Mira Nair's film of the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist isn't about terrorism, Kiefer Sutherland observes, but about the reaction to terrorism -- a very different thing.
"It's what I was moved by when I read the material," Sutherland, 46, says, relaxing in a conference room of a Union Square hotel in Manhattan. "My focus on 9/11 was on the victims -- in the towers, in the planes -- and all that loss.
"But I didn't think of the profound ripple effect it had on people of the Muslim faith, on people of color -- of the effect it had on them here and abroad. This script made me focus on the reaction -- from suspending our own civil liberties to being able to get through that initial anger and deal with the specific problem, as opposed to just lashing out."
In the film, Riz Ahmed plays Changez Khan, a Pakistani who goes to Princeton and rises quickly to become a Wall Street analyst, who is hired by Sutherland, as the head of a firm who spots Changez as a young man with a future. But that future starts to crumble after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which doesn't necessarily radicalize Changez so much as alter the way he is perceived in the U.S.
"I love the character Riz plays," Sutherland notes. "He understands, he empathizes -- hey, the kid is living the American dream. But if you keep telling someone that they're something -- even if they're not that thing -- eventually they'll become that thing. In our reaction to 9/11, I think we alienated a lot of people who could have helped us deal with the real problem.
"When I read the script, I was really moved by it. I found the script unbelievably enlightening. I hope people who see the movie are as moved by it as I was by the material. Ideologically, it represented how I felt."
It seems ironic to Sutherland, who spent 2001-10 starring on the counter-terrorism thriller 24 on TV, that no one so far in interviews has mentioned the show -- with its explicit and melodramatic use of torture as a regular plot device.
This interview continues on my website.