Jack Bauer is an idiot.
While taking a dinner break from filming 24: Live Another Day in London recently, star Kiefer Sutherland was about to get a table at a restaurant…when he plowed straight into a full-length mirror that he thought was the dining-room entrance. The impact knocked the 47-year-old actor to the ground, prompting the show’s dialect coach to deadpan, “Jack Bauer is an idiot.”
It happens more often than you’d think. “When embarrassing stuff happens, the first thing people say is ‘Oh, Jack Bauer really isn’t that cool,'” Sutherland admits later. “It’s like the great burden of playing this character.” Looking like a colossal boob isn’t his only source of anxiety. Ever since Sutherland agreed last spring to reprise one of TV’s all-time best characters, the actor has been consumed by fear — because the only thing scarier than being a klutz in front of fans is blowing a second chance at making TV history.
“After we wrapped our eighth season, we went, ‘Ooh, we dodged that bullet!’ It ended in a profoundly sad way and we were proud of it,” says Sutherland. “Having said that, it made the choice to come back very stressful. That sense of responsibility to the show has not dissipated at all. We have a real shot at doing the best season ever…but I’m scared to death until we do that.”
Jack Bauer is incredibly ripped.
It’s day 12 of shooting the first two episodes of Live Another Day in London, and a shirtless Sutherland is sitting in an abandoned factory that’s doubling as the CIA’s underground office in Europe. Sutherland’s bare chest is covered with electrodes that are monitoring his heartbeat for signs of distress — but his cardiovascular highs and lows aren’t nearly as interesting to look at as the newly acquired definition to his chest, the result of an exercise regimen he picked up last year while playing Corvus, the sinister politician in Pompeii. “I’m not the guy who takes his shirt off,” explains Sutherland. “I just thought it was time to get back into really good shape because I knew I was gonna be running, jumping, and all of that crap.”
And if you want to get really technical, it’s not like his alter ego had much to do besides work out. It’s been four years since Jack Bauer went off the grid after killing Russian diplomats and plotting to assassinate Russian president Yuri Suvarov in the 2010 finale. Live Another Day, the 12-episode series bowing May 5 on Fox, finds Jack resurfacing in London just as the CIA has intercepted a death threat against visiting U.S. president James Heller (William Devane, who’s earned a promotion after serving as secretary of defense in season 5). CIA operations head Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) brings the fugitive into the agency to get some answers — hence Bauer’s shirtless electrode-laden interrogation. “I just met Kiefer today!” reveals Bratt during a break in filming. “To actually step on set and play not just with Kiefer Sutherland but the iconic Jack Bauer, who is the spy of spies, is a pretty surreal moment for me.”
Not too long ago the whole idea of bringing back 24 would have seemed like a pipe dream. Fox canceled the once — critically acclaimed series in 2010 for a reason: Though it ran for an impressive eight seasons, ratings dropped steadily and the melancholic finale — which ended with Jack staring grimly at a surveillance camera as a tearful Chloe commanded, “Shut it down” — pulled in a disappointing 10.4 million viewers, below the 10.8 million average for the final year. “I feel like [the finale] was underappreciated,” says exec producer Howard Gordon, a veteran writer on the show who went on to produce the Emmy-winning Homeland for Showtime. “We were quite happy with the way the last season went and the way it ended, but at some level people moved on at that time. It didn’t get the [viewership] it deserved.”
Talk of making a 24 movie didn’t get any traction over the next several years either, even with Sutherland and producers Brian Grazer and the late Tony Scott on board. “I didn’t understand why it wouldn’t make sense from an economic standpoint,” says Sutherland, who gets visibly annoyed at the mere mention of the extended negotiations. “Obviously someone else had done the counting and thought they didn’t need to make it.”
Then early last year, Fox Networks Group chairman Peter Rice scheduled a casual lunch with Gordon and brought up the prospect of reviving the series for a limited run on Fox. Intrigued, Gordon bounced the idea off Sutherland, who loved it — though he figured it was highly unlikely. “I thought he would start to write it, then be on some massive deadline for Homeland,” says Sutherland, whose 24 follow-up, Touch, ran for two low-rated seasons on Fox. “I really didn’t take it that seriously.” Longtime 24 scribe and exec producer Manny Coto had a similar reaction: “When Howard called me saying they were bringing back 24, I was on my porch smoking a cigar, thinking about the day’s work. My response was ‘Great, Howard, good luck with that’ — never expecting that it would actually come through.”
