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Kiefer Sutherland revives the Jack Bauer saga in '24: Live Another Day'

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Of all the projects that Emmy-winning actor Kiefer Sutherland has done over the years, he says that the TV series “24” (which was on the air from 2001 to 2010) is the one where he felt the most pressure. The pressure is on again “24: Live Another Day,” an event series set to restart the ticking clock on the groundbreaking and Emmy Award-winning “24.” The high-octane saga reunites the team of executive producer Howard Gordon, star/executive producer Sutherland, co-creator Robert Cochran, director Jon Cassar and executive producers Evan Katz, Manny Coto, David Fury, Brian Grazer. 24: Live Another Day” premieres on Fox on May 5, 2014.

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Set and shot in London, the suspenseful event series once again will follow the exploits of heroic agent Jack Bauer (played by Sutherland). Four years ago, Jack was a fugitive from justice. Now an exile, he nevertheless is willing to risk his life and freedom to avert yet another global disaster. Tracking Jack are CIA head Steve Navarro (played by Benjamin Bratt); CIA agent Kate Morgan (played by Yvonne Strahovski), who is both resourceful and ruthless; Jordan Reed (played by Giles Matthey), a smart and sophisticated CIA computer tech; and Erik Ritter (played by Gbenga Akinnagbe), a sharp, strong and arrogant field operative. Calling the shots is James Heller (played by William Devane, “The Dark Knight Rises”), now President of the United States. Heller is flanked by his chief of staff Mark Boudreau (played by Tate Donovan), who is married to Heller’s daughter, who is Jack’s former flame Audrey (played by Kim Raver).

Meanwhile, a hardened Chloe O’Brian (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub), Bauer’s CTU confidante, is now working underground with high-profile hacker Adrian Cross (played by Michael Wincott). Guest stars on “24: Live Another Day” include Stephen Fry and Michelle Fairley. The harrowing day will have Jack attempting to thwart an unthinkable terrorist attack that could change the world forever. During a recent telephone conference call interview with journalists, Sutherland talked about the past, present and future of the “24” franchise.

Can you talk a little bit about over the years how many times fans asked you anywhere when is “24” coming back? Were you ever in some odd places where you couldn’t believe it was just all about Jack Bauer? And what kind of response to it have you had coming back?

Well, I get it a lot. And it wasn’t just a question of whether or not 24 was coming back, I think it was more specific towards when is it, because I think people were anticipating a movie. And then with regards to where, that’s always amazed me. Even in the context of the promotion of another television show I did called “Touch,” where I would be in Russia, you know, I had 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, religion, 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 was equally successful as it was in America, which I think is 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.

And then with regards to people kind of coming up, 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 that the last thing I thought we were going to do is kind of another season. And I think fans were kind of surprised by that as well, and I hope in a good way.

What is it about the Jack Bauer character do you think that thrills people so much?

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. And I think life kind of makes us feel like that too. Life is tricky.

And 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 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.

And this is also a character that is — I’m so sorry — 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. And I certainly found that comforting, and I certainly felt very helpless after 9/11 and there was kind of a great refuge for me in that character.

Would you consider having a second 12-episode season of “24: Live Another Day”?

I would never say no, because it’s just too easy for something to happen, but it is not something that I’m thinking about and it’s not something that I think [“24” executive producer] Howard [Gordon] or anybody else is thinking about. I think once we realized we were going to do this and we actually started the process of obviously the writers with the scripts, [executive producer/director] Jon Cassar and myself doing our pre-production, we became so focused on trying to make these the best 12 episodes of “24,” period, and 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. 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. So there are so many other factors involved, I guess, is my point.

Can you walk us through again what was going on with the possible “24” movie and where it ended up? And then, how closely related is the event series to what the movie possibly could have been?

They’re very different. The relation to where the script was for the film to what we’re doing for these 12 episodes is night and day. Having said that, I spent my whole career with “24” dealing with 20th Century Fox television production company, which is a very separate entity than 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 had expressed a real desire to make one. 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.

