“Touch” hero Jake Bohm is obsessed with numbers, and in a voice-over 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.
Mr. 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 said 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 Mr. Sutherland to London, Berlin, Madrid and Moscow. In a couple of hours, he’ll be on a plane 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 at 9 p.m. Thursday on Fox).
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 sync 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,” Mr. Sutherland mused.
But as “Touch” has gotten under way, it has touched on Mr. 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 said. “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, Mr. Sutherland said, 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,” Mr. Sutherland said. “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 Mr. 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,” Mr. Sutherland admitted. “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.”
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