But a lot has changed in TV since the clock last stopped on 24. The rise of Netflix and binge-TV culture has driven the networks to start searching for “event” programming. A reboot of 24 made perfect sense for Fox, which had already begun developing Wayward Pines from M. Night Shyamalan as a limited series for summer 2014. And Rice’s suggestion about condensing 24 into 12 episodes solved one of the major problems that had always plagued the action drama — the burden of keeping a suspense story suspenseful (and vaguely realistic) over 24 hour-long episodes. “There was always that period around 16, 17, and 18 where it was pretty evident that the plot was vamping a bit,” says Coto. (See: Teri Bauer’s amnesia in season 1, or Kim Bauer’s run-in with a cougar in season 2.) “In this scenario there’s no vamp.”
Even though no network had ever attempted to resuscitate a show that had been on the trash heap for years (the closest example was Family Guy, which went dark for two years before Fox brought it back), Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly gave it “a very long 30 seconds of thought” before delivering his verdict. “There’s not a month or maybe even a week that goes by at Fox that someone doesn’t bring it up and ask me about ,” he says. “I knew there was still a lot of love for it, and then when I knew the band could get back together — this was not with a different cast or different showrunners — I said yes.”
Final step: Make sure Jack Bauer was ready to go back to work. Sutherland was eating with his sister in Toronto while on break from Pompeii when he got a call from Dana Walden, the chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox TV, which produces 24. “When she called, I went, ‘This is for real,'” recalls the actor. Though Sutherland says his paycheck isn’t near what he got for the last three seasons of the original series, he had other, more important reasons to return to Jack: “This is the [role] that my kids thought was cool. I was cool for a minute to my kids!”
Jack Bauer is a loyal friend.
Once 24 got the green light, the next task was figuring out which fan favorites would join Sutherland’s tortured hero in a game of beat the clock around Big Ben. At least one decision was easy: A 24 without Jack’s lippy sidekick Chloe would be like a Bond movie without Q, so naturally Mary Lynn Rajskub was the first former costar Sutherland reached out to when the series was becoming a reality. “I had heard a rumor of it, and it was all over Twitter,” says Rajskub. “[There’s] this very human aspect, where you’re just sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my God. Is this true? What does this mean for me?'” Something pretty rad, it turns out: Gordon & Co. wanted a disaffected Chloe — who had watched Bauer become a fugitive from the U.S. government after saving the world countless times — to play a central role on the reboot. When we catch up with Chloe, she’s been living off the grid as a punked-out hacktivist in London with her Edward Snowden-like boyfriend, Adrian Cross (Alien Resurrection‘s Michael Wincott). “I started out as just a rule follower,” says Rajskub of Chloe, who now sports a spiky bob and heavy eyeliner. “I don’t want to say I’m like Jack now, but I’m more hardened. I’ve seen more of the world. I’ve made more choices on my own, whereas I used to exist within the system. She’s kind of just mean now.”
Kim Raver had completed three seasons as Dr. Teddy Altman on Grey’s Anatomy when Gordon called her about reprising the role of Audrey Raines, Jack’s love interest from seasons 4 through 6. Though it would require a major life change — Raver and her husband would end up temporarily uprooting their young kids and moving to London — there was no way she could say no to revisiting Audrey, who’s now serving as an aide to her father, President Heller, and married to his chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan). “Stepping back in, that first morning, felt like we never went away,” says Raver. And while it’s unlikely we’ll see Jack and Audrey run off for a surprise wedding at Westminster Abbey, the flame will be rekindled once the two are brought together over the presidential death threats. Audrey, explains Raver, is “a hopeless romantic. Jack, for her, was the one and only. No one will ever match up.”
Since the season 8 death of Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) left Jack without a female-agent counterpart, Yvonne Strahovski (Dexter) joined the London team to play CIA field operative Kate Morgan, a relentless sleuth who almost immediately discovers holes in Jack’s story. “She takes risks,” says Strahovski, who binged on the first and eighth seasons of 24 before starting work. “She’s not entirely by the book, which is very Jack Bauer.”
Of course, every 24 season needs a worthy adversary for Jack, and on Live Another Day he’ll face off against Margot, the widow of an infamous terrorist. Michelle Fairley, who was last seen getting her throat slit at a wedding reception gone wrong on Game of Thrones, landed the role after Judy Davis had to drop out for personal reasons. “This is a passionate woman who morally believes she is in the right,” says Fairley of Margot. “She’s standing up for millions of people, so therefore you have to give her integrity. Even though she may be characterized as a villain, she totally believes 100 percent in what she’s doing.”
Funny, the same could be said for Jack. In other words: The torture is back, 24 fans! “It’s not because we advocate torture in the real world,” insists Sutherland. “It’s a phenomenal dramatic device. ‘I need this piece of information and this is what I’m willing to do to you to get it.’ It’s not because we’re suggesting that people do this, or that it’s appropriate for the police or for the army to behave this way. But in the dramatic context of our show, that’s how desperate it is. I don’t think we get through two episodes where he’s not doing something like that. He hurts a few people.”
