Q & A: Kiefer Sutherland Talks Bringing Jack Back and ’24: Live Another Day’
And so is Kiefer Sutherland in the limited series, 24: Live Another Day. When we last saw Jack Bauer, he was a fugitive from justice. Now living in exile in the UK, he finds himself once again having to risk his life to stop another disaster in the making.
Set and shot around London, the new series brings back Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe!) and William Devane as James Heller, now President of the United States. The show also stars Benjamin Bratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Tate Donovan, Kim Raver and Stephen Fry.
Sutherland and FOX held a Q & A recently where he chatted about he show, getting back in Jack’s shoes and how the character has changed since we last saw him.
24: Live Another Day premieres tonight at 8:00 p.m. on FOX. It then moves to its regular time period on Monday, May 12th at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Can you talk a little bit about how many times fans asked you 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.
What is it about this character do you think that thrills people so much?
Kiefer Sutherland: I think he’s hugely relatable. Obviously, the circumstances are massively exaggerated, but I think all of us on some level feel a connection to a character like Jack Bauer because this is a guy who’s facing insurmountable odds and yet he goes into the fight regardless. And I think life kind of makes us feel like that too. Life is tricky.
And I think the fact that he doesn’t always win. In the context of the first season, he managed to save the president, he managed to get his daughter back, but he lost his wife. A guy goes and gets a promotion at work and he’s very happy for a few minutes, but then realizes he doesn’t have time to take his son to football practice anymore. And I think there’s a kind of reality in that not winning that makes Jack Bauer incredibly relatable.
And this is also a character that is—I’m so sorry—after 9-11 I think there was a real feeling of helplessness, and I think Jack Bauer, as a character, was kind of dogmatic and regardless of the circumstances was going to push forward. And I certainly found that comforting, and I certainly felt very helpless after 9-11 and there was kind of a great refuge for me in that character.
If this is popular, and I expect it to be, would you consider having a second 12 episode season?
Kiefer Sutherland: I would never say no, because it’s just too easy for something to happen. But it is not something that I’m thinking about and it’s not something that I think Howard or anybody else is thinking about. I think once we realized we were going to do this and we actually started the process of obviously the writers with the scripts, Jon Cassar and myself doing our pre-production, we became so focused on trying to make these the best 12 episodes of 24, period, and we have four episodes left to do. I feel very, very strong about the first eight episodes that we have completed. Now, we just need to really bring it home. And then we’ll see where we’re at. I would never want to say, “No, I absolutely will not do that,” because I don’t know.
This decision I made this time was really because of Howard’s conviction that he had a great story to tell. So, there are so many other factors involved, I guess, is my point.
In regards to the movie plans that didn’t pan out, can you walk us through again what was going on with that conversation and where it ended up? And then how closely related is the event series to what the movie possibly could have been?
Kiefer 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, 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.
And then Howard obviously came to me with this idea for this one last season. But I couldn’t exactly tell you why. You know, 20th Century Fox is a very big company and there are a lot of different divisions, and I’ve only worked with a few of them, and it wasn’t something that ever got so far down the line that I could point to one specific reason as to why that didn’t happen. I just know it didn’t.
How has the Jack Bauer we meet in 24: Live Another Day changed from the guy that we knew in 24 and how is he the same?
Kiefer 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, that he’s going to do that to try 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, that 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 just, he’s 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.
Can you talk about the process of trying to jump back into the skin of Jack Bauer after being away from the character for four years, as an actor if there’s anything that you actually maybe forget, maybe any little type of nuances about the character that maybe you have to re-learn, or if it’s just something that kind of just always lives with you.
Kiefer Sutherland: Well, my first instinct is to tell you that it’s really innate in me now at this time. But it wasn’t true. I think one of the things that I had to fight the most was that when you put something away, like we had 24 and the eight seasons of 24, and we put it away and we were done with it and kind of benchmarked it, and this now has become a part of our life, it’s not living anymore, you get very precious with it. And I think the most difficult thing for me in the six months leading up to shooting was kind of dealing with my nerves and realizing we’re opening this up again and trying not to be scared of it and actually view this as a real opportunity to try and make the best 12 episodes.
But I will be very honest with you, I was quite nervous leading up to it, and I was very fortunate to have Jon Cassar, our director, because I must have annoyed the life out of him. For the first three days I kept walking up to him going, “Does that feel right to you? Does that look right to you? Does it sound right?” You know, all of this. And he was like, “Kiefer, it’s perfect. It’s great.” I wouldn’t have moved on otherwise. Clearly, I didn’t believe him. So, he had to endure that for a few days.
And then there were a couple of scenes that really, one of which I think they’re showing a clip, where I burst into this IT tech room and I have this scene with Chloe O’Brian and Michael Wincott’s character, and there was something about the vocal dynamic, he comes in really hot in that scene and then kind of goes down to really kind of almost a whispering tone, and that was something that triggered something for me that just kind of made me feel really comfortable and at ease. And then we kind of took off from there.
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?
Kiefer 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.
You’ve said several times over the years that the early success of 24 in the U.K. was key to the longevity to the series. Was that at all on your mind when it was announced that Live Another Day would be shot in the U.K.?
Kiefer Sutherland: It made me smile. I mean, if there was a place that I thought deserved our attention, I thought London was it. And when I say it was instrumental in the longevity of the show, it was a hit out of the box in London. It was a huge success. And as you guys all know, picking a show up for a second season is a monumental investment by a network, not just financially but literally in every aspect. And I think 24 was on the fence, and its success kind of, in other places in Europe and ultimately in Japan as well, were instrumental in that decision to pick it up for a second season, which we were really grateful for. So, when I heard that we were going to shoot it in London, there was part of me that felt that that was very fitting.
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?
Kiefer 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.
What is it about the character or the production that makes you so willing to keep coming back for more?
Kiefer Sutherland: Well, I love the character and I love the idea of the show. I think I said in many interviews when we started that the real star of the show is the time signature. Because in the context of a thriller, which is the genre that this show falls in for me, that ticking clock, it really does matter, it makes you quite nervous, inherently it just does, because you know time is running out. So, for all of those reasons I found it fascinating. I also think Jon Cassar as a director shoots this in a way that is just intoxicating.
And thrillers as a genre, and as a genre of movies that I like the most watching, I liked them growing up, take a look at films like the Bourne Identity’s, those are films that I like watching now. This fits right into that category. So it’s not only something that I think there is a great opportunity to do something really special, but it’s also what I personally like. I find the dynamic of this kind of a show to be fascinating and interesting and something I feel I understand, and so for all of those reasons 24 is a really attractive thing for me to do.