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Why 24 wildman Kiefer's swapping his wild nights for a calmer new role; The round-the-clock party animal who's growing up at the age of 42.

Byline: JOHN HISCOCK

AS gun-toting counter terrorism agent Jack Bauer, he rescues Presidents and saves the world - all in a mere 24 hours.

And Kiefer Sutherland is no shrinking violet offscreen either. He's got a reputation as a hard-drinking, brawling womaniser whose hellraising would put Mickey Rourke to shame.

So his latest role - which he reckons is his best yet - is something of a radical departure. It's playing a doting grandad.

And it's clear there is no acting involved when, in our exclusive interview, Kiefer gushes about the four-yearold boy who has tamed his wild ways.

"His name is Hamish Adam Kiefer Sinclair, he's four-and-a-half and he's a train wreck," says Kiefer, who rakes in EUR23million a year for playing Jack Bauer in the hit US TV series 24.

"He already looks like a failed boxer.

He falls down a lot and he gets cut up and he's just beautiful.

"He's one of the great pleasures of my life."

Hamish's mum is his step daughter Michelle Kath, from his first marriage to Camelia.

For the past year, twice-divorced Kiefer has been in a relationship with Siobhan Bonnouvrier, a style director at Allure magazine. She's another steadying effect on his life.

Kiefer says: "I'm very happy at this point in my life and that's a large part of it. I realised it was time to grow up." And although at Elton John's post-Oscars party in February he was up to his old tricks - knocking back whisky and cokes, slurring his words and ordering four drinks at a time - Kiefer insists his hellraising days are over.

That news will bring a sigh of relief from those who have experienced Kiefer on a full-throttle bender. His heroes are, after all, legendary boozers Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton and Richard Harris.

His years of bar-crawls and brawls have seen him need 140 stitches. He has also jumped fully-clothed into swimming pools and been arrested.

Three years ago he attacked a Christmas tree in the lobby of London's Strand Palace Hotel. The following year he spent the Christmas holiday in jail after being arrested for drunken driving for the second time.

But he refuses to blame his bad behaviour on the pressure of filming 24, shown on Sky One on Mondays.

"Whatever has happened I've created for myself," he said, as we chat in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. "I'm not going to blame the show for that. I've been lucky enough to work as a professional actor for more than 20 years and for the past few years I haven't wondered and worried about where the next job was coming from.

"The benefits are so huge I couldn't even describe them. And whatever dilemmas I have created for myself on a personal level had nothing to do with the show." He has recorded his eventful life experiences in a series of tattoos that the 24 make-up artists are kept busy hiding from view.

"I have a lot of tattoos - it's kind of a disease," he laughed. "You get the first one and then if it matters to you, you get more.

"I got my first tattoo when I was 16 and had just left home.

"I was really scared so a couple of friends and I got tattoos as a bonding thing." That first tattoo was a Chinese symbol meaning strength.

"It was strength of heart and it mattered to me," he recalls. "And from then on, any time I went through something in my life that mattered to me I had this desire to make a tattoo out of it.

"I kept going and I have a lot of them.

There are times when it is difficult.

When I work I have to cover them up and at times I've seen a picture of myself when I had none and think that maybe I shouldn't have got any.

"But most of the time it's a nice map for myself about the journey of my life." To get to this point in his life Kiefer has travelled a long and bumpy road.

He didn't have the most normal of starts. His grandad was the first socialist premier of Canadian province Saskatchewan, and his actor parents - dad Donald Sutherland and mum Shirley Douglas - separated when he was three.

Kiefer was raised by his mother, who was actively involved with the Black Panther movement.

After seeing his mum in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, he decided to be an actor. He ran away from school and, aged 16, landed a role in Canadian film The Bad Boy.

The next year he moved to Los Angeles and lived out of his car, before moving into a house with fellow struggling actors Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr. and Billy Zane.

His breakout roles in Stand By Me and The Lost Boys took him to the brink of stardom, but things went downhill in a blur of drink and bad movie choices.

His two marriages - to Camelia and then to model Kelly Winn - went down the pan. And he was jilted by Julia Roberts three days before their wedding, when she discovered he'd been seeing a stripper. She ran off to Europe with his best pal, Jason Patric.

The public humiliation sent him into a spiral of boozing and womanising which wasn't helped by a series of film flops. Disheartened and disillusioned, he retreated to his cattle ranch in California's Santa Ynez Valley, took up steer roping and travelled the rodeo circuit winning a few competitions.

Then the script for 24 came along. "I wasn't working much and wasn't doing the kind of films I wanted," he says. "So when something like 24 comes along you focus on taking advantage of the opportunity, and that's what I did." He begins filming the eighth series in May with more action, pain and - for once - love in store for Jack Bauer.

Since Jack's wife died in the first series, his romances have been few and far between. But in the next series he gets hot and heavy with FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching).

"We figured if you can't fall in love under the circumstances of life and death you're in big trouble," grins Kiefer, who works with the writers on the plotlines.

"One of the things that has brought them together so quickly is this desperate need for each other to survive. Nothing brings people closer together than that." Away from the tough action of 24, Kiefer has also provided the voice for General W.R. Monger, a character in the animated comedy Aliens vs Monsters.

He says: "Someone asked me the other day, 'How do you get your voice? Was it whisky and cigarettes?' I said, no, I got it from my father." "One of the things I really liked about my character is that he realises the monsters are not as dangerous and evil as everybody else perceives them to be, but they've been put away simply because they're different.

"I love the message, which is geared to young people and telling them that it's all right to be different.

"We shot it while I was making 24.

So for five days a week, 14 hours a day, I was very serious with 24, then suddenly, for six hours on a weekend, I got to have fun. I'd forgotten how much fun acting can be. We laughed a lot. I felt like I was five again." No wonder he gets on so well with grandson Hamish.

Chest one for road

SMOKING, staggering and with a scarf stuffed down his trousers, back in 2005

Crashing the party

FLIPPING the bird while partying in 2005. Is the helmet for when he crashes out drunk?

Watch the birdies

CAUGHT on a video-bag camera, drunk and fooling around in a London hotel, 2005

7seasons of 24 have been made so far. Season 8 begins shooting next month. The first series was aired in November 2001

EUR 23m Kiefer Sutherland's annual pay for starring as Jack Bauer

160 number of episodes of 24 Kiefer Sutherland has made. 24 is the third-longest running espionage series behind Mission: Impossible and The Avengers

CAPTION(S):

SHOOT Kiefer is about to start making a new 24 STEADYING Siobhan Bonnouvrier has helped the star FAMILY GUY Kiefer is enjoying his role as a doting grandad
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 2, 2009
Words:1392
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