Jack Bauer is an international icon.
While finishing up a pub meal, Sutherland is approached by a British man who whispers a few words of gratitude and then dashes away. The actor really likes it in the U.K., and not just because he was born in nearby Paddington to mother Shirley, an actress, and father Donald, with whom he just filmed a Western that’ll be released later this year. “England is a place where the show did unbelievably well,” says Sutherland. “It took a little longer for an American audience to find it.” It won’t be nearly as hard to pique viewer interest this time around, as evidenced by the ecstatic Twittersphere reaction to the 45-second promo that aired during Super Bowl XLVIII. (Live Another Day has already been sold overseas in countries such as Turkey, Poland, and Greece.) “The spot certainly riled up fans,” says Sutherland, who adds with a laugh that none of the footage shot for the Super Bowl ad will actually appear on the series. “The only other time I’ve done a promo before we shot a single frame of the end product was Young Guns.”
For now, Sutherland and the producers won’t say whether Live Another Day is a one-time deal. “We’re just focusing on this stand-alone season,” says Coto. “We want to make this one great new chapter in Jack Bauer’s life, and if it’s successful, who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another season, but there’s no telling what it will be, what shape it will take, and when it will happen.” But overall, it’s been a pretty bump-free journey to bring back Jack. “When we started shooting, things started working out,” says Sutherland. “The weather even cooperated. Like, if we needed rain, we got rain. If we needed it to clear up, it would clear up. I don’t believe in providence or any of that. But it felt like when so many things could have gone wrong, they didn’t.”
Even if this does end up being Jack Bauer’s final chapter, Sutherland knows he’ll live with the character for the rest of his life. Case in point: Before he came to London, a driver witnessed the actor taking an embarrassing header off his bicycle near his Los Angeles home. Without missing a beat, the motorist yelled, “Jack Bauer can’t ride a bike!”
Where We Left Off
When we last saw Jack Bauer, the president was urging him to flee the country — otherwise the U.S. government would extradite him to Russia for killing some of the country’s diplomats and almost assassinating Russian president Yuri Suvarov. As a distraught Chloe looked on via a surveillance camera, Jack said his goodbyes and walked off the grid. But it could have been worse: The producers did toy with the notion of just killing him (even though that obviously would have put the kibosh on the idea of later reviving the show). “It was a little bit like catnip on a show about real time,” recalls executive producer Howard Gordon. “I think we all felt that it wasn’t the way to end it — but it certainly was under serious consideration.”
Meet 24‘s New Players
Kate Morgan, CIA Field Operative
“She’s basically hunting Jack Bauer,” explains Strahovski. “She’s very impulsive and she’s described as brilliant, so in a way she sort of reminds me of season 1 Jack Bauer.” And that means Agent Morgan is good with a gun, a fact Strahovski was comfortable with after playing a secret agent on NBC’s Chuck. “I would have asked for some kind of training had I not played with guns before,” says the actress. “I mean, I spent five years working with all types of guns — machine guns, automatics, rifles, a nine-millimeter. So, yeah, I knew it would be easy to slip right into 24.”
Mark Boudreau, White House Chif of Staff
Boudreau — who’s married to Jack’s ex Audrey — is threatened by Bauer’s reemergence. He’s overprotective of his father-in-law, President Heller, and sometimes tries to make decisions for his family.
Steve Navarro, Head of CIA Operations
He’s a measured leader who is nevertheless overwhelmed by the Jack Bauer situation — but, adds Bratt, “if I’m the head of the CIA in the London station, it’s a fair bet I’m a good guy.”
This British widow of a notorious terrorist seeks to avenge her husband’s death. Says Fairley, “She’s a mother, very well educated, who fell in love with a well-known terrorist and becomes ensconced in his lifestyle.”
A Brief History of Jack Bauer’s Go-To Curse
Season 1, episode 4. Jack is in pursuit of a suspicious guy in a dark warehouse, so he says it under his breath. Fun fact: Sutherland ad-libbed it!
Jack usually barks the oath while trying to obtain intel during a mission. A newcomer to the CTU/CIA offices might think Jack’s co-workers were named Dammit Chloe, Dammit Tony, and Dammit Renee.
Will Jack Dammit Another Day?
Hell, yeah! Jack’s riding in a car with Chloe when he blurts it out in the first episode — which triggered giggles from Mary Lynn Rajskub. “We had to do it again,” moans Sutherland. “It’s just so frustrating. There are moments you would normally yell, ‘f—‘ or an expletive of some kind, but ‘dammit’ was really the only one we could ever use.”