It could be argued that Fox’s 24 gave birth to the modern age of television as we know it, and a big part of it was the Emmy-winning performance of its star Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. After leaving the airwaves four years ago, Jack Bauer is getting back into the game in the 12-episode event series 24: Live Another Day (read our review of the premiere here).
In a recent conference call with journalists, Kiefer Sutherland spoke with us about the iconic show’s return, those pesky movie rumors and what audiences can expect from the next 12 hours of 24: Live Another Day. Here are some of the highlights:
Have you ever been asked “When is 24 coming back?” in any odd places around the world? And what kind of responses have you gotten now that you are coming back?
I did a lot and it wasn’t just a question of whether or not 24 was coming back. I think it was more specific towards, I think people were interested in a movie. In regards to where, that’s always amazing. Even in the context of the promotion of another television show I did called Touch, where I would be in Russia, I’ve gone to a lot of different places, been to South Africa. I was always amazed how successful the show was and that it somehow managed to transcend culture, language, politics etc. etc.
I’ve never had another project that I’ve been a part of that has had that kind of international success, where arguably through Europe, Asia and even parts of Africa, that it was equally successful as it was in America. I think it’s a really rare thing for an American television show. So I’ve always been surprised by that. It’s also something I’m quite proud of.
With regards to people coming up [to me], it was either one of two things: they would either say “Oh man, I really miss 24” and if they were going to say “When is it coming back?” it was usually directed towards that of a film. Meaning the last thing I thought we were going to do is another season. I think fans were kind of surprised by that as well, and I hope in a good way.
I think he’s hugely relatable. Obviously, the circumstances are massively exaggerated, but I think all of us on some level feel a connection to a character like Jack Bauer, because this is a guy who’s facing insurmountable odds and yet he goes into the fight regardless. Life kind of makes us feel like that too. Life is tricky.
I think the fact that he doesn’t always win. In the context of the first season, he managed to save the president, he managed to get his daughter back, but he lost his wife. A guy goes and gets a promotion at work, he’s very happy for a few moments but realizes he doesn’t have time to take his son to football practice anymore. I think there’s a kind of reality in that “not winning” that makes Jack Bauer incredibly relatable.
After 9/11 I think there was a real feeling of helplessness, and I think Jack Bauer as a character was kind of dogmatic, and regardless of the circumstances was going to push forward. I certainly found that comforting and I certainly felt very helpless after 9/11. There was great refuge for me in that character.
If 24: Live Another Day is successful, would you consider coming back and having a second 12-episode season?
I would never say “no” because its too easy for something to happen, but it is not something I’m think about. And it’s not something that I think Howard [Gordon, executive producer] or anyone else is thinking about. Once we realized we were going to do this and we actually started the process of the writers with the scripts, [executive producer] Jon Cassar and myself doing our pre-production, we became so focused on trying to make these the best 12 episodes of 24, period.
We have four episodes left to do. I feel very, very strong about the first eight episodes that we have completed, now we just need to really bring it home and then we’ll see where we’re at. But I would never want to say “No, I absolutely will not do that.” Because I don’t know. This decision I made this time was really because of Howard’s conviction that he had a great story to tell. There’s so many other factors involved, I guess is my point.
What happened with the movie plans that didn’t pan out and how closely related is this event series to what the movie possibly could have been?
They’re very different. The relationship from where the script was for the film and what we’re doing in these 12 episodes is night and day. Having said that, I spent my whole career with 24 dealing with 20th Century Fox Television, which is a very separate entity from the film company, and I dealt with the network. So there wasn’t a lot of conversation with regards to the film, other than we expressed a real desire to make one, and I think they were interested on some level and for whatever reason – and I have no idea if it was our story, whether it was what they had in stock and ready to go out – I couldn’t exactly tell you why it didn’t happen.
I just know that it didn’t, and then Howard obviously came to me with this idea for this one-off season. But I couldn’t exactly tell you why. 20th Century Fox is a very big company and there are a lot of different divisions and I’ve worked with a few of them. It wasn’t something that ever got so far down the line that I could point to one specific reason as to why it didn’t happen, I just know it didn’t.