And then Howard obviously came to me with this idea for this one last season. But I couldn’t exactly tell you why. You know, 20th Century Fox is a very big company and there are a lot of different divisions, and I’ve only worked with a few of them, and it wasn’t something that ever got so far down the line that I could point to one specific reason as to why that didn’t happen. I just know it didn’t.

How has the Jack Bauer we meet in “24: Live Another Day” changed from the guy that we knew in “24,” and how is he the same?

Well, I think there’s a very strong moral compass with Jack Bauer. Whether he is right or wrong he is going to do what he thinks is the right thing. And he’s going to do everything to the risk of his own life, that he’s going to do that to try and prevent whatever situation the day brings from happening.

Having said that, there are two things that are very different structurally from this season to any other, and one of them is that Jack Bauer usually started off 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, that he’s actually working on his own, but the people that he’s trying to help are actually hunting him and they’re trying to either kill him or arrest him. And so, that’s a really interesting dynamic. On a much more kind of intimate character level, Jack Bauer is just, he’s 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. And that is something that you’ll see very early on in the first episode in the dramatically dynamic shift between the relationship between he and Chloe, and that’s explained very early on.

Based on what you just said and what we know about what Jack has been through, what is his motivation? Why does he still try and protect these people?

Because, and I’m going to use a line and I’m going to ask you to just kind of use it judiciously in your interview, but it’s the only way I know how to explain it. The opening threat is he has uncovered a plot to kill and assassinate the president of the United States on British soil. And the fear of doing that, even if it’s an ally, but the fear of doing that on foreign soil could be tantamount to a world war.

And he thinks that the ramifications, or the outcome of this event, if it were in fact to take place, would be global. He has a daughter and he has grandchildren who are alive, and those are some of the reasons that make him come out of hiding.

He also has a profound respect for President Heller, and obviously Audrey, his daughter, is kind of the great love of his life. And those things all become addressed in the first two, if not four episodes. But, again, he believes that the threat that he’s uncovered is so egregious that it could start a world conflict, and that is his initial desire to become involved.

Culturally, you kind of touched on how the idea of Jack Bauer came in after 9/11 and society kind of needed him. Now, years later, we’re kind of on the other side of that coin a little bit, and also we’re living in a world where we have television shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” are about very bad people. So where does Jack fit in culturally to the conversation now?

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, because in all fairness we had shot five months of “24” before the terrible events of 9/11 and after that terrible day. We personally thought that the show was over and we shouldn’t do it, because it was too close to something that had really happened.

And we were very surprised to see the audience reaction and critics’ reaction to the show early on. Somehow there was something that made Jack Bauer’s character quite cathartic and actually a positive for once, and it was not what we were expecting. So in all fairness, it’s going to be much easier to answer that question in the next few weeks.

One of the things that I’ve always admired about Howard [Gordon] and Evan [Katz] and Manny [Coto] with their writing is that they do manage to have quite a very current political discussion within the context of the show. And even though it doesn’t necessarily permeate 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.

So I think that that’s a really interesting part of the show, and it will be interesting to see how an audience processes that. I personally have to wait to kind of weigh in on that until that in fact happens, and that’s going to start [on May 5, 2014].

Can you talk about the process of trying to jump back into the skin of Jack Bauer after being away from the character for four years?

Well, my first instinct is to tell you that it’s really innate in me now at this time, but it wasn’t true. I think one of the things that I had to fight the most was that when you put something away, like we had “24” and the eight seasons of “24,” and we put it away and we were done with it and kind of benchmarked it.

And this now has become a part of our life, it’s not living anymore, you get very precious with it. And 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.

But 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?”

You know, all of this. 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. And then there were a couple of scenes that really, one of which I think they’re showing a clip, where I burst into this IT tech room and I have this scene with Chloe O’Brian and Michael Wincott’s character.

