Kiefer Sutherland, an actor who has risen quickly to become the ubiquitous Gene Hackman of the baby bust generation, was nervously considering his astounding late-summer exposure to movie audiences: three pictures opening within two weeks.
"The scariest thing about having three films coming out at the same time," the 23-year-old star said this week, "is maybe watching three going down at the same time. The opposite thing would be having two going up at the same time."
Two? Already, Sutherland was writing off "Chicago Joe and the Showgirl," a British-made wartime drama co-starring Emily Lloyd, which opened last Friday to dismal business. That still left "Young Guns II," the sequel ensemble Western that opened Wednesday, and Sutherland's favorite, "Flatliners," scheduled for Aug. 10.
The shorter, look-alike son of Donald Sutherland is known for what he calls "control" of his character roles, which in 13 films since 1986 have alternated between tragic good guys and some pretty dislikable types. But he had no control over this summer's veritable explosion of Sutherlandia.
"The object is to keep yourself out there," he said. "You make three or four movies a year. Every three or four months something comes out, and you're not competing with yourself." Ideally, from Sutherland's standpoint, things would have been spaced out more.
Sutherland felt flattered that three studios thought his films were good enough to risk opening in the year's most competitive season. A compliment was probably intended. In Hollywood circles, Sutherland is a commodity in demand; he has never failed to win critical praise, even when such films as "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Flashback" withered at theaters. Yet Sutherland generously acknowledged that his rapid personal advance pales in comparison to that of his companion for the past year, "Pretty Woman's" Julia Roberts.
"I don't think you get any hotter or you'd spontaneously combust," Sutherland said about Roberts. "It's amazing. We first met on rehearsals for 'Flatliners.' It was before 'Steel Magnolias' came out. I didn't know who she was. I thought I had discovered this great talent."