Kiefer Sutherland will visit the Los Angeles Times on Thursday at 2 p.m. PDT to discuss “24” and other dangerous topics. If you have a question for him, tweet it using the hashtag #AskLATimes.
Here’s a transcript of the chat.
How Kiefer felt about the character at the end of its run
I think with television you require a balance and really need to have an objective opinion of how long you’re going to take something. The last thing you want to do is have a fantastic seven years and ruin it with an eighth year – or an eighth year and ruin it with a ninth year. The circumstance of the show is not going to change, it’s not going to turn into a musical, and Jack Bauer is not going to have a great day. So there are certain inherent elements of the show that are going to be repetitive, and how long will an audience be able to accept that? And I’m sure there are people that really liked the show through six years and then decided they’ve had enough. So I was very aware of that, and for me, it felt like it was time to move on and try other things.
But then when Howard Gordon, the lead producer on 24 and head writer, talked to me about doing an abbreviated season, 12 episodes instead of 24, for this past ninth season, I was thrilled about that opportunity. As an actor, I feel the character changes so many times in such small ways from season to season that it was always interesting for me to play. The character is a really good friend of mine. It was a hard thing to let go of. So when the opportunity presented itself I was thrilled to be able to do it.
Having said that, I don’t think I was ever more scared doing 24 than I was in the ninth season. Because we had managed in eight seasons to leave a legacy of the show that was still positive, and to start a ninth season meant you were potentially jeopardizing that. And that was difficult. Jon Cassar, who was the lead director of that season, who was also the lead director from seasons 2 through the end, he felt that sense of responsibility as well. We were very happy with the outcome of the show for ourselves, but we were even more thrilled that the audience response was as positive as it was. It was nerve-y to say the least.”
“I think the movie would’ve been interesting, and I think the movie would’ve been interesting on a lot of levels had we done it in a more timely fashion.”
“What I thought would’ve been really interesting, is if you had the series running and in the break [between seasons] you would’ve had a film. And that either the series was a twenty-four hour advertisement for the movie, or the movie was a two-hour advertisement for the series. But they would’ve fed off each other. And I think ultimately that is going to happen. I thought it was a unique opportunity to use the movie to set up the story of the season, or use the season to set up the finality of the film, and that of course didn’t happen. I do see it happening soon. That’s really what excited me about making the film. The essence of the character and my responsibility as an actor would not change from the circumstances of making the film or making the show – it would change definitely for the director, certainly for the writer. My responsibility, I was just excited to play the character, so whatever medium it was going to be, I really do not pay a lot of attention to.”
Teri Bauer’s death (13:20)
“There’s a very funny story about that. That idea came from Joel Surnow who was one of the creators of 24. In the first year, halfway through, it was not something they knew they wanted to do or were even planning on doing until very late in that first season, and I had thought they made the worse mistake of all-time. I called Gail Berman who was the head of Fox television at the time and who is a dear friend. And I said Gail, I just want to go on record saying that is the worst decision ever and I don’t think you can expect an audience to watch twenty-four hours of television only to have him fail. She said okay, thank you. I said thank you for what? She said thank you for going on the record with that, but we’re going with it. And I was wrong, I was absolutely wrong.
I stood there at a television critics dinner where one of the critics stood up and said “You know, I hated you for killing off the wife, and then he said about two days later I thought it was the most brilliant thing I had ever seen on television and thank you for catching me off-guard.” And then I knew I was wrong. And I think that’s one of the things, I really do credit the writers for that, the show set a pattern for itself that if you thought something was going to happen, more than likely, we were going to try and make you wrong.”
How physically challenging was the role of Jack Bauer (14:58)
“Not as much when I started as it was when I finished (laughs). One of the jokes was that soon Jack Bauer is going to have to be in a chair and direct everything from there because he can’t walk anymore. In the first few years it was fantastic – I run a lot, I used to be a track athlete, and I used to kind of like out-running our camera crew and stuff like that in some of the shots. By about the fourth or fifth season I started to slow down a bit. The seventh and eighth season it was a lot of Advil. You can workout as much as you want, but joints stiffen and cartilage starts to go away. So it gets harder and harder every year.
But I have to say, in the beginning it was one of my favorite aspects of making the show. And again, to our crew, we had some of the most physical camera departments you’ve ever seen and so much of our show was handheld. So if I’m running full-tilt forward, you’ve gotta remember there’s a guy running really fast backwards. And he got hurt a bunch of times, both of them did actually. But there was something that we really enjoyed about it, the physicality of the show.”
Have you ever considered directing an episode of 24? (16:35)
“No I have not, the scheduling would’ve been impossible. The way we work which was actually very unique, we’d have one director direct two episodes. And while they’re directing those two episodes, another director would be prepping the next two. And because we didn’t want a lot of directors, we would use three directors and they’d rotate like that. It would have been impossible to properly prep the show while filming it. So it was really never an option.
Having said that, and really three or four directors – Brad Turner, Milan Cheylov, Jon Cassar, obviously Stephen Hopkins who shepherded the first season, I had great communication with them. I think we all very clearly knew what we wanted to do. And Stephen Hopkins really did form the show in that first year and we wanted to stay true to that.
