Carlos Bernard has a major role on a hit TV show, yet he’s not sure he has a steady job. Bernard, who plays Tony Almeida on Fox’s 24 is only too aware that the show’s producers can be cold when it comes to killing off its characters.
“What characters will be alive to come back,” he says after the Tuesday, May 25, finale that covers 12 to 1 p.m., “that’s another story.” Will he return?
“I’d love to come back,” he says. “From season one, I treated each year like a film project, and that helps me to focus and not to worry about next season.”
It sounds as if he has little to worry about. “Carlos caught everybody by surprise,” says Howard Gordon, executive producer. “There was always a consensus of how much we liked this guy. He is really this unsung hero of CTU, this real interesting person. By default, he wound up finding a place season by season.”
Actually, Tony came quite close to death early in the third season. Had Tony died then, Bernard would have had “21 episodes of sitting on the bench,” Gordon says. But they kept him alive, because, he says, “We love the guy.”
In the finale, Tony’s relationship with his wife, Michelle, is tested. “It doesn’t end well,” Gordon says. “That doesn’t mean he dies, but it doesn’t necessarily end well. I came to this real strong conclusion that ’24’ is a tragedy, a Greek tragedy with guns.”
The show deals with heavy issues, such as kidnapping, assassination and lethal viruses. As Reiko Aylesworth, who plays Michelle, says, “It should be taken seriously when you are dealing with issues we are dealing with, whether a nuclear bomb or a virus or a terrorist. You can’t wink at the camera on this show, especially with our subject matter. It becomes exploitation if you don’t approach it earnestly.”
The gravity of the issues keeps the crew somber during taping, but once the director calls cut, Bernard is goofy. “He is the funniest person,” Aylesworth says. “I can’t believe he’s not doing a sitcom.”
Bernard enjoys playing jokes on cast members. Sipping bottled fizzy water at a cafe near Lincoln Center, he relays tricks played on colleagues, both coincidentally revolving around clothing.
In one that still has cast mates chuckling, Elisha Cuthbert, who plays Kim Bauer, arrives on the set with shopping bags from a spree in New York. She wants to model her new clothes for the staff, but a car alarm sounds and distracts everyone, Bernard recalls. During the confusion, he stashes her bags in a trailer.
He later distributes her new clothes among the extras. Meanwhile, Cuthbert goes crazy searching for her bags.
“In the middle of the shoot, she starts noticing all the extras’ clothes, and goes up to them,” he says, now laughing. “I had already told them to act indignant and pissed off.”
Another time a friend of his lands a role on the show and Bernard persuades the costumer to outfit him in Shakespearean togs. Bernard fully expects to be paid back someday.
A few tables away his wife, Sharisse Baker-Bernard, spoons food into their adorable baby, Natalie. Natalie coos at strangers, and is one of those perfect babies who sleeps 10 hours a night and is so easy that she is lulling them into wanting a second baby, whom he figures, would be the opposite.
Bernard seems to figure the odds and not do things lightly, including chasing his dream.
He was born 41 years ago in the same Evanston, Ill., hospital as Aylesworth and grew up in Wilmette, a suburb of Chicago. At the New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., Bernard was enchanted and intimidated by a production of “Our Town.” Indeed, he cites its alumni include Rock Hudson, Ann-Margaret, Charlton Heston and Virginia Madsen.
Bernard was interested in acting, “but I was so intimidated I didn’t tell anybody,” he says. “I had grown up watching movies like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and ‘The Godfather’ and it was such a wild dream that I didn’t want to tell anybody because I knew the response would be that I was nuts and they would talk me out of it.”
So he studied art at Illinois State University and became a graphics artist. He headed West, settling in San Francisco’s bohemian Haight-Ashbury and resumed his studies. Though cautious folks warn artists they need a real trade to fall back on, Bernard is one of the few who used his artistic talents to pay bills as he earned his masters in fine arts from San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater.
Bernard worked on a magazine about musical instruments, designed logos, created brochures and kept going on auditions. “The Killing Jar” in 1996 was his first movie, after a few plays. He worked on “The Young and the Restless” and had guest spots on “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “F/X: The Series.”
Working in plays interests him as does directing, but the overall lure is the telling of good tales.
“I grew up being really affected by stories I saw onscreen, and remembering that feeling of walking out of the theater changed,” Bernard says. “My main goal is to work as a storyteller, whether my material or others. It sounds like a lofty kind of goal, but I believe the power of storytelling can alter people’s perception. I’ve walked out of a play or a movie wanting to be a better person. My ultimate goal is to be a storyteller.”