And there was something about the vocal dynamic. He comes in really hot in that scene and then kind of goes down to really kind of almost a whispering tone, and that was something that triggered something for me that just kind of made me feel really comfortable and at ease. And then we kind of took off from there.

In 20 years, what do you want the legacy of “24” to be?

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. 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.

And then I hope from a technical level and from a creative level that we’ve done it in a way that it is something you’ll still want to watch. When I take a look at a movie like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I can watch that movie, it being black and white doesn’t throw me. Its performances are outstanding, the story is really important and special, and it has not dated itself at all to me.

I would like “24” to kind of be the same thing. And please know that I’m not comparing “24” to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I’m just saying in the sense of it not dating itself I would like that very much.

There’s all this pressure on Jack to kind of get in and get Chloe out, so what is the most pressure that you felt in your career working in this business?

I would have to say it centers around “24.” I think “24” came out in its first season, and certainly by the end of the second season, and this happens very rarely, where you kind of captured lightning in a bottle, and I think there was a responsibility to its initial success to try and constantly push to make it better. I know that Howard has felt that way.

I know that Jon Cassar has felt that way. And the pressure generally always kind of comes from within. It’s never something that someone else necessarily makes you feel. It’s a sense of obligation that you have to something that’s giving you something. “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. That singularly is the thing that kind of stands out the most. I know that when we finished the eighth season, I think my shoulders dropped three inches because I knew that in three weeks instead of starting another season I was not going to have to confront that again. And there was a relief in that, I have to tell you.

You’ve said several times over the years that the early success of “24” in the U.K. was key to the longevity to the series. Was that at all on your mind when it was announced that Live Another Day would be shot in the U.K.?

It made me smile. I mean, if there was a place that I thought deserved our attention, I thought London was it. 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.

And as you guys 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. And I think “24” was on the fence, and its success kind of, in other places in Europe and ultimately in 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 that was very fitting.

Every season of “24,” there always seems to be someone that’s working supposedly on the same side as Jack, but yet he’s constantly throwing roadblocks in his way and coming up against him in every way possible and makes himself a character that we just love to hate. Can you tell us who that’s going to be this time around?

Well, no, I can’t tell you who that’s going to be because that would just ruin the whole thing. 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.

If you were as skilled as Jack Bauer in real life and you had a similar event take place where you were fighting a terrorist, would you fight or take flight?

Well, you know, I’ve thought about that in trying to understand and develop the character, and because I’ll be the first person to tell you, I am not Jack Bauer, by any stretch of the imagination. But one of the things that I had to try and figure out, to kind of help form the character, was what would I do if someone threatened or endangered my family, and more specifically my children. And that reaction is instinctual, it’s guttural, and I would fight to the death for that.

And so that was a real framework for me in developing the character, in that he feels this incredible sense of responsibility, that he does have a skill set that will allow him to do a lot of things and conquer a lot of things. And when lives are at stake, and particularly in the context of our show sometimes thousands of people’s lives, he is very willing to die for that. That’s something I admire in the character.

For me, the easiest way to kind of access that thought was to just imagine something happening, you know, a threat to my children. And in that context in the fight or flight, it would definitely be fight.

You that you’d definitely always be willing to hear about another “24.” What is it about the character or the production that makes you so willing to keep coming back for more?

Well, 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 this show falls in for me, that ticking clock, it really does matter, it makes you quite nervous, inherently it just does, because you know time is running out. So for all of those reasons I found it fascinating. I also think Jon Cassar as a director shoots this in a way that is just intoxicating.

And thrillers as a genre, and as a genre of movies that I like the most watching, I liked them growing up, take a look at “Bourne Identity.” Those are films that I like watching now. This fits right into that category.

So it’s not only something that I think there is a great opportunity to do something really special, but it’s also what I personally like. I find the dynamic of this kind of a show to be fascinating and interesting and something I feel I understand, and so for all of those reasons “24” is a really attractive thing for me to do.

For more info: "24 Live Another Day" website

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