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Kiefer Sutherland talks Jack Bauer's return on '24: Live Another Day'

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After a four-year absence, Jack is back to save the world one more time when "24: Live Another Day" premieres the first night of its 12-episode run on Monday, May 5 on FOX. Set in London, the thriller, event series will continue the exploits of super agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland).

Four years ago, Jack was a fugitive from justice. Now in exile, he nevertheless is willing to risk his life and freedom to avert yet another global disaster. Despite the four years, Jack is still on the most-listed, and being hunted by a team of CIA operatives including Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt), Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), Jordan Reed (Giles Matthey), and Erik Ritter (Gbenga Akinnagbe).

Meanwhile, Jack's former cohort Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is now working underground with high-profile hacker Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott). The harrowing day will have Jack attempting to thwart an unthinkable terrorist attack that could change the world forever.

In this interview for the premiere of "24: Live Another Day," Sutherland talks about returning to his most-remembered character, why Jack is willing to put his life on the line even though he has been branded a traitor, how he got in shape for the role, an more.

How much input did you have?

One of the reasons, and it goes back to the very beginning, I think one of the reasons why we've been a successful unit and why we've managed to work together, is the writers write, the actors act, and the directors direct. I certainly have opinions on certain scripts, where I think things are working and where they're not. Howard [Gordon] is gracious enough to listen to some of them. Everybody does what they do. He's got his team and they're responsible for the script and for the story and we work within context of it.

Did you miss Jack? Did you say, "I want to be back with him?"

I knew that was going to happen when we ended in the first place. We were tired. We did 24 episodes a year for eight seasons. It was hard. The character, to me, is associated not only with the character that I get to play, but all of the other actors that I got to work with, the crew that I worked with for eight years. All of that was very difficult. Four years later, certainly we all found other things to do. I was a little nervous going back, but very excited about the opportunity.

It was the role of a lifetime for you, so having four years off to do other roles, were you reminded how much you had on "24"?

No, because I was fortunate enough to go off and do things that I really cared about -- "Melancholia," "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," and I really enjoyed my experience on "Touch." They're just all very different, but you're absolutely right with regards to "24." I've never done anything in my career that had an explosive reaction by an audience to a show and sustained over that long a period of time. That made that very exciting as well. Unlike films where you make them in a vacuum and you just put them out there, audiences were watching "24" while we're making it.

You just get a sense of it on the street, what people are liking and what they are not liking -- the reaction in the first season when my wife was killed. People were very upset about that but then they also said, "Thank you. I didn't expect it and that was really great television." It was a very collaborative experience, I thought, with an audience. For all of those reasons, "24" was really special.

Can you talk about Jack's frame of mind at the time that this begins?

He's very motivated. He has a very specific agenda. He's very much been operating on his own, so he does not have the same kind of loyalty as a character that he might have in the previous eight seasons, certainly with regards to Chloe. He's had enough bad things happen to him that he really doesn't trust anybody. I think he's even harder a character now than he ever was. Trust me, in the last few seasons of "24," he was a very hard guy, but I think he's even harder now.

Compare playing villains and playing heroes. You've played both really well. Is one more difficult than the other?

Everything has to do with the writing and the context with which the character maneuvers. If the writing is good, it becomes unbelievably easy, and if there are problems in the writing, specifically with regards to structure, there are some leaps of faith we have to make and that inherently makes playing a character difficult.

Jack is a physically demanding role, do you start training early for this?

I started training about 5 months before.

What form does that take?

I do a run every day, lighter weights, heavy repetitions, everything I can for endurance because it's a grinding show and I'm not getting younger.

Did you train differently for this than when you started the role?

Yeah, and the regime based on as you get older, there's certain different things you need to do. I probably run a lot more now than I did back then; I probably used more weights back then. Again, everything is designed for endurance and just being able to run all day.

Are you taking any supplements?

No, I'm not taking any supplements. Actually, I'm in the best shape I think I've been in my life.

If I give permission to not be Canadian humble for a second, people do love you in this role. I know you say that it's the format, but there's something about you in this role that people love. There's been a lot of people trying to copy it, and they don't quite get it right. Have you thought about just what it is that you personally bring to it that makes it connect with people?

That's something that you'd have to ask an audience person about why they like me in that role. It's really not for me to say. I can tell you why I connect with the character. I feel that Jack Bauer as a character has an unbelievably strong moral center. Why I can say that that character is, in fact, apolitical is because everything that he has done has been about trying to accomplish a mission and that mission is always to save people. It's not because of someone else's political agenda. I think it was in the third season he took down a president because he was corrupt. The first two seasons, he was desperately trying to save a president who he thought was good.

In the end, the great dynamic of his character and what he's had to suffer is sometimes having to make those terrible choices where you allow 10 people to be sacrificed in order to save 100. There are people in our world that have to make those decisions and he is one of them. I've always respected that aspect of the character and that's what I like about him.

Has his life been as eventful in the middle years, or has he had some quiet time?

No. He's been under ground. He has been hiding and had accepted that that was going to in fact be the rest of his life. He intercepted some intelligence that puts him in motion for this season.

"24: Live Another Day" premieres Monday, May 5 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.

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