to do a lot of interesting things and work with some great people. But it was a surprise to me. So it was nice to finally play a cop. Which, actually, that character I feel kind of close to. That macho kind of tough guy. There’s a part of me that really relates to that. Because, especially when I was playing sports. You know, typical Canadian, nice guy off the ice but on the ice a complete animal. So it was fun to let that part of my personality come out through this character on Cracked, who was also struggling from some mental illness issues and PTSD. It was just a great character to play and try to explore.”

What type of acting style do you have? 

“I’m definitely not method.”

How do you get into a role, then? 

“That’s a good question (laughs). I don’t exactly know how it happens really. Maybe I am method and I just don’t know it. Like, I think usually what happens is once…I think the creative process in general is – it happens some way on its own. When I get a new script or a new role, I start reading it and I start thinking about it and, in a way, I trust that my subconscious will sort of take over. I’ll notice that I get a different sort of tension in my body. I start to walk a little different, cop a different attitude. Like something happens to me physically, I notice, and usually the first day or two of it, I’m just going, ‘What’s going on? I feel weird, I feel grumpy, I feel sick, I feel bad. I feel, I feel SOMETHING,’ and I can’t quite pinpoint why. Then I start realizing, ‘Oh, I’m about to start shooting this thing in a week,’ and I think that in some way I’m getting ready for it. I’m getting ready to put on this suit of this other person and walk in their shoes for however long. And then I do whatever preparation I need depending on the role. So if I’m playing a cop, I’ll try to understand a little bit about their mentality and how they work and I spent a lot of time around cops before I started shooting Cracked.

Normally I kind of just show up on set and try to stay as present as I can with my scene partner and trust that whatever is gonna happen is gonna be ok, and just surrender to the moment. Because, you can plan in your head how you want to do it, but once you actually get to the set and the other actor has ideas, the director has ideas. There’s the director of photography that’s gonna impose some limitations. The writers are there, the producers…I mean, there’s all kinds of things going into it, so I try to stay as open as I can to whatever the scene wants to be. And then once that is set, just try to connect with the person I’m working with and be as alive and present and grounded as I can be. I try to pay close attention to the story that we’re telling as a group. Also the story that I’m telling from my character’s point of view, which, I think, is the most important aspect of being an actor. To understand that, fundamentally, you’re a storyteller. You need to communicate that story to the audience in as clear a way as possible. Hopefully with nuance and depth.”

So do you think that getting into a character’s head like that, walking in their shoes, gives you kind of a unique ability to empathize with other people or see things from their point of view?

“Yeah, I think so. I think you have to have compassion for your characters. You have to love them. You have to see the goodness in them. Even if you’re playing an evil person. An evil person generally, probably doesn’t think that they’re evil. Or, even if they’ve gone evil and they know it, there’s a good place inside them. They didn’t start out that way. At least that’s what I believe. So I always try to find the goodness in the characters. I have a lot of sympathy and understanding and compassion for them. Actually, I think that’s also a huge part of the job. Because you want to let the audience in to what it is you’re doing. You want them to feel you, to connect with you in that place, and to relate to you there.

I think all of us have aspects of ourselves that are good and bad. We all do things that are, you know…we can all be mean and cruel and make mistakes and hurt other people’s feelings. We’re all capable of that, but I also think that most people are trying to be good people so I think you’re trying to show the complexity of human beings and do it in a way that…you’re job is to feel things that the audience is unable or unwilling to feel in and of themselves. You can only do that if you have a lot of compassion for the people. Or at least, that’s how I approach it.”

So if you weren’t an actor, what kind of a career do you think you’d have?

“If I wasn’t an actor? Well, you know, I have another career. I’m a chondrogenic practitioner. It’s like a body psychotherapy. I trained in that for four years, actually. I kind of took a bit of a hiatus from my career [in acting]. I mean, I worked a little bit, but I kind of put it on the back burner for a while. So basically, I facilitate workshops and group – it’s a very intensive form of group therapy – and I love it. It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s creative, it’s alive, it’s beautiful. So, I mean, I’d probably just be doing more of that. It’s a lot of fun to lead groups of people. To facilitate them in some way. Try to create things together. Or be a producer or director, which I still have plans to do.”

What kinds of things would you like to produce or direct? 

“Well, I did produce a documentary web-series called Group, which is a series about a one week group therapy retreat that you can see online. And it’s sort of, you know, a version of a reality show. Twenty people who go off to this retreat center in California and kind of go crazy for a week and learn a lot about themselves and about each other. It’s a really beautiful documentary, I think. Really interesting and profound. I’d like to do more stuff like that. I’d like to do more documentaries, reality shows – but not exploitive, sensational kind of reality shows. There are a lot of shows that are really more like a docu-series. I’d like to do more stuff like that. And really narrative stuff as well.”

As far as acting, what would your dream role be? 

“When I was younger I would have said Hamlet or something like that. Right now I don’t really have…like, there’s nothing on the horizon that I look at and say, ‘Oh, I really, really want to do that.’ For me, acting has become…it’s like my job. The way a carpenter or a plumber or an electrician. I take a lot of pride in it. I try to be a good craftsman. I try to bring as much passion to it as possible, but my ambition around it isn’t the same as it was when I was younger. I have a different ambition now. A lot of my creativity comes through the work I do in chondrogenics and that’s sort of what my passion is. So, you know, you asked me what my dream was and I’d like to really do workshops and more of that kind of stuff. I’d like to do a TV version of my web-series. That’s really what’s on my radar more than playing King Lear or something in ten years.”     


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