“This is my thinking on [on the presidency],” says Powers Boothe, who plays Vice President Noah Daniels on FOX’s “24,” “I’ve had presidents in my lifetime — and I’m old enough to have seen several — that I really detested, but they’re still my president. I’ve had presidents that I’ve really liked. Now that’s the way it is.”
During America’s latest very bad day — which concludes with the season finale on Monday, May 21 — counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), fresh out of a long stint in a Chinese prison, has had to deal with a small nuclear weapon going off in Valencia, Calif., a threatened nuclear explosion in San Francisco, and all sorts of trouble involving Muslim extremists, Russian terrorists, his own family and the Chinese.
At the beginning of the season, the president was Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside), brother of “24’s” first chief executive, the late David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert). After the nuclear strike, Wayne received a head injury in a bomb blast, this one instigated by rogue elements with in his administration.
With the president out, the more hawkish Daniels threatened a nuclear strike on the unnamed Middle Eastern nation being blamed for the attacks. Forced medically back to consciousness, Palmer lasted long enough to turn the plan into a successful bluff then suffered a relapse.
Now firmly in power, Daniels faces both terrorist trouble and a looming war with Russia, brought on by yet another one of this season’s many, many threatening subplots.
“We’re sort of like the Kennedy-Johnson setup,” says Boothe. “They didn’t particularly like each other, but one couldn’t win the presidency without the other. One of my earlier conversations with him was, ‘Look, I agreed to run with you because you were perceived as weak on foreign policy and the military and all of those things. I assured the people that you weren’t going to be that way, and you are.'”
Early on in “24,” President David Palmer’s vice-president, Prescott (Alan Dale), invoked the 25th Amendment to temporarily remove him from power.
Last season’s President Logan (Gregory Itzin) was a vice president who took over after a serious injury to President Keeler (Geoff Pierson), and was revealed to be a wily and treacherous double-dealer. He reemerged briefly this season in an attempt to redeem himself.
“There are two things going on here,” Boothe says. “First, if you look at the history of ’24,’ the vice-presidents have been nefarious people. They’ve had an agenda. Certainly, last year, Greg Itzin had his thing. So I think people expected Daniels to be that.
“And two — I’ve actually discussed this with people, and they’re like, ‘You’re mean.’ ‘Look, I don’t mean to be defending the character, but if you have a situation where you have a nuke go off in Valencia and another in San Francisco and a bomb going off in the White House, for goodness’ sake, do you want somebody to sit there and wring their hands, or do you want somebody to do something?’
“When they were discussing with me whether I’d decide to do the part or not, I said, ‘I’m not interested in coming in here and just being a zealot. I’m not interested in coming in here and just being another evil vice president.’
“The office of the presidency is what’s important, no matter who’s in it. That, to me, is paramount. … Daniels always protected Palmer. He disagreed with him, but he was the president, and he always respected that.”
Boothe also emphasizes that it’s hard to come off as warm and cuddly when dealing with life and death issues.
“In talking to various people,” Boothe says, “about Daniels being evil and whatever, what the thing is, he forced them to think about things they didn’t want to think about. We all want to pretend that there isn’t evil in the world. We all want to pretend that there aren’t people trying to take us out and different things like that.
“And when I would pin them on issues, they would go, ‘Yeah, you’re right. It’s the issues. It wasn’t the character, necessarily, it was because I was having to think about it.'”
Playing the role has also given Boothe pause.
“I was shooting a scene up in Mojave where I was getting off Air Force Two, and they had two F-16s down there and soldiers, and the presidential motorcade and all that.
“I’d been shooting three or four hours, and I turned to Kari Matchett, who plays my aide, Lisa, and I said, ‘My God, can you imagine really having this kind of power, where I could walk down these stairs and go over to the pilot of that F-16 and get on the plane and fly wherever, and he’d say “Yes, Sir”?’
“It’s pretty astonishing when you think about it.”
As a politically aware man who admits to watching Congressional hearings on C-SPAN, Boothe says, “I’ve got a family, and I love them, and I want them to have the best opportunities in the best country in the world, and I think we have to fight for it. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”
As to the big finish, Boothe says, “Daniels says to Peter McNichol’s character [White House Chief of Staff Tom Lennox], in effect, ‘You know, I don’t know if Palmer might have been right, this or that, but you think you know everything, what to do, but until you sit in this chair, you don’t know nothing.’
“He acquits himself well.”