Kiefer Sutherland brings his touch back to TV in FOX’s “Touch”

After eight seasons of kicking terrorist ass as Jack Bauer on FOX’s hit series 24, Kiefer Sutherland is back on the network in a new series, playing a character with a different kind of toughness, and with certainly a different sort of struggle on his hands.

“My character’s fight is really with Child Services,” Sutherland told a group of reporters recently at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, “who is trying to take his son away from him.”

In Touch, created by Tim Kring (Heroes), which airs in a special preview tonight (Jan. 25) at 9pm ET/PT before making its series premiere March 22, Sutherland plays Martin Bohm, a widower and single father who is haunted by an inability to connect with his emotionally challenged 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz). Gugu Mbatha-Raw (of the short-lived Undercovers) plays social worker Clea Hopkins, who believes that Jake’s needs are too serious for Martin to handle, and that Martin’s life has become dominated by a child he can no longer control.

“In an effort to communicate with his son,” Sutherland further explained, “he starts to isolate numbers, and my character starts to figure out very quickly what he’s trying to explain.”

Martin finds this out in the pilot episode, when he meets a professor (Danny Glover), who tells Martin that Jake possesses the ability to perceive the seemingly hidden patterns that connect all life on the planet. Martin realizes that it’s his job to decipher the numbers that Jake is using to try to communicate, and as he puts the pieces together, he will help people across the world connect as their lives intersect according to the patterns Jake has foreseen. Through the episodes, we meet various characters whose lives intersect in various, fascinating ways that might normally be labeled as “coincidence,” but — at least in the universe of this series — have an underlying pattern.

“For instance,” said Sutherland, “if the number ‘222’ comes up, which is in an episode that we’re working on right now, I will walk out of the building that I’m in, I will go to the grocery store, I will be getting my groceries, I will see a taxicab and I will just be aware of that number because he’s given it to me. And I will see that taxicab’s number is 222, the one I’m trying to get into. And I realize I’m supposed to be in that taxicab, and I have to wait to see what happens. What’s ironic, or funny, at moments, is where I’m waiting for something to happen — I know something’s going to happen — but I might be looking at the wrong person.”

From the pilot, it is evident that Martin has a similar toughness to Sutherland’s memorable Jack Bauer character, at least mentally, especially when it comes to his passionate efforts to break through to his son.

“[Martin]’s got an unbelievable perseverance,” said Sutherland. “And I think any person — especially a single parent, but any person who’s dealing with a child with special needs — is going to require that. People who I have known who have been in that situation, their strength is unbelievable.”

Martin may not have the physical strength that Jack Bauer had. In fact, in the pilot, there is a scene where Martin basically gets his ass kicked at a gas station, when Jack Bauer would have had the assailant for lunch.

“Doing that scene made me smile,” admitted Sutherland, as he realized the character change, “but it’s not part of the criteria why I chose, ultimately, to do this. And I think [Jack and Martin] are two very, very different entities.”

In choosing to play Martin Bohm, Sutherland admitted that it was nice to have a chance to play a different sort of character from Jack Bauer, but made clear that that was not the primary reason he took the part. [In fact, he will not be getting away from 24 completely; he told us that filming on the 24 movie should begin in late April or early May, and that he is “very, very excited” about the script they have, which is “relatively a direct continuation” of the series, picking up about six months after the final episode.]

“The opportunity that I had in 24 to have to repress all of this stuff and carry that with me informed the character beautifully for me. To be able to have the antithesis of that and this opportunity now, where [Martin] can openly show and have an emotional reaction to what is actually happening at this exact moment, is another fantastic opportunity. … The real choice to do this was not because I wanted to get away from 24. The reason why I could not turn [Touch] down was because it spoke to me on a really profound level.

“I think Tim said one of the nicest things I’ve heard in a long time. We were just talking about kind of getting older, and he had kind of talked about Touch and said, ‘You know, at some point, you start to realize you have to be responsible for what you are going to say.’ And if there was anything I wanted to be a part of saying, it was kind of this beautiful idea of interconnectivity and this responsibility that we have to each other as a people, as a race, and to this planet.”

And has working on Touch made Sutherland more aware of the possible hidden connections and patterns around him?

“I think I’ve been relatively astute about that, in all fairness,” he said, “which is one of the reasons I think the show affected me the way it did. Like now, I’m more aware of — instead of saying, ‘Ooh, that was lucky’ — maybe thinking about it a little more and realizing maybe it wasn’t that lucky. Almost every great thing that’s ever happened to me in my life, I will find out 10 years later that someone had made a phone call to someone and had been really great on my behalf, and I’d rather not wait 10 years to find that out. I think about it in a different way.”


Top photo: © 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Richard Foreman/FOX

Bottom photo: © 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Brian Bowen Smith/FOX