We are all interconnected. Our lives are invisibly tied to those whose destinies touch ours.
This is the hopeful premise of the new drama TOUCH from creator and writer Tim Kring (“Heroes,”).
Blending science, spirituality and emotion, the series will follow seemingly unrelated people all over the world whose lives affect each other in ways seen and unseen, known and unknown. At the story’s center is MARTIN BOHM (Kiefer Sutherland), a widower and single father, haunted by an inability to connect to his emotionally challenged 11-year-old son, JAKE (David Mazouz). Caring, intelligent and thoughtful, Martin has tried everything to reach his son.
We spoke with Kiefer about the show and jumping back into television so soon after the end of Fox other hit show, 24...
SHAKEFIRE: In the first ten minutes I felt an emotional connection already. So what I’m wondering is at what point did you connect with your character and just know that this was a story that you wanted to tell and be a part of?
KEIFER SUTHERLAND: It was funny. I was doing a play in New York on Broadway. I had a film that I knew I was going to go do and so I read Touch almost reluctantly. I don’t think I was completely ready to go back to television yet. I was enjoying some of the different opportunities that I had had. I think it was around page 30, I remember going, “Oh, shit” or I guess something you could print, ..., which I just knew I would be so remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity that Touch was.
I identified with him out of the gate. There was something interesting because obviously this is very different than 24. Yet there is a real similar through line in the kind of character of the man. Jack Bauer would be faced with unbelievable circumstances in the course of a day and he would never win completely.
SF: No, he wouldn’t and you’d almost fell sorry for him and keep hoping for the next day to be better.
KS: Better, yes, and this guy is never going to win either. He’s never going to have the quintessential relationship of a father and a son. And yet he perseveres and that’s a great kind of character statement and so I identified with him greatly on that and I think as a parent as well just the sense of responsibility combined with not knowing what to do all the time. Even though this is again a heightened experience, I think every parent feels that. I certainly can speak for myself and say that I have during Camelia’s pregnancy when Sara was—for nine months I’d have these great fantasies of how I was going to be the greatest dad on the planet. And then she was born and a kind of fear came over me like none other that I’ve ever had in my life. I was confronted with the fact that I really didn’t know what I was doing and it was something that I was going to have to figure out as I went.
And I really relate to Martin on that level and just the dynamic between he and the son I just find so extraordinary. So for all of those reasons, those were the first things that grasped me.
SF: Do you like to think that the world maybe does exist and does work this way that everything is connected and maybe we’re just not clever enough or observant enough to see all the working pieces?
KS: Well, I absolutely think it does. Can one focus on every single moment of their life in this way? No, of course not, but anything as simple as someone who is late for a bus one day, all of a sudden they’re not on the bus. They’re taking up other space. They either had to get a taxi and that affects the taxi driver’s life.
So yes I do believe that there is a cause and effect and a ripple effect upon everything everybody does and they have positive consequences and negative consequences. If you start to focus on the kind of minutia of that, it’s really quite extraordinary, or should I get on the elevator now or should I wait, and obviously we can’t live our lives like that. But I do believe very strongly that all of us and all of the other things in the context of our planet with Mother Nature, all of these things absolutely have a profound effect. Some of the effects that can be felt are small and some of them are very large and it was really interesting to do a show that focused on that.
SF: The way that Touch is set up, there’s obviously such a great opportunity for a rather large roster of guest stars and Martin and Titus Welliver’s character, they had a special connection. So how many episodes is Titus signed on for and is there also a possibility of your father doing an episode?
KS: There certainly is always that possibility. The show is a procedural show. Unlike 24 and unlike Heroes, which was a serialized show, these episodes will have a beginning, a middle and an end. But it does not preclude a character who you’ve seen in one episode being able to come back five episodes down the line, and we have in fact done that. I don’t really want to say who. For the people that are going to watch it, I would like them to see that.
There also might be characters that are way in the background on an episode that will come to the forefront in another episode. But it doesn’t stop each individual episode from being its own complete little entity. And so that’s something I think Tim Kring has done a beautiful job kind of weaving in and out.
SF: What can you tell us about Martin and his journey in this first season?
KS: I could tell you a lot. But I think at the beginning of the story we discover Martin who has a son named Jake who in the course or our story we realize has been misdiagnosed with severe autism and in fact is actually just a truly, truly evolved human being that is years and years beyond where my character is and our society is at.
And in an effort to communicate with my son, I discover that he has this unbelievable skill set that allows him to interpret numbers and symbols in a way that kind of explain our past and to some degree predict our future and that’s where we start the show off. My journey, very much like the Chinese fable that the story is based on, which was called, “The Red Thread” and the red thread is basically a red thread that is loosely looped around the ankles of all the people that are supposed to come in contact with each other over the course of a lifetime. This thread can stretch and it can bend, but it cannot break, and somehow in our society we have broken this and my son is taking me on a journey to try and put the thread back together.
SF: So because you only have a limited way of communicating with Jake, who are some of the actors, characters, that are really going to become Martin’s touchstones, so that we really get to see emotionally how he’s reacting with this new journey and being able to convert through this process?
KS: I think Danny Glover certainly is a character that is explaining his son’s condition to him, and then Goo Goo plays the worker at Child Services that is managing Jake’s case. Those are people that will be very important. There’s Martin’s wife who was killed on the terrible day of 9/11. Even though she is not with us, I think he speaks a lot to her. Then I think a lot is going to be between Jake and his father. I think already in the first five episodes their ability to communicate has grown exponentially. Martin starts to be able to read a lot of Jake’s physicality and understand what that is and the audience does as well even though other people might not understand it in the context of our show.
But I think one of the things, one of things that moved me the most about the piece was that I felt that Martin was terribly alone; and I think that that’s going to be an aspect of the character and certainly through the piece as well. So that’s going to play into it in a large way.
SF: How do you feel that Martin allows you to mature in new ways as an actor, given what the material calls for emotionally?
KS: I think again I kind of referred to his loneliness earlier in one of the earlier questions. That’s a tricky thing to play because I don’t want people feeling sorry for Martin, yet I want them to understand that the further he is able to communicate with his son, the more enlightened and enriched his life will be; and he might be able to move past some of the pain that he’s experienced from the loss of his wife and his son’s condition.
Those are all real subtle narratives to play. They’re not actually written. They’re tonal qualities and that’s something that I’m trying to focus on a lot with Martin and it’s also something that I felt I really learned at least how to do better through my experience on 24. I think a lot of the things that I learned were trying to focus on little small changes within Jack Bauer, whether it was from season to season or even over the course of one of those days.
What I learned in that process is something that I am trying to bring to Martin; and so that there’s a lot going on, or a lot more going on than what is simply written on the page or what one scene might simply require. That there are through lines within the context of the character that are going from episode to episode. And if we are lucky enough to do multiple seasons, that we’d connect those as well. So that’s really an extension of a technique that I really hadn’t focused on or thought of before my experience on 24; and Touch is a perfect kind of show and Martin is a perfect character to try and weave those things in.