Jack Bauer is used to working under pressure. For nearly ten years he protected this country from terrorist bombs, viruses, and Presidential assassinations, before being branded a traitor and going into hiding at the end of the final episode. Now Kiefer Sutherland, the man who breathed life into Jack Bauer for eight mostly brilliant seasons, is feeling that same pressure as the show is set to make an encore on May 5 with "24: Live Another Day".
"It’s a sense of obligation that you have to something that’s giving you something," Sutherland said during a phone interview. "'24' has given me huge opportunities, it’s been the great kind of education I’ve had as an actor, and so I think the greatest pressure that I’ve experienced is pressure that I put on myself to try and make the show as good as we can possibly make it."
If anyone is worried that the four-year layoff may have been too long or that Kiefer may have lost that "Jack Bauer magic", don't fret. The actor had the same doubts, but wants to assure fans they wouldn't be doing it if it didn't feel right.
"I think the most difficult thing for me in the six months leading up to shooting was kind of dealing with my nerves and realizing we’re opening this up again and trying not to be scared of it and actually view this as a real opportunity to try and make the best 12 episodes," Sutherland said about getting back into character.
"I will be very honest with you, I was quite nervous leading up to it, and I was very fortunate to have Jon Cassar, our director, because I must have annoyed the life out of him. For the first three days I kept walking up to him going, 'Does that feel right to you? Does that look right to you? Does it sound right?'...And he was like, 'Kiefer, it’s perfect. It’s great.' I wouldn’t have moved on otherwise. Clearly, I didn’t believe him. So, he had to endure that for a few days."
So, what makes Jack Bauer so appealing after all these years? Sure, it's only been four years since Sutherland put Bauer to bed, but today's audiences can have short memory spans. Sutherland is quick to point out Bauer's vulnerability makes him relatable to audiences.
"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," he said. "And I think life kind of makes us feel like that too. Life is tricky.
"A guy goes and gets a promotion at work and he’s very happy for a few minutes, but then realizes he doesn’t have time to take his son to football practice anymore. And I think there’s a kind of reality in that not winning that makes Jack Bauer incredibly relatable."
The return to TV comes with a few tweaks to the "real-time" formula the show is known for. "Live Another Day" will still cover 24 hours, but it will do it with only 12 episodes. Not all of which will keep that real-time format, allowing the action to jump from location to location without being bogged down by real-world problems like traffic.
Set four years after the events of Day 8, "Live Another Day" finds Jack in London trying to stop the assassination of President Heller (William Devane, returning). It's the first Jack Bauer adventure to take place outside the United States, and a welcome tweak for Sutherland, who credits the show's success in the UK for helping it become a worldwide phenomenon.
"I mean, if there was a place that I thought deserved our attention, I thought London was it," Sutherland said about shooting over-seas. "And 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.
"So, when I heard that we were going to shoot it in London, there was part of me that felt that that was very fitting."
One thing "24" has always been known for is it's dastardly villains, both foreign and domestic. But the best bad guys (and girls) have been the ones that have at one time or another been an ally for Jack. Sutherland promises there are plenty of surprises coming, but he's not willing to dish out any spoilers on who the main antagonist will be for this new season.
"No, I can’t tell you who that’s going to be because that would just ruin the whole thing," he answered with a laugh. "But what’s interesting again this year is it’s multi-layered. It usually used to be one person. And 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."
It really wasn't a question if "24" would ever return -- but more like 'when' or 'how'? Even before the show bowed out, there rumors that Jack would continue to kick terrorist butt on the big screen. A couple of years back, the "24" movie seemed to be picking up steam, maybe even with the late Tony Scott at the helm, but it just never came together at 20th Century Fox, for whatever reason.
"There wasn’t a lot of conversation with regards to the film, other than we had expressed a real desire to make one. "Sutherland explained. "And I think that they were interested on some level, and for whatever reason, and I have no idea whether it was our story, whether it was what they had already 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."
The show hasn't even aired, but with eight episodes in the can, and four left to film, it's easy to wonder whether there will be yet another day for Jack Bauer. Sutherland is open to returning to more Jack Bauer action, should this season's story allow it, but isn't quite ready to make any promises about the future.
"I feel very, very strong about the first eight episodes that we have completed, " he said. "Now, we just need to really bring it home. And then we’ll see where we’re at. I would never want to say, 'No, I absolutely will not do that,' because I don’t know."
Whether or not this is the swan song for "24" or not remains to be seen, but the fact that it's even coming back for even just a limited run proves that the show, and Jack Bauer, have left a lasting legacy on its fans.
"In 20 years I would like it to still be watchable. I would like to have it, at least from a technical perspective, not be dated." Sutherland said. "In 20 years I would also like it to go back to what it was originally designed to do, which was be a piece of entertainment, as opposed to something that was reflective of something terrible that had happened.
"So, in 20 years I hope that we as a planet are back to that place."
"24: Live Another Day" returns on Monday, May 5 with a two-hour premiere beginning at 8/7c before returning to its regular time slot, 9/8c on Monday, May 12.