Preston Barta // Film Critic
Jack Bauer is back with a vengeance! The launch of “24: Live Another Day” commences tomorrow night, and Red Carpet Crash got in on the action by talking to Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland. We talked about what audiences can expect with this new season, the movie that never happened and what he would do in a similar situation in real life.
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?
Kiefer Sutherland: “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.”
I was expecting a movie too. I remember when the news broke. How closely related is the event series to what the movie possibly could have been?
Sutherland: “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 or 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.”
How do you think the Jack Bauer we meet in “24: Live Another Day” has changed from the guy that we knew in “24?”
Sutherland: “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 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, 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 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.”
Culturally, you kind of touched on this, 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,” those are about very bad people. So, where does Jack fit in culturally to the conversation now?
Sutherland: “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. 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 critic reaction to the show early on, and 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 and Evan and Manny 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 Monday.”
In the first episode of the new season, there’s all this pressure on Jack to kind of get in and get Chloe out. So, I’m curious as to what is the most pressure that you felt in your career working in this business?
Sutherland: “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.”
If you were as skilled as your character, Jack, in real life and you had a similar event take place where you were fighting a terrorist, would you fight or take flight?
Sutherland: “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.”