My encounter with actor Kiefer Sutherland at the airport
I approach the actor with stealth, as befits the star of the TV series, ‘24.’
Toronto — (The following takes place between 13:05 and 13:29. The events occur in real time.)
13:05 Jack Bauer of “24” fame (aka Kiefer Sutherland) stands at the ticket counter of Air Canada, scrutinizing the airport for possible tourist terrorists. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport has a Canadian calmness. Yet federal agent Bauer has been part of too many covert operations not to know that the calm comes before the dirty bomb. Ready for action, he looks over his shoulder, checking his blind spot. No one stands directly behind him. He notices a woman out of the corner of his eye who has stopped suddenly, almost colliding with her carry-on bag. She looks klutzy.
I spy Kiefer across the room. He looks like a bush pilot. He is wearing a sage green scarf flung around his neck, contrasting smartly with his tan suede jacket. The scarf makes him stand out. If it is Kiefer, wouldn’t he want to be incognito? Wouldn’t he wear dark sunglasses and a fedora? All his fan blogs say it’s rare to see him in real life. Must not be him.
13:07 Bauer cautiously takes note of the klutzy woman’s stare, but she doesn’t approach. The panic passes. He relaxes.
I line up dutifully at Immigration with the other Canadians. The mystery man stands in the American line a short distance away. This time the guys behind me confirm his identity. His name ricochets from one end of the line to the other. People pull out cellphones like they’re drawing pistols. “Guess who’s at the airport with me?” echoes everywhere.
13:10 As he slings his garment bag over his shoulder, Bauer is confident he will be able to get on his flight without being attacked.
I marvel at how polite Canadians are. They allow Kiefer to wander the airport freely. No one mauls him for an autograph. I appreciate this because it gives me time to think of my plan of attack. I circle the Customs area, knowing that he will be headed there next. I step out of line so many times while waiting that I make the security guards nervous.
13:15 The immigration officer takes a long time to examine his passport. Bauer recognizes that his real name, Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland, is a bit unusual. (What was his famous actor-father, Donald, thinking when he gave him a Scrabble board of names, anyway? Could he not have just done the British thing and called him Donald II?)
What am I thinking? The famed Jack Bauer character, who has saved the world innumerable times, is not going to have to stand in line with the rest of us. Immigration probably has a secret celebrity door to get him to his flight. More likely, Chloe, his computer wunderkind sidekick in the antiterrorism unit, is hacking into federal computers now, getting him his own plane. Maybe that’s why he is wearing his pilot outfit. Just as I convince myself that my star-gazing moments are over, Kiefer strolls into view again. He is walking and talking with a short, handsome man wearing a black leather jacket. Now I understand. He had been waiting all along for his friend, probably the next costar of the series. I would now be ahead of all my friends, knowing the next big TV celebrity. If I hurry, I can be right behind Kiefer in line.
13:20 Bauer spies the same woman he saw earlier lunging toward him like an alligator at a rib joint. Where is security when you need them? How can I send out a distress code? Bauer takes his cellphone out of its holster and speaks into it in a muffled voice. He hopes this clever diversion will fend her off.
Maybe he sees me coming. He’s on his cellphone. It’s different than mine. I always have to shout into my mouthpiece. He whispers so I can’t hear a word he’s saying, although I’m trying. Desperately.
This gives me time to think about how I should start the conversation. Canadians are not known for taking risks, and I don’t want to ask the wrong question. I’d like to know how he felt spending time in jail last summer (for drunken driving), but that doesn’t sound like the right icebreaker. “You won’t do it again, will you?” This sounds like a mother’s question, and I want to play down the age difference. Instead I try to act like his Hollywood agent: “Hi, Kiefer, I have something for you,” I say when he finishes his phone call.
13:23 Bauer braces himself. Not another vial of poison. Or worse, is this woman, who is almost old enough to be my mother, going to gush all over me?
I fumble to get a business card out of my back pocket.
13:25 He takes it.
I explain that I had been trying to find a way to contact him. “My friend has written the great Canadian novel, ‘The Lightning File.’ It’s about a Toronto journalist who stumbles onto a terrorist plot in Canada.”
13:26 Bauer feigns interest, knowing valuable intelligence often comes in unusual ways.
13:27 “Thanks, I’ll be sure to look it up,” he says.
I start babbling about how great he is, how surprised I am that he doesn’t have any bodyguards or PR people with him, how everyone thinks it’s so cool to see him, even though they aren’t saying it to his face (more Canadian reserve).
13:28 He smiles.
My knees stop clanking.
13:29 “Nice meeting you. Have a good trip.”
When I find my seat on the 747, I can’t believe it. The guy next to me is the one Kiefer had been chatting with coming out of Immigration. I’ll get to meet the next costar, after all. Or maybe not. It turns out the guy is just another fan like me.
“We talked about how unbelievably slow Immigration was,” he says of his encounter with the actor. “It was amazing. He was like a regular guy.” Except, perhaps, for all those names.