How has Jack Bauer changed in 24: Live Another Day from the guy that we knew in 24?
I think there is a very strong moral compass with Jack Bauer. Whether right or wrong, he’s going to do what he thinks is the right thing and he’s going to do everything to the risk of his own life. He’s going to do that to try and prevent whatever the situation is from happening.
Having said that, there’s two things that are very different structurally from this season to any other. One of them is that Jack Bauer has usually started every season working within the infrastructure of whatever government agency he’s a part of, or in line with the President of the United States and then that might shift, but he certainly always starts there. This season, not only is he not working within the context of that infrastructure, he’s actually working on his own, and the people that he’s trying to help are actually hunting him. They’re trying to either kill him or arrest him.
So that’s a really interesting dynamic on a much more intimate character level. Jack Bauer is harder. and I think angrier than he’s ever been. He’s had to hide in eastern Europe for four years. He’s been estranged from his daughter and his grandchildren. He has not been able to go back to the country that he feels he served and that kind of isolation has made him really hard. That is something you’ll see very early on in the first episode, the dramatically dynamic shift of the relationship between him and Chloe. That’s explained very early on.
With the recent trend of shows revolving around “bad” people like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, how does Jack fit in now culturally?
You know, I don’t know. That remains to be seen, I think. You’re going to have to wait for that kind of reaction. We had shot five months of 24 before the terrible events of 9/11, and after that terrible day we personally thought the show was over and we shouldn’t do it because it was too close to something that had really happened. We were very surprised to see the audience reaction and critic reaction for the show early on.
Somehow, there was something that made Jack Bauer’s character quite cathartic and actually a positive. It was not what we were expecting. So in all fairness, it’ll be much easier to answer that question in the next few weeks. One of the things I’ve always admired about Howard and Evan [Katz] and Manny [Coto] when they’re writing is that they do manage to have a very current political discussion with the context of the show, even though it doesn’t necessarily permeate in my storylines.
But we’re dealing with Edward Snowden, we’re still obviously dealing with torture, we’re dealing with drones, and those conversations are being represented by all sides. I think that’s a really interesting part of the show and it’ll be interesting to see how an audience processes that. Personally, I have to wait to kind of weigh-in on that until that fact happens. And that starts Monday.
You’ve said several times over the years that the early success of 24 in the UK was key to the longevity of the series. Was that a factor in deciding to shoot this event series in the UK?
It made me smile. If there was a place that I thought kind of deserved our attention, London was it. When I say it was instrumental in the longevity of the show, it was a hit out of the box in London. It was a huge success. As you all know, picking a show up for a second season is a monumental investment by a network, not just financially but literally in every aspect. I think 24 was on the fence and its success in other places, in Europe and ultimately Japan as well, were instrumental in that decision to pick it up for a second season. Which we were really grateful for. So when I heard that we were going to shoot it in London there was part of me that felt that was very fitting.
No, I can’t tell you who that would be because that would just ruin the whole thing. What’s interesting again this year is it’s multi-layered. It usually used to be one person. This year all I can tell you is it will surprise you, I think? And it’s multi-layered, it’s more than one person.
What is it about the show and the character of Jack Bauer that keeps you coming back for more?
I love the character and I love the idea of the show. I think I said in many interviews when we started, that the real star of the show is the time signature because in the context of a thriller, which is the genre that the show falls in for me, that ticking clock really does matter. It makes you quite nervous. Inherently it just does, because you know time is running out.
So for all of those reason I found it fascinating. I also think Jon Cassar, as a director, shoots this in a way that is just intoxicating. Thrillers as a genre, is the genre of movies that I like the most watching. I liked them growing up. Take a look at films like The Bourne Identity, those are films that I like watching now. This fits right into that category.
It’s not only something that I think there’s a great opportunity to do something really special, it’s also what I personally like. I find that dynamic for this kind of show to be fascinating and interesting and something I feel I understand. So for all of those reasons, 24 is a really attractive thing for me to do.
24: Live Another Day premieres with a special two-hour television event on Monday, May 5 at 8pm ET/10pm PT, exclusively on Fox.