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Donald Sutherland didn’t get hired for a year after his best movie

Even some of the best actors of all time can have rough patches in terms of getting their next gig. And no one knows that better than Donald Sutherland.


Ordinary People might have been some of Donald Sutherland‘s best work, but that doesn’t mean he had to stop grafting. Ordinary People, which critics widely consider to be one of the best ’80s movies of all time, charts the implosion of an affluent family after the eldest son dies in a tragic boating accident.

As Calvin Jarrett, Sutherland plays the patriarch of the fractured, grieving family, while his on-screen wife is played by Mary Tyler Moore and their surviving son, Conrad Jarrett, is played by Timothy Hutton.

The movie based on a book was Robert Redford‘s directorial debut, and it’s one of Sutherland’s best movie roles — but in an interview with Backstage, the actor explained that it isn’t always as easy as that.

“After Ordinary People, I didn’t get offered a job for a year. They couldn’t imagine what I could do,” he said. “It’s better to go and audition and show people what you can do. I auditioned for something recently…I can’t remember what. I must not have gotten the part. Years ago, I wanted to be in Flashdance as the older man. I asked my agent to see if they would consider me. And they told him he had a better chance at playing the part than I did. They wouldn’t even let me read.”

During the interview, Sutherland also opened up more about how he approached his role in Ordinary People, which he described as a “painful picture.”

To him, the key to playing the character was through a process of internalization, as he explained to the outlet, “I don’t think I have any other choice. My job is to get to the truth, and you can’t get truth by demonstrating. You get it by being it. You just try to be as honest as you can.”

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A simple method, but one that undeniably worked in his favor. With 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, four Academy Award wins, five Golden Globe wins, and two BAFTA nominations, Ordinary People has clearly gone down in history as one of the best drama movies of all time.

For more heartbreaking tales, check out our guides to the best drama series, best war movies, best romance movies, and all the new movies coming your way this year. Or, if you’re after something a little more lighthearted, peruse our listicles breaking down the best comedy movies, best comedy series, best feel-good movies, and best family movies.