Sarah Clarke and Xander Berkeley tell us about their clandestine romance and marriage as they invite us into their Hollywood hills home
Who better than actors Sarah Clarke and Xander Berkeley, both known for specializing in subterfuge on TV’s edgy espionage series 24, to execute a top-secret personal mission?
Sarah, 32, and Xander, 46, were both thrilled to be part of the award-winning show, which takes place in real-time and stars Kiefer Sutherland as anti-terrorism agent Jack Bauer, but they were unprepared for one unscripted plot twist. After locking eyes in February 2001 while working on the first episode, it was love at first sight.
But rather than share their happiness with the rest of the cast, they cloaked their romance in spy-like secrecy.
“We were playing CIA agents, people who keep their entire lives secret,” Xander explains, “so we just felt like we were getting into character.”
Sarah, a rocker scientist’s daughter from St Louis, was a near novice on TV save for a brief appearance on Sex And The City before being cast as agent Nina Myers, Jack’s former lover. The actress, who had been living in New York after studying at the Circle in Square acting school, was flown out to LA at the last minute by the show’s producers to test her for the role. They liked her so much that she started to work the same day as the treacherous double-crossing agent who kills Jack’s pregnant wife at the end of series one.
Xander played Jack’s boss George Mason who, already dying after exposure to plutonium, saved LA by crashing a plane with a nuclear bomb on board into the Mojave desert away from the city. A veteran actor of 80 films, he made his screen debut as Joan Crawford’s grown-up son in 1981’s Mommie Dearest and has appeared in blockbusters Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Apollo 13.
With their 24 colleagues still oblivious to the love match unfolding under their noses, Sarah and Xander’s romance got serious. But after both told their pal and co-star Carlos Bernard (fellow agent Tony Almeida) that they’d spent their summer breaks visiting the east coast and holidaying in Portugal, they realized “the gig was up”. So, that very afternoon, they broke the news with a champagne toast. They wed in September 2002 at an 18th-century church near Sarah’s godmother’s horse farm in Millbrook, New York.
This private couple is still fond of secrets and details of Xander’s 2002 Valentine’s Day proposal remain off-limits. Yet they graciously invited Hello! to their 1924, Mediterranean-style, Hollywood Hills home.
Eclectically furnished, the house mirrors their artistic personalities. Xander is an accomplished painter, sculptor and, like Sarah, a photographer. Canvases line his studio, although all paintings of Sarah have been tucked out of sight “to protect her privacy”.
Since the actor’s demise in 24, he’s made several films including the forthcoming World War II drama In Enemy Hands. He and Sarah both worked on the soon-to-be-released independent film comedy Below The Belt and Sarah also appeared with Oscar-nominated Holly Hunter in the acclaimed coming-of-age movie Thirteen.
Back on the third series of 24, which starts this Thursday on Sky One after winning a Golden Globe for best TV drama series, Jack is once again locked in battle with evil Nina, this time over a devastatingly deadly virus about to be unleashed on America. Meanwhile, Sarah and Xander contemplate their professional futures with justified optimism. “Clearly,” says Xander, “24 has been a great ride for both of us.”
So, what was it like the first time you two met?
Sarah: “It was in the make-up trailer on the set of 24. and suddently the power went off! It’s a very interesting way to get to know somebody, in the dark. All you can focus on is their voice.”
Xander: “As opposed to their eyes, which is what we initially focused on, reflected in the make-up trailer’s mirror. Once that intense distraction’s taken away, you hear each other’s voices and what you have to say.”
How did your romance get off the ground?
Sarah: “That first weekend I was here alone, waiting to explore LA, so I asked Xander if there was a great place to go on a hike.”
Xander: “She was intrigued with one area she recalled from a previous visit and began describing precisely where my house is. I said, ‘There’s a place I can point out to you, or I can join you if you like?’ Sarah said she’d prefer that I show her the trail.
“Also, it was the weekend of the Oscars and I wasn’t going to let her watch them alone in a hotel room like an outcast from society, so I took her to a party. My friends are really cool, they’re sculptors, painters and writers, and they were all hanging out at the beach. She jumped in and hit it off with everyone. And all my friends immediately took to her.”
Did you really fall in love instantly?
