|By Brent Furdyk
Stars Kiefer Sutherland and Dennis Haysbert talk about what lies ahead for Jack Bauer and President Palmer as TV’s finest real-time drama winds up the clock for its third season.
It’s a hot July night in Los Angeles, yet Kiefer Sutherland, looking dapper in a calf-length grey overcoat, remains mysteriously cool and perspiration-free even as the crowd of sweaty journalists (myself included) crowd around him at a Fox network party. Each of us wants to know the same thing: what’s up with the new season of 24? After all last season chronicled the 24-hour adventure of CIA agent Jack Bauer as he prevented a nuclear warhead from exploding in Los Angeles and headed off a war. Heck, at one point Jack was actually dead (he was revived with a defibrillator). The question on everyone’s mind is how can 24 possibly top itself? “I get in so much trouble for doing this,” Sutherland jokes when asked to reveal even a hint of the show’s notoriously secretive storylines. “well, there is a little more of a sense of espionage. Last year was a little more action-driven, and I think we’re going to try and keep the scope of the second season and some of the action, but they’ve really done a lot to put a few more twists in there.”
Apparently, Sutherland has developed a politician’s skill for answering questions without really answering them (a trait that may be hereditary – the son of film icon Donald Sutherland is also grandson of former Saskatchewan premiere T.C. “Tommy” Douglas). We try another tack. “Is there anything you would like to see happen?” someone asks.
“Smoking allowed in bars,” he quips, flashing the devilish grin fans remember from films such as The Lost Boys and Stand By Me. “Oh, you mean for Jack?”
He absentmindedly checks to see if the cigarette he’s tucked behind his right ear is still in place (it is). “I can’t tell you,” he says, “I would run into people in the street and they would say, ‘Oh, you have to tell me what’s going to happen on the show next week,’ and as I would open my mouth to say something they’d be like, ‘No! Don’t, don’t!’ I just realized that I was much better off not talking about it.”
Apparently, this philosophy doesn’t spill over to Fox, which has been criticized by fans for airing promos that reveal major plot points (one even going so far as to show the cliff-hanger final moments of the episode where Jack’s vital signs stop, pretty much letting viewers know how the following weeks episode would end).
“I’m very disappointed with the promos,” Sutherland admits. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous, but that’s my personal opinion. I don’t think you need to entice people who are watching that show with pieces of the next to get them to watch it. But I’ve always been offended my promos in movies, the trailers. I go to a movie and see five trailers and realize that I just saved myself 43 dollars because now I don’t need to see the movies.”
Of course, Sutherland is enough of a pragmatist to realize the network isn’t going to change its ways on his account. “If Fox were a human body, I would be part of it’s left pinkie finger,” he jokes. “We rarely ever meet, so no, they don’t give a **** about what I think about that.”
24 has been an important career breakthrough for its 36 year old star, offering an escape from the string of forgettable B-movies he found himself in throughout the 90’s and earning him industry respect in the form of two consecutive Emmy nominations for best actor in a drama. The show has also found itself in the unusual position of being eerily prescient with respect to actual events, its storylines often running uncomfortably parallel to reality.
“We’re dealing with issues and topics on a broad scale that are similar to what are happening in the real world, but the way we deal with everything else is complete fantasy,” says Sutherland. “But what’s absolutely disappointing is that a show developed around the counter-terrorist unit and the U.S. and these heightened scenarios - and really a fantastical journey - the terrible events of 9/11happened and made the show a lot more realistic than we had ever hoped for. I really long for the time when the show will be as fantastical as it was intended to be.”
And now that the show, during its second season, has picked up the ratings to go along with the critical acclaim, Sutherland is understandable stoked about the season ahead. “We really believe that this third season is going to be very strong,” he says, “We’re nervous about it and I think we feel all the right things about it, but basically we’re just excited about it.”
After a few more minutes of chitchat, Sutherland’s publicist shoos the press away. Sutherland bids farewell as he saunters off, publicist scurrying along side him.
Momentarily scanning the room, I spy Dennis Haysbert, 24’s commander in chief David Palmer, last seen fighting for his life after an assassin’s poisonous handshake in last seasons cliff-hanger finale. Is his presence at the party an indication that he president has managed to survive the attempt on his life? “Honestly, I still don’t know whether I survive,” he says. “At first I wasn’t invited [to the party] and then they invited me. Maybe I’m the party’s red herring.
Hmmmm. Getting these 24 guys to spill the beans used to be easier. A few sneaky questions and they’d slip up and reveal all sorts of juicy stuff they weren’t supposed to, but no more.
“C’mon,” says Haysbert in his deep honey-dipped baritone as he breaks into a sly smile. “You guys know I can’t tell you. And I’m not going to slip!”
A challenge, eh? I try a new strategy and query: “So, how’s the hand?” “My hand is fine,” he laughs, but his tone makes it clear there will be no more comments on that.
I give up. Instead I ask him about his recent European trip to promote the show (“A work-athon” he jokes). “It’s interesting,” he muses, “In Rome and Monte Carlo at the international TV Festival, people kept telling me they wished I really was the president, you know? I’d say, ‘Sorry guys – I’m just an actor playing one.’ ”
Still, he admits Palmer is “a character that I approach with a great deal of dignity and integrity. What’s paramount for me is that this man be better than a normal politician, and hopefully a role model for politicians.”
Although his 24 role keeps his plate quite full, Haysbert will soon be seen – well, heard – in Disney’s upcoming Bambi sequel. “I play the great prince, Bambi’s father,” he says. “Another authoritative figure – but with antlers.”
As we shake hands and part ways, I make a show of examining his “poisoned” hand for any clues. He rolls his eyes. “You’re just going to have to watch the show,” he quips before walking away.
Don’t worry - I will.
Canadian Edition TV Week
October 25-31, 2003
P 6, 82-83