Donald Sutherland Got ‘Animal House’ Made, But Thought It Would Bomb

The late actor only took the job as a favor to his kid’s babysitter
Donald Sutherland Got ‘Animal House’ Made, But Thought It Would Bomb

Legendary actor Donald Sutherland just passed away at the age of 88. Younger fans probably know him best for playing the villainous President Snow in the Hunger Games movies, or perhaps for voicing Hollis Hurlbut in that one episode of The Simpsons

Older audiences, on the other hand, grew up watching Sutherland in classic movies like M*A*S*H, Don’t Look Now and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Although his greatest work, hands down, was this vintage Canadian tourism commercial in which he tells a joke about a salmon fisherman on his wedding day.

Sutherland also starred in one of the most profitable movie comedies of all-time: National Lampoon’s Animal House. 

Sutherland played the highly-inappropriate Professor Jennings (who somehow still isn’t the most questionable element of the movie). This may have seemed like an odd role for the actor at the time, but Sutherland only took the gig as a favor to a friend: John Landis.

Landis met Sutherland on the set of the Clint Eastwood war movie Kelly’s Heroes, where the future Blues Brothers director was working as a PA. After the two become “friendly,” Landis even babysat for Sutherland’s son Kiefer, later the star of The Lost Boys24 and that one video of him attacking a Christmas tree for some reason

So Landis was able to rope the star into appearing in small roles in his movies. First there was the sketch comedy farce The Kentucky Fried Movie, which was written by the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams, the team that would go on to make Airplane! Sutherland appears for all of four seconds, playing the “Clumsy Waiter” in a trailer for a fake disaster movie called That’s Armageddon.

The following year, came Animal HouseAccording to Sutherland, Landis told him, “I'm gonna do this movie for Universal called Animal House, and they want to give you two-and-a-half percent of the profits.” His response? “No way!” So Sutherland negotiated for a paid salary for one day’s work and “threw away two million dollars” once the film became a massive box office hit. Even when he was watching the film during the premiere, Sutherland was confident in his decision, remarking, “Nah, this’ll never work!'” to his friend. 

While Sutherland may have lost out on a small fortune, had it not been for his participation, Animal House likely wouldn’t have gotten made in the first place. Landis later revealed that the studio, Universal, threatened to axe the project because it had no big names in the cast. “I was basically told I had to deliver a movie star, or we were shutting down,” Landis told Variety. “The only movie star I knew was Donald. And because he said yes, that’s why we got a green light.”

So, Landis was able to parlay a babysitting gig into a favor that resulted in a hit movie that made over $140 million. That’s a lot better than just getting 20 bucks and some leftover pizza.

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