Rabbit Hole Star Kiefer Sutherland On The Thriller's Twists And Unexpected Comedy [Exclusive Interview]

There’s no denying that “Rabbit Hole,” the upcoming Paramount+ series which stars Kiefer Sutherland, is a thriller with a lot of twists and turns. But what not might be as expected is that the show, created by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“This Is Us,” “Jungle Cruise”), has plenty of funny moments, too.

“I was expecting all of the tentpole ideas of a good thriller, but the humor was just such a bonus,” Sutherland told me in a recent interview. “And it wasn’t complicated gag humor where you have to figure out how to fall down three flights of stairs and then jump up with a clown nose. This is a really sophisticated, sarcastic, charming kind of humor.”

That charming humor is paired with some mind-boggling twists, where almost every episode ends with reveals which completely flips the table on any assumptions you might have had about what is going on. I talked with Sutherland about what he knew and when about the plot and his character, and what it was like for him to take on some scenes that are different than anything we’ve seen him do before. Read on for the spoiler-free part of our discussion.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

‘He Would Go From The Hunter To The Hunted In A Matter Of Moments And Literally Be Running For His Life’

How much did you know about your character, John Weir, when you signed on? Because, for the audience, surprising things are revealed to you about him as the show goes on.

[Co-showrunners John Requa and Glenn Ficarra] had phoned me and we had talked about the idea they had for the show, and they referenced films like “The Parallax View,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “Marathon Man,” and “The Fugitive,” all of which I loved watching growing up. Thrillers was the genre that I loved as a moviegoer.

They described John Weir as being an expert in deception, that he wasn’t a clean guy, he wasn’t perfect — he was an espionage operative in Wall Street, and he was manipulating one company out of millions of dollars to provide that cash flow for a company that he was working for. So he wasn’t an angel, but that the tables would be turned on him and that he would go from the hunter to the hunted in a matter of moments and literally be running for his life.

Well, immediately, I find that interesting, because any time a character is going to go through a dynamic 180-degree shift, they become vulnerable and you see them go from very confident and in control to very weak and desperate. Something becomes very relatable in that person, because whether we’ve gone through a moment like that or not, we’ve all felt it on a very private level. It could be in high school asking the girl out on a date and getting shut down — you walked up with all the bravado in the world and you just get crushed. So I think we inherently know what that feels like.

In the context of this thriller, obviously everything is squared, right? It’s just that much more. But I think on a real personal human level, I think we all understand what it is like to be that vulnerable. And I think that lets an audience into a character. So we talked in broad strokes about what that character was and what he would be. What I wasn’t counting on between that conversation and when I ultimately got a script was the level of humor.

‘It Was Nice To Be A Little Nervous About Whether Or Not I Could Make A Laugh’

I was going to ask you about that.

I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting the running, I was expecting the shooting. I was expecting all of the tentpole ideas of a good thriller, but the humor was just such a bonus. And it wasn’t complicated gag humor where you have to figure out how to fall down three flights of stairs and then jump up with a clown nose. This is a really sophisticated, sarcastic, charming kind of humor, following a guy who is slowly starting to fall in love with someone who he absolutely believes he should not be falling in love with, but can’t help himself. There’s something very charming about that.

I often refer to [co-star Meta Golding’s character], in the context of our story, as the tractor beam of the Death Star and John is powerless against it. So there’s a way that they write — they have an ease in their humor. Because, let’s face it, no one is rushing out to put me in their next comedy. So it was very nice to be able to do some stuff that I actually felt was funny. That really is a reflection of not only how beautifully they wrote it, but Meta, who I really do that stuff with, just really has incredible, impeccable timing. And we would often do those scenes and then they’d call cut and I’d look straight at her and if she looked satisfied, then I would feel all right.

You touched on it a little bit, but were those humorous scenes fun, or were they flexing new muscles for you?

It’s both. It’s not something that I’m used to. In “24,” there was a scene where Kim Raber’s ex-husband, I had to make a choice between saving his life medically or getting information out of someone. And I chose to let him die and get information out of that person and knowing that it was going to cause a huge reaction. So you play into all of the things that might make someone furious about that or understand that. Those things I’m very confident in. The subtlety of a funny line — not so confident.

I don’t usually get scared on a set, inside. But yeah, it was nice to be a little nervous about whether or not I could make a laugh because it certainly made me laugh when I read it. So if I can’t make it translate, then, well, that’s problematic. So it was nice to kind of be made a little nervous because the material you’re getting is so good.

The first two episodes of “Rabbit Hole” premiere on Paramount+ on March 26, 2023.

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