Crave Online: How does it feel to play the president on 24?
Cherry Jones: Well, it is one of the nicer offices I’ve ever walked into and they make it really easy here at 24 to play the president. I think there’s something about being absolutely at the height of intensity at almost every moment of one’s job that makes it a lot easier if you don’t have time to think much, just sort of barrel through the next crisis. Knowing that Mr. Bauer’s out there to save the day makes it a lot easier but it’s so much fun playing the president. I watched with rapt awe as Obama and Hilary campaigned this past year because of the energy level and the ability to look ever more youthful at each stop. I don’t know how they did it but only someone with that kind of super energy I think could really fill this office. It’s just amazing. I’m glad I don’t have to do it.
Crave Online: How is Taylor handling the conflicts in her cabinet?
Cherry Jones: I realized early on, the joke is whoever gets the last look is the mole. It’s like a child’s game, who looks last must be the mole. So there’s a lot of joking around the table at the end of the last take of us saying, “I’m the mole because I got the last look.” Again, those meetings are called because there is an immediate crisis, so we just get right down to it.
Crave Online: You don’t think it could be the president again, do you?
Cherry Jones: Oh no, I think she’s just good. I do. I do, I really respect President Taylor. I respect her choices. I think she has a very strong moral center. I agree with her policies. It’s been really fun that way. I’ve watched other 24 presidents having to make calls that I would imagine might give the actor a bit of pause in how they sell it because it may not be the way they think in their real lives, but I like who she is.
Crave Online: What is this president’s relationship with Jack going to be?
Cherry Jones: It’s always shifting because Jack doesn’t play by the rules. I think my president does. It’s a very complicated relationship, but I’m interested to see where it goes next, just like the audience. It’s so much fun to get these scripts because you feel just like an audience member when you get a script. You’re flying through it. I’m a very slow reader but you get these 24 scripts and you’re just going right through it because you’re just dying to get to the next episode. You go to the makeup trailer and you always ask your friends in there, “Have you seen the next draft of the next episode?” Because everyone’s always dying to know.
Crave Online: So how hard was the cliffhanger during the writer’s strike?
Cherry Jones: I think it was about five months and I think for a lot of people, as much of a hardship as that strike was, I know for a lot of us who had sort of personal family crises, my parents were ill and I was able to be home with them. So I didn’t really think much about 24 and missing work. I was just so grateful to be able to be with my family. But as soon as we came back, because of the intensity of the script, I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to get back up to speed and remember who this character really was. But the writing is so good and it’s all so consistent in terms of the characterization that I was able to just, I think we all were able to just step right back in. The thing that was hardest for me is that in the prequel, it’s pre-crisis and I didn’t know how to play this president pre-crisis, on a nice sunny January day before the sh*t hits the fan. I also have never done television before. I’ve never done a television series. I’m from theater and I haven’t even gotten to watch much television because I work at night in the theater. So this has been an amazing learning experience because these guys are the best. I’ve talked to a lot of friends in Los Angeles who work in television and film. Everybody says that this is the most organized, the most creative, the friendliest, the happiest crew in Los Angeles. I have no other experience beyond it but I can’t imagine any other experience could ever even meet this one.
Crave Online: So if you were busy doing theater, were you a 24 fan?
Cherry Jones: I’d never watched the show before. I’d only watched a couple of episodes before I joined the team. I’ve been catching up now for the past several months and I’m a complete 24 head now. I haven’t slept the last couple of nights because I’m in season six now. So I come into work and I feel like a tourist almost. I’m kind of star struck and a little gobsmacked. I’ve had this huge work crush on Guy Skinner who’s the handheld guy who makes all those incredible moving shots and keeps you, the audience, moving through the situation. They also told me early on that they shoot almost always at human scale so that you’re right there with the other characters. You’re never looking up or down on them. You’re just right there with them so it becomes very immediate.
Crave Online: Do you have a favorite season or president?
Cherry Jones: Yes, yes. I have a very favorite season. I loved the Greg Itzin/Jean Smart season. As an actor, it doesn’t get any better than that. That was brilliant. It was so Shakespearean and oh, it was just delicious. They were both so good and then Agent Pierce, Glenn Morshower, brought into the trilogy. Oh, yum, yum, yum. Just loved season five.
Crave Online: How have you found the pace of maintaining this week long shoot for an hour of real time?
