Sutherland brings a common 'Touch' to new series

FRAZIER MOORE AP Television Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- "Touch" hero Jake Bohm is obsessed with numbers, and in a voiceover on this week's premiere episode, the otherwise mute 11-year-old numerologist shares an interesting statistic: "Today the average person will say 2,250 words to 7.4 other individuals."

An average person, sure. But not Kiefer Sutherland in recent weeks.

Sutherland (who plays Jake's devoted father, Martin) has lately been a chatterbox, talking up his show all over the world.

"I'm like the brainy student who blows the curve for the rest of the class," he says with a laugh. In sum: "I've met a lot of folks."

It's Monday, the morning after a "Touch" world-premiere screening in Manhattan, which came on the winged heels of a global blitz that took Sutherland to London, Berlin, Madrid and Moscow. In a couple of hours, he'll be back on a plane returning to L.A., where, with the publicity campaign now just about over, he'll resume shooting "Touch" full-time.

But right now, he's got a few more words to voice about the show (which debuts Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT).

For instance, how the universal focus of "Touch" (created by Tim Kring, architect of the likewise far-flung series "Heroes") is reflected in its launch strategy: It's premiering in synch with the U.S. market in more than 100 other countries. Convening a global TV audience that way is unprecedented for a weekly drama series.

"If 'Touch' can be the conduit for a conversation between 150 million people worldwide on a website -- talking about things they have in common, as opposed to their differences -- that would be amazing," muses Sutherland.

But as "Touch" has gotten under way, it has touched on Sutherland's memories of his first season doing "24," the action-intrigue show where he played intrepid counter-terrorist Jack Bauer for eight seasons starting in 2001.

"I'd forgotten what it was like to build the framework of a new show," he says. "It's the most exciting part of doing a show, but it's also the most difficult. The pilot script for 'Touch' was beautiful, but if it isn't fully realized as a series, I'll feel culpable. So there's a kind of panic I had forgotten about since we started '24.'"

The biggest challenge, says Sutherland, is crafting the on-screen relationship between widowed father Martin and his son.

No wonder. Jake is an emotionally challenged child who never speaks and recoils from any physical contact, even with his dad. Yet, in his seemingly isolated state, Jake is able to discern mathematical relationships between divergent people around the world (a "giant mosaic of patterns and ratios... hidden in plain sight," as he puts it) that help bring those people together in beneficial ways.

It falls to Martin to puzzle out Jake's numerical cues and then follow through with the necessary legwork. Meanwhile, he struggles to forge a human connection with his son.

"You have to make this relationship relatable to viewers," says Sutherland. "When I read the script, I identified with it hugely: There was a time with my daughter between her 12th and 13th birthdays when, literally, there wasn't a question I asked her that she didn't answer with a single word. I think all parents have communications issues with their children.

"But on our show, it's a parenting experience to the power of 10. Which means that dramatizing it calls for constant maintenance, making sure that it feels real in the context of this very fantastical idea the show trades on. It's the thing I focus on the most."

Of course, there's an associated challenge for Sutherland. At age 45, he's a veteran actor with a hit TV series and dozens of film roles to his credit. But now he must share scenes with a child who has no lines to volley back to him, and who displays little physical response to anything.

"That was the thing I feared the most," admits Sutherland. "But it's now the thing I look forward to the most."

He showers praise on David Mazouz, the remarkable young actor who plays Jake with penetrating restraint.

"In our scenes, he has to be so disconnected from me -- doesn't speak, can't be touched, doesn't look at me. But I feel something that radiates off of him. I just do.

"I'm not a Method actor," he goes on. "I believe in absolute objectivity when I'm working and I'm very conscious of everything I'm doing. But there are times with David where things get very cloudy and I feel things from my own life, and it makes me gasp. There's a moment in the ninth episode where he actually does look directly into my eyes. A chill came over me.

"These have been the only times for me as an actor where the reality of my own life has intruded on what I'm trying to do with a character. It was certainly very powerful for me, and complicated as well, and I'm so grateful to him."

"Touch" has a child-is-father-to-the-man theme that issues from a child with a special gift for recognizing that life across the planet is preordained by mathematical probability.

It's a cosmic view that Martin Bohm, led by his son, is struggling to fathom and embrace.

But what about the actor who plays him?

"I don't really go for that," says Sutherland with a laugh. "I'm far more cynical than Tim Kring. But I think he's really struck a balance.

"When I read his pilot script, I found it uniquely hopeful. I believe that we are absolutely in charge of our own lives and responsible for what we do. But what I take from the show is that, if you become aware -- just a LITTLE more aware -- that everything you do might affect someone else... well, that might be a good thing."

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Online:

http://www.FOX.com/TOUCH

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EDITOR'S NOTE -- Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier