Donald Sutherland: Anti-war campaigner famous for playing soldiers

Despite playing many soldiers throughout his career, Donald Sutherland was a passionate anti-war campaigner.

The Canadian actor began his career with a number of small roles on British TV before taking on the minor role of Hospitalman Nerney in 1965 war film The Bedford Incident – setting off a trend of involvement in the genre.

Sutherland came into his own as dim-witted Vernon Pinkley in 1967 film The Dirty Dozen, which saw condemned soldiers trained as a crack commando team to undertake a mission in Nazi-occupied France.

Donald Sutherland
Canadian actor Donald Sutherland arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport in September 1985 (David Parker/Alamy/PA)

The actor was praised for his portrayal, which many considered his breakout role.

However, it was his role in sitcom M*A*S*H, which followed the staff of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, that shot Sutherland to international stardom.

His portrayal of Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce secured him roles in many other war projects, including Kelly’s Heroes in 1970.

Sutherland plays Sergeant Oddball in the film which follows a group of US soldiers during the Second World War as they desert their posts to rob a bank thought to contain German gold.

In the same year, he starred in Revolution Without Me, set during the French Revolution, playing an identical twin, with the other twin played by US actor Gene Wilder.

Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland
Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland (Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy/PA)

Despite playing numerous soldiers, Sutherland was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War.

In 1971, he staged a travelling roadshow opposite his Klute co-star Jane Fonda in front of US soldiers – a reaction to Bob Hope’s pro-war United Service Organisations (USO) tour.

It was turned into a documentary entitled FTA in 1972, capturing the anti-war sentiment of the 1970s.

Documents declassified in 2017 revealed the CIA had placed Sutherland on a watch list because of his anti-war activities.

His political activities did not adversely affect his career, and he starred in 1976 Second World War film The Eagle Has Landed.

Donald Sutherland death
Donald Sutherland (Daniel Leal/PA)

The film follows a group of Germans who plot to kidnap British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with Sir Michael Caine portraying Colonel Kurt Steiner, while Sutherland plays agent Liam Devlin who accompanies him on the mission.

In 1981, Sutherland starred in A War Story, which tells the story of Major Ben Wheeler who was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War, as well as 1985’s Revolution alongside Al Pacino.

Sutherland later appeared opposite Dame Helen Mirren in Bethune: The Making Of A Hero in 1990 set during the Chinese Civil War, and in 2002 appeared in TV film Path To War – a role which won him a Golden Globe.

The veteran actor channelled his political beliefs into some of his roles, including The Hunger Games where he played the tyrannical President Snow.

In 2015, he told the BBC that he hoped the film’s socio-political message would help young fans become more aware of the world around them.