Donald Sutherland is a prolific Canadian actor known for his performances in films like MAS*H, Klute, Don’t Look Now, Ordinary People, JFK, and the Hunger Games series.
While he has had a successful decades-long career and earned considerable critical acclaim, Sutherland has also garnered a reputation among some for being difficult to work with.
This article explores the polarizing views on the actor and the potential reasons behind why some people harbor negativity or hatred towards him.
Reputation as Being “Difficult”
One of the most oft-cited reasons why Sutherland rubs some people the wrong way is his reputation, deserved or not, for being “difficult.” Across his long career, stories have emerged painting him as egocentric, demanding, overly serious and intense. For example:
- On the set of Kelly’s Heroes in 1970, it’s been said Sutherland refused to work due to the cold weather conditions and butted heads with director Brian G. Hutton. Tensions reportedly escalated until a physical fight broke out between the two.
- While filming Max Dugan Returns in 1983, Sutherland was labeled “impossible” by co-star Jason Robards. Stories emerged of angry tirades from Sutherland that brought actress Marsha Mason to tears.
- Director John Schlesinger once called him a “fascist pig” after conflicts on the set of the 1969 film Downhill Racer.
While these stories contribute to his reputation for being “difficult,” supporters of Sutherland argue he is simply a consummate professional who takes his work very seriously and strives for quality in his productions. This intensity could rub some people the wrong way.
Perceived Left-Wing Politics
Sutherland has been outspoken over the years about his left-leaning political views. He has regularly spoken out against right-wing politicians and policies that conflict with his liberal positions. Some examples:
- He has been highly critical of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, once even saying he wished Reagan would die early in office.
- In a 2017 interview, he openly admitted hoping President Donald Trump would die or be assassinated while in office.
- He has passionately advocated for issues like environmentalism, Democratic socialism, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality and more.
Sutherland’s strong and occasionally inflammatory liberal political stances likely alienate some with more conservative views. His intensity on these topics may strike some as extreme or close-minded, sparking resentment in opposition.
Sutherland’s Political Positions
|Gender & LGBTQ Equality
|Social welfare policies
Nepotism Benefits & Elite Upbringing
As the son of famous Canadian actor Tommy Douglas, some critics dismiss Sutherland as the beneficiary of Hollywood nepotism who would not have achieved such success without his family connections.
Sutherland also grew up attending elite private boarding schools in Toronto before pursuing acting. Some perceive his upper-class upbringing and domestic privilege as disconnecting him from average people and their struggles.
This combination of nepotism and elite upbringing may provoke envy or resentment from some. It also enables ad hominem attacks on his personality and politics unrelated to his acting merits.
Romantic Relationship Controversies
Throughout his many decades in the spotlight, Sutherland has also landed in some controversies for his romantic relationships involving younger women:
- In the late 1970s, he began a relationship with Joan Washington, who he met on the set of the film Clandestine. She was 19 years his junior at the time.
- In the 1990s he left Washington, his wife of 20 years, for actress Francine Racette, who was also nearly 20 years younger. The divorced caused tension with his children.
- During filming of Forsaken in 2014, rumors swirled about a blossoming affair between the then 78-year old actor and his 21-year old co-star Demi Moore. Moore later denied the rumors.
While age gaps alone do not make such relationships unethical, falling into the trope of older male celebrity with a succession of younger girlfriends can undermine likeability and spur some degree of judgment.
Personality and Work Resentments
Beyond political disagreements, nepotism complaints or relationship judgments, some crew, co-stars and directors may carry basic personality clashes or work habit gripes against Sutherland for more personal reasons:
- His intensity and serious attitude on set
- Extreme perfectionism and retake demands
- Flaring temper
- Tendency to isolate himself from team bonding
- Failure to compromise
- Self-described struggle with basic human politeness
These traits that have brought Sutherland professional success can also foster work stress, miscommunication, and resentment from those around him.
Does Donald Sutherland deserve his difficult reputation?
The reputation Donald Sutherland has garnered for being “difficult” is clearly well-documented from numerous anecdotes and run-ins described by co-stars and directors over his long career. However, Sutherland’s supporters argue his serious approach reflects the dedication of a passionate professional focused intensely on the quality of his productions.
Every workspace has tensions and conflicts. So while some degree of interpersonal strain with intense performers like Sutherland is expected, the volume of anecdotes involving blowups, tears and tensions on his sets suggest more beyond typical work conflicts.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to ascertain the exact truth of closed film sets from decades-old brief media gossip reports. Judging any person’s character definitively from rumors alone remains ill-advised without context.
There is likely fault on both sides – Sutherland’s intensity may exacerbate reactions as well as be partly justified responding to real production concerns. Most workplace conflicts contain shades of gray. So while Sutherland’s reputation does not seem wholly undeserved, its severity and origins remain far from definitive.
Should actors’ political opinions impact perceptions of their work?
Donald Sutherland holds clearly defined and strong leftist political opinions he does not hesitate to share publicly. However, should fans judge his over 200 acting roles spanning 60 years based on agreement or disagreement with his politics?
Most actors appearing on both TV and film bring their entire personas – including their opinions, beliefs and lifestyles – before the viewing public when starring. This visibility invites criticism along all angles beyond just performance capacity.
Yet some argue judging say, Sutherland’s performance in Ordinary People or his role as President Snow based on liberal policy disagreements risks unfairly mixing performance with ideology. Great actors throughout Hollywood history have spanned the political spectrum.
Ultimately Sutherland’s public political advocacy does open him to both praise and criticism from fans holding alternate views. Whether ideological disagreement should impair judging acting talent remains an individual decision. But better discernment recognizes judging roles need not mandate endorsing advocate.
What impact could nepotism have had on Donald Sutherland’s success?
As mentioned, resentment towards Donald Sutherland rests partly in perceptions he owes his opportunities primarily to Hollywood family connections as Tommy Douglas’ son rather than self-made acting skill.
The truth likely involves shades of gray – both talent and luck from his family heritage opened doors early. But no volume of nepotism alone sustains careers at Sutherland’s elite level for over five decades. At some point, genuine skill becomes mandatory to avoid washing out of the highly competitive acting world regardless of origin.
Most successful entertainment industry figures, including megastars like Kate Hudson, Jaden Smith or Michael Douglas, inherited initial access others lack through famous parents. Not all capitalize. So while resentment over nepotism openings remains somewhat understandable, Sutherland’s career volume defies luck alone explaining his vast success.
His talent plays an immeasurable but likely substantial role. How substantial remains appropriately debatable given his head start. Yet closing in on nine decades of prolific success makes self-evident nepotism cannot play more than a partial role in the full equation of Donald Sutherland’s staying power.
Sutherland’s Acting Skill Made Evident By Awards Nominations
While resentment over his family privilege exists in some corners, Donald Sutherland’s vast acting skill shines through in his numerous major awards and nominations over his long career:
- 2 Academy Award Nominations – Ordinary People (1980); Cold Mountain (2003)
- 1 BAFTA Nomination – Citizen X (1995)
- 1 Golden Globe Win – Citizen X (Best Supporting Actor – 1995)
- 7 Golden Globe Nominations
- 2 Primetime Emmy Nominations