Why Donald Sutherland?

60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper and producer Michael Gavshon explain what inspired them to do this week's profile on the 82-year-old actor

This week's 60 Minutes profile of Donald Sutherland was not originally Anderson Cooper's idea. The story was suggested to him by longtime 60 Minutes producer Michael Gavshon.

"When Michael Gavshon said to me, 'What do you think about Donald Sutherland?' I was like, 'Honestly ... I just haven't given him a lot of thought,'" Cooper recalls in an interview with 60 Minutes Overtime's Ann Silvio. "I realized I don't really know anything about Donald Sutherland."

The broadcast's executive producer, Jeff Fager, felt much the same way.

"[Jeff] wasn't particularly enthused," Gavshon says. "I think he knew Donald Sutherland. He knew his work. He knew his films. But he hadn't really thought about what he was like. And I think that goes for everybody, really. Nobody knows much about Donald Sutherland."

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Anderson Cooper interviewing Donald Sutherland

But Sutherland meant a lot to Gavshon. The actor's performances in movies like Klute and M.A.S.H. in the 1970s were life-changing for Gavshon as a teenager, decades before he would become a producer for 60 Minutes.

Gavshon grew up in South Africa under apartheid. He describes the government as puritanical, racist and repressive. "It espoused an ideology of Christian nationalism. The school system was incredibly conservative, Calvinistic."

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Anderson Cooper and 60 Minutes producer Michael Gavshon

The South African government imposed rigorous controls over books, movies, and the arts during his childhood. Television was outlawed in South Africa until 1976, and many films were banned or heavily censored. A government board "butchered" American films, he says, cutting out scenes that depicted sex, vulgarity, blasphemy, or racial mixing. For example, Sydney Poitier's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, with Love were banned completely.

But there was a loophole in the law that allowed citizens to participate in film clubs, where they could screen films at home. As long as they didn't charge for tickets — and kept quiet about it — it was legal.

So, Gavshon's parents set up a film club that met on Sundays at their home in suburban Pretoria. At the end of their living room, they hung a large bedsheet where they projected movies for their friends and children.

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60 Minutes producer Michael Gavshon

Gavshon describes his parents as "enlightened." They weren't showing the censored versions that played at the local cinemas; they played the original, uncut versions of the films that made it over from America. For the children, it was a window into a different culture and into the political, social and sexual revolutions taking place halfway around the world

"And it was really, you know, it was very exciting," Gavshon says, "because we could see … things that the government wanted to keep us from seeing."

One of the first Sutherland films Gavshon saw in his parent's film club was Klute, a thriller about a call girl who becomes romantically involved with the private detective investigating a case she's involved in. The detective is played by Donald Sutherland in a performance that has stayed with Gavshon for the last four decades.

"Here was this tall, strong, quiet Donald Sutherland who plays alongside Jane Fonda," Gavshon says. "And that film really, for some reason, resonated with me. And it was one of my seminal experiences as a kid who grew up to become a person very involved in film."

Overtime Extra: Sutherland directs

Gavshon vividly remembers being a young teen and watching the film version of M.A.S.H. Sutherland plays an Army surgeon with little regard for authority — a very appealing character to a kid growing up in the repressive environment of apartheid in South Africa.

"I guess it was his performance in M.A.S.H. that really had a huge impact on me and the way in which I saw the world," says Gavshon.

Since then, Gavshon has wanted to meet Sutherland, to find out what became of the actor he grew up watching. When he finally met Sutherland for this week's 60 Minutes story, he wasn't disappointed.

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"I hope, from this segment, that people get a sense of just how interesting and how insightful and how warm and generous and erudite he is," Gavshon says of Sutherland.

Cooper came away from the interview feeling the same: "You can't spend time with him and not come away charmed and moved by him — and impressed by him."

The video above was originally published on December 10th, 2017 and was produced by Ann Silvio, Lisa Orlando, Will Croxton, Sarah Shafer Prediger, and Rebecca Chertok Gonsalves. It was edited by Lisa Orlando, Will Croxton, and Sarah Shafer Prediger.