But no it was never really an option, but having said that, given the length of production time and everything else my ability as an actor to have an open dialogue with the writers if there was something that didn’t make sense to me, or sometimes they’d want to clarify something that always went really well. And the directors and I worked together for so long, we had a shorthand which was quite remarkable. But no, and I don’t think I would’ve wanted to. I truly subscribe to the model of if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It was not broken so I would’ve been horrified if I had gone in and directed one and it had not worked. So I was very glad to watch my friends go and do what they did.”
Was there ever any thoughts about lightening Jack Bauer’s mood? Because he was so burdened all of the time. (18:48)
“I think so, yeah. I certainly know there were discussions that never made it to script form. I think the most interesting thing that we could’ve probably done more, and I was the most resistant to it, was having Jack Bauer start off in a lighter place int he beginning of a season so he had more room to go.
But given everything he had dealt with, and these circumstances all took place in a day, the beginning of season 2 he had to start off in a very dark place: he had just lost his wife. Because of the serialized nature of the show, it was very hard to have him all happy and cuddly. I think the closest we got is season 5 where had had fallen in love with Kim Raver’s character [Audrey Raines] and there was real hope for a future and things had calmed down. But he had to always carry the burden of the prior seasons, otherwise I just think the continuity would have felt false.”
Are there any parts of Jack Bauer’s personality that you particularly relate to? (20:10)
“That I relate to? Well I relate to all of it, the positive aspects of his character and the negative aspects of his character. I’ll tell you the thing that I admired the most, and this was the real joy of playing the character, because as an actor you get to implement certain aspects of a character that maybe you would like to aspire to that you might not actually be. And it’s not that I don’t have integrity, but there was an integrity to this character that literally he would’ve rather died than not gone through with what he felt he needed to do. Like the bravest firefighter that doesn’t hesitate running into the building or those heartbreaking photos of the firefighter climbing those stairs in the towers that day. Jack Bauer was one of those guys. I had been lucky enough to never have been in that situation in my life, and I will always question whether or not I have the courage to be one of those guys or not. But Jack Bauer certainly was, so it was wonderful to play a character and want to aspire to be that kind of a person.
21:40 – Of all the films that you’ve starred in which film are you most proud of?
23:10 – What movie do most people come up and ask you about?
When we last saw Jack he was going off to [Russia]. If you could write the ending to Jack’s story, how would you end it? (24:25)
“That’s a great question. There were three versions, and the version that I had wanted the most was a really sad version where Jack Bauer and Chloe didn’t make it out and they died together very slowly and finally holding hands and that was that. And I felt given the tone of the show, that would’ve been really interesting. There was another very well made argument for why can’t it be happier? Why can’t it end with his family back in the states?
So we settled on a prison camp in China (laughs). I felt the tone of the character, it just could not be “The Sound of Music” you know? I think as much as people might want that for that character, I think if you had actually done it, they’d have been quite upset. And maybe upset with the other version too.
I think the hardest thing is deep in my heart of hearts, I never really wanted it to end. So it’s always difficult to kind of shape that. So I think I’m quite happy with the end result that he’s alive somewhere and I get to hold onto that. And you never know what’ll happen.”
Talk is all around about bringing 24 back again… (26:23 )
“Well I think they will. And again, you have to understand and I’ve said it from the very beginning, the idea is extraordinary – utilizing time in the context of a thriller as one of the instigators of that thrilling experience. So that as the clock’s ticking down, you just inherently panic because you know something’s going to happen. I thought that was incredibly clever and very smart. I think it’s a phenomenal idea and can apply to a variety of professions as well. I think for the idea to survive you would have to recast it and create a new set of characters, a new set of circumstances that would be fresh for an audience.
I think they are in fact talking about doing that and I wish them the best of luck with it. And again, I’ve always felt the idea was extraordinary.”
For so many people, you and Jack Bauer and 24 are inseparable. (27:32)
“Well, and I am incredibly grateful for that sentiment, but I can tell you that the Star Trek films did very well. And there are many other circumstances where given enough time, a new audience can be discovered and an old audience will come back. 24 was one of the great blessings of my life and my career. It changed my life, it changed my families life. Having had that kind of an opportunity, and I’ve said it all along, there’s so many fantastic actors out there… If they do in fact do it, I hope someone has as wonderful an experience doing that as I did.”
What do you think the legacy of this character is? Having a character like Jack Bauer on the pop culture landscape. (28:29)
“In reality it’s a television show. There were different times where for better and certainly for worse where it got confused as not being part of the pop culture, but as kind of a reflection on what America thinks we should be handling certain circumstances with. And that was never our desire.
Our desire was to create heightened drama and a heightened experience that was visceral and exciting. We were not trying to create foreign policy and how we think things should be handled. I’m a firm believer in due process, I do not believe people should have their knees shot out in an interview, but it’s great television. And I hope one day it is viewed for that.”
Thank you Kiefer
Thank you so much, it was a real pleasure.