Cherry Jones: As you go deeper into the season, you find yourself, I keep a little timeline in my head to just try to remind myself what has come before because everything is so immediate. I remember Joel Surnow told me when I had my first meeting with them that actors love to do the show because there is no past and there is no future. There’s only the moment. So you can’t be worried or thinking about anything because the moment is so dire. Every time the door opens or the phone rings, it just gets worse and worse and worse. So you don’t have time to think about what came before except that it may help inform a decision or something like that. It’s such a cliché but it is like being on a roller coaster for those of us on the show as well as for the audience because you just don’t know what in the world is coming next. Sometimes the hardest part I think for actors on 24 is some of the jargon and getting the ideas and the thoughts and the information out quickly enough and succinctly enough and clearly enough.
Crave Online: What sort of jargon will we be hearing?
Cherry Jones: Well, you know, a lot of NIC, CDC. Sometimes you have a list of agencies that are all, you feel like you’re speaking Croatian.
Crave Online: Would you like to do an action scene?
Cherry Jones: Well, listen, I went up to Mr. Gordon, the writer/producer, he said, “You know, if you ever have any ideas, don’t hesitate to come to me.” And I said, “Well… I was thinking, what if something happens and Jack has to come and smuggle the president out of the White House and we have to go all over Washington, D.C. in a babushka, with Jack going, ‘Down, down, get down.’” I thought that would be kind of exciting. That hasn’t quite happened yet but I’m getting enough action.
Crave Online: Did you model your first female president on any political women?
Cherry Jones: As I said, the energy level is something that I find remarkable because Allison Taylor has a very rough road to hoe this season. I have my hands full and there are times that I think I should be much more exhausted and disheveled and dejected, but I think of people like Hilary and Eleanor Roosevelet and Golda Meier in particular. Golda Meier is actually a closer model for Allison Taylor, although Allison’s a real goyim. That’s sort of the kind of gal I like to think of her as.
Crave Online: Do you have a backstory for how Taylor campaigned and won the election?
Cherry Jones: I took the producer/creators’ note to heart and I don’t really, because something could happen in episode 17 that would completely refute everything that I had created for myself. I don’t even know what state I’m from but it doesn’t matter. The brilliance of 24 too politically is that you never know really what party people belong to, really. You start to sniff people out but with the presidents, if you don’t like them, they’re the other party and if you do like them, they’re your party.
Crave Online: Would you like to come back for another season or is one enough?
Cherry Jones: If I answer in the affirmative, that’s bound to be the kiss of death, don’t you think? It’s very fun. James Lapidus, our costume designer has put me in a sort of wine suit at one point in the show and he jokingly said that it’s like body armor because they’re not going to kill you in a wine costume because there’s just no point. You can’t see the blood. So I feel like I’m sort of in this impenetrable suit when I wear the wine suit. But yeah, I love to come to work here. I wake up giddy in the morning at 3:30 or whatever it is to get here by 5:15 the days that I have early calls because the atmosphere is very exciting, at the same time feels very familiar. So yeah, I’d love to. Everybody wants to come back, and it’s always so sad when people get killed off. Dee in makeup says, “It’s always so sad when I have to put the blood on. We’ve gotten so fond and they want to stay and it’s so sad.”
Crave Online: Will we be seeing a lot of that blood makeup?
Cherry Jones: Oh yes. Dee and special effects get their workout this season as they always do.
Crave Online: Since Jack seems to be out in the field, what actors are you getting to work with?
Cherry Jones: Well, my chief of staff is Bob Gunton and my daughter is Sprague Grayden. My son is Eric Lively and Colm Feore is my husband. Frank John Hughes is my NSI fellow. It’s so fun, the cabinet meetings and the situation room meetings with the joint chiefs. It’s just a trip.
Crave Online: Will the show address the significance of having a female president?
Cherry Jones: Not really. I don’t think it’s ever really addressed. It’s treated in the same way that I think David Palmer’s presidency was treated, as a given. But boy, how about that? Six years ago, America had its first black president thanks to 24.
Crave Online: Since you don’t have a backstory, how do you identify “presidential” traits?
Cherry Jones: Well, I think I arrived the first day having read that first episode and having watched the show and understanding the serious nature of each situation, the dire nature of each situation. I knew I wanted her to be, when I saw I thought about Golda Meier, I really did. There’s no vanity, although I do have a very nice, very grown-up hairdo. There’s not a lot of vanity to my president. I kind of revel in her looking haggard and looking exhausted by the day. All I worry about is trying to make decision as precisely and clearly and correctly and as quickly as possible. Then I just go from there. It’s so far from who I am, but I guess we all have an idea of what we would want a president in certain situations to be. I’m not anywhere near that goal with my presidency but I’m doing the best I can with my own limitations as a person, as an actress, but trying to get there.