Talking with the bad girls of ''24'' -- Penny Johnson Jerald and Laura Harris reveal why their conniving characters deserve a break

By Liane Bonin
Updated February 04, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
24, Penny Johnson Jerald
Credit: 24: Aaron Rapaport/FOX

On ”24,” one is a power-hungry Lady Macbeth, the other is a killer bride-to-almost-be. talked to Penny Johnson Jerald (who plays Sherry Palmer, the President’s scheming ex) and Laura Harris (Marie Warner, the wedding planner/terrorist) about the ”b” word, Eminem’s evil influence, and why they have more in common with good guy Jack Bauer than he might think.

So, do you feel like you’re playing evil women? Or is it just us?
Penny Johnson Jerald ”Evil” implies that she’s completely amoral, and I just don’t think she is. I’d like to believe she’s passionate and has a strong desire, and to me all of that translates into power. However, because she’s female it translates to that evil ”b” word.
Laura Harris I think my character simply believes in what she’s doing — as much as she’d kill somebody she loves to do it. In the general American context, you don’t kill people you love. It’s evil, a crime. So it is evil in our context. But in another context, it’s not. It’s good.

Fans were shocked when you revealed your dark sides. Did the writers spring this on you, too?
P.J.J. Often, you don’t want to know too much, because it does affect your performance. When you’re shooting a series for nine months out of the year, you don’t want to anticipate too much, because you’re going to work and you have to enjoy this thing too. So you like the surprises. I’ve gotten letters from fans saying, ”I should have gotten it in episode 5 last year when you wiped your mouth a certain way.” So I must have played what was really going on in episode 5, and the writers picked up on it and brought it full circle.
L.H. I didn’t know anything about the turn going in, which I liked. I wouldn’t say that’s true in all cases, but it worked because there was no subconscious hint of it whatsoever. She was just totally a brat, a high-maintenance bride on her wedding day. People wanted to slap me.

Between the two of you, who is the bigger baddie?
P.J.J. Well, Sherry really believes she’s doing the right thing. What’s questionable is how she goes about doing it. I don’t think she’s crazy or off her rocker. She loves that man, and she’s aroused with these strong feelings, and by gosh, she’s going to see it through.
L.H. It’s such a gray area. And since none of us know how the day turns out, at any moment Marie’s actions could be seen as much worse or completely redemptive. She could turn out to be the best person in the world.

Is it more fun to play the villain?
P.J.J. This is the juiciest role I’ve had up to this point. I get to come out of the surface me and dig a little deeper, come up with reasons and motivations to support these things she’s doing and make it believable for the audience.
L.H. Absolutely, it’s more fun. But sometimes it can be hard. I’d never shot a real gun before, so one of the writers of ”King of the Hill,” where my boyfriend used to work, took me to a shooting range and put a gun in my hand. And I cried. There was a little 6 year old shooting next to me with such great aim, and I just imagined my mother looking at me with a gun in my hand and started weeping. I was so ashamed to be such a girl, but I had to get over it. People really reacted to that one tear falling down my face when I shot the gun, but you try not to cry when someone puts a gun in your hands, because it’s a powerful, powerful feeling. I can’t detach myself from it.

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