Sarah Clarke was interviewed by Esquire UK in their April 2013 issue (which features Kiefer Sutherland on the cover). Read her interview below.
When ’24’ started, we thought Sarah Clarke was an angel. But then, we’ve always had a thing for psychotic Eastern European assassins.
AND YOU THOUGHT THE PLOT OF “24” stretched credulity. Sarah Clarke has just arrived in Britain and the first thing she does is rush off to present a prize at a big TV comedy awards do. Strange enough, considering her show is decidedly drama, but it gets worse. “They stuck me with this guy, Dale… Dale Winton,” she says, shaking her short black bob in disbelief. “Then I ended up being interviewed at the same time as him and just listening to him talking about his plastic surgery. It was so weird.”
Yes – a bit like John Thaw flying into present an award at the 1975 Grammys with Liberace. Did they not know who she was? Does she have to be talking into a hands-free phone headset to be recognised? This is Nina. Nina from “24”, Jack Bauer’s right-hand woman, ex-lover and (wake up at the back) arch enemy. The focus of the greatest plot twist since The Usual Suspects or all of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected put together. She is The Mole, for God’s sake.
Fortunately, Sarah Clarke can still laugh at the trappings of celebrity. Stranger things than Dale Winton have happened, after all (many of them in “24” and global fame/infamy as the double agent who betrayed Jack Bauer does not seem to have turned her head one little bit. In fact, curled upon a sofa in a London hotel suite in black rollneck and jeans (and, contrary to her statuesque appearance on-screen, she’s much shorter than you’d expect), talking over a break-fast of croissants and coffee at some appallingly early hour, she’s almost indecently cheerful. She has a distinctly cheeky twinkle in her eyes and punctuates her comments with bursts of fabulously fruity laughter. But then, as a star of one of last year’s biggest TV shows – not so much must-see TV as full-blown phenomenon – and about to be reintroduced to our consciousness by a new series and the release on DVD of the first, she’s got every reason to be pleased.
UNLIKE CO-STAR KIEFER SUTHERLAND, Sarah was unknown before “24”. Prior to being cast in the show, this 30-year-old native of St Louis, Missouri was heading down a rather different path. Having graduated from theatre school in New York in 1997, she concentrated mainly on off-off-Broadway experimental theatre productions directed by the likes of Toni Waits collaborator Robert Wilson, while also appear-ing in occasional independent films and going to a lot of auditions. So she’s level-headed about her big break: “You never know why you get a job,” she muses. “A lot of times it comes down to just really strange things, like your eye colour was right for the character.”
As it turned out, her casting was a bizarre mirror of 24‘s one-day time period. “There was gonna be a [scriptwriters’] strike and they wanted to make the pilot before it began,” she explains. “I was flown in from New York, audi-tioned in the morning, and then went to set that afternoon.”
All very symbolic, but not much use if you want to develop a character. “They can’t take pilots too seriously so they’d only written the first episode. It wasn’t fully fleshed out. I knew I was a government operative, but not much else. I did ask them: ‘Am I a secretary? Am I a chief of staff?’ So I was very glad that my character turned out to be so interesting; I could just have