Xander: “I’d have to say yes. It was like there was no possibility of escape for either of us – and no desire to either.”
Had either of you been married or had any children?
“No. We had a clean state. And meeting Sarah made it clear to me why I had taken hard road to holding out for the right one. At times you doubt that and wonder if you’re just being too picky. But it all made sense why I had not got married before.”
Did the age gap concern either of you?
Sarah: “Moments come up like, ‘Oh, wow, I was two when you did that!’ But I feel completely equal with Xander, in my mind and in myself.
Xander: “I was ready to meet my match and with Sarah there was a sense of meeting someone at eye level, so that took precedence and eliminated any sense of the disparity of ages.”
Sarah: “With Xander, it seems like this is exactly who I’m supposed to be with and where I’m supposed to go.”
Why didn’t you want to share this with your 24 cast mates?
Sarah: “I was a little embarrassed that I’d come out to do this professional job and then hooked up with someone on the set. I didn’t want anybody making any judgments. It was so much more important than a fling and I just didn’t want people talking about it.”
Was it hard to hide your feelings for one another?
Xander: “Yes, because it was so obvious! And after the summer break when we showed up back on the set, we had more than a little fling to keep secret, we already had this huge history.”
What happened when you finally revealed all?
Sarah: “The first assistant director rounded up about 100 people. I was really nervous. I was standing next to Xander and I just said without thinking, ‘Okay, it’s me, it’s me! I just wanted to announce that I’m marrying George!’ Everyone was like, ‘Who’s George?’ because they only know Xander’s character as Mason. I said, ‘I mean Xander, this guy right here!’ They were very happy for us.”
Tell us about your wedding.
Sarah: “Oh, it was beautiful. We had about 100 people, which was just right and about as many as the church would hold.”
Xander: “It was as many as the little bed and breakfasts and hotels nearby could hold, too. We took over a whole village! We had a horse and carriage and an Irish band. It was the most romantic wedding you could dream of. All our friends fell for each other.”
Do you want children?
Xander: “And that’s all we’re at liberty to divulge at the moment!”
What was it like merging households?
Xander: “I’d been in the house for a while but Sarah’s arrival was like a wand being waved. A lot of the hard work had been done but it was a house and I think I was waiting for my mate for the house to become a home. When she moved in it was a metamorphosis from my house to our house. Now it feels like it’s been ours all along.”
Sarah: “But we’re both into making our own spaces. I have my study and Xander has his studio where he paints and sculpts.”
Are you very different personalities?
Sarah: “We have a similar philosophy of life. Personality wise we have our differences that allow us to go together as a unit very well. I tend to hole up in the house. Xander definitely goes off on his own but he’s a little more social than I am. I’m very good one-on-one but in a bigger group I get a little shy. Xander’s been very helpful with that.”
How did you prepare for your 24 roles?
Xander: “It’s the hardest research I’ve ever had to do because real agents aren’t at liberty to divulge much! We went to a spy shop, read a bunch of books, talked to some people – and made the rest up.”
Do people ever confuse you with your 24 characters?
Sarah: “People really do mix it up – and when you play a terrorist it’s kind of frightening.”
Xander: “Somebody came uo to me yesterday at a restaurant I had stopped at while driving through the desert near LA. It freaked them out to see me there because that’s where Mason died in a plane crash. I had to say, ‘No, we shot that on a soundstage and I’m alive.'”
Kiefer was once considered a hell-raiser. What’s he like?
Sarah: “I saw nothing but professionalism from him. I was a bit intimidated at first, he’d been working in films for so long. I just hoped to rise to the occasion.”
Xander: “What’s great about both his reputation and his behavior of being on the edge is that it creates great veracity for the character, and intensity and truthfulness in the acting. He’s not an apologist. He’s a guy who likes to have fun and live hard. He’s nice to people everywhere he goes. And if he acts crazy sometimes, well, then that’s what makes him fun to be around.”
You both have much to thank 24 for.
Xander: “Yes. First, having met Sarah; second, being involved in something so popular. I get recognized more now but it’s cool. Success is a razor’s edge and you can fall off either side. You can become too famous and fat and comfortable and self-involved for your own good. Or you can be so obscure that nobody knows you or cares to! 24 has been great for both of us.”