As the season 6 premiere draws closer, Kiefer Sutherland tells EW about the joy of playing Jack Bauer ''at the lowest he's ever been'' and the drive to top the show's classic season 5

By Jeff Jensen
Updated January 15, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Kiefer Sutherland: Anthony Mandler
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Saving the day can be a pretty thankless job if you’re Jack Bauer. Bring down a treasonous president? Get a one-way ticket to Tortureville, China! Fortunately for Kiefer Sutherland, playing TV’s most beleaguered hero has become more rewarding, thanks to a long-overdue Emmy for best actor and a new three-year, $40 million contract. ”What I’ve learned on 24 has changed everything for me as an actor,” says the star, who chatted with EW about Jack’s past, present, and future superheroics. The Fox series returns at 8 p.m. on Jan. 14 with a two-hour episode. The interview begins in 5…4…3…2…1…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay. Burning question. The most burning of burning questions for the guy who plays Jack Bauer: Do you record new ”The following takes place…” intros for every episode?
KIEFER SUTHERLAND: We did. Anytime I would go in for looping, I would do the ”The following takes place between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.” or whatever. One day, I said, ”Do we not have this yet?” And of course, we did. So I don’t do them anymore — but I did them for three years without realizing we didn’t need to.

Set the stage for us as Jack embarks upon his sixth day-saving mission.
This is the most disoriented, defeated shell of a man you can imagine. What he went through in China — which is described over the course of the season — was unbelievable. It has changed him. And in that context, the story takes some amazing turns.

Season 6 actually deals with his family. Not the family he created, but the family he was given at birth. It’s been really interesting to explore the place this character came from.

What did you think when you read the script of last season’s finale, when Jack is abducted by the Chinese?
I thought, ”So next season, we’re filming in…China?!”

It was the first time that a season of 24 ended with a cliff-hanger for Jack.
It’s funny. When we did the first season, I felt very strongly that every season should be self-contained, that the final episode should wrap up the day. There are so many things that I thought were right at one point but I now realize are terribly wrong. There was something very special about ending the show last season on that kind of dynamic note.

Last year was hailed by critics, fans, and your Emmy-voting peers as the best season of 24 ever. Did you get the sense while you were making it that it was going to be so good?
We have always felt that we’ve been progressing. Every year, we learn something from the previous season that makes it easier to produce the show. The same applies to this new season.

For example?
Last year, the show had such a strong overall balance. The story line with the president and his wife gave the show another strong narrative strand. So developing the characters that exist around the main Jack Bauer story line — characters as effective as Charles and Martha Logan — was an idea we really wanted to embrace. One of the things we wanted to avoid this season was relying on action to drive the show. When the show is character-driven, the audience can really relate to it. If it’s simply a series of action moments strung together, the show loses momentum.

What did the Emmy victories mean to you?
It was one of those weird, special nights, on so many levels. Jon Cassar won for Best Direction; that was wonderful, because he’s been the great underrated talent on 24, having directed most of the episodes for the past five years. On a personal level, my dad was in the audience, and we hadn’t seen each other a great deal; he had been working on Commander in Chief. So it was a nice way for us to end up going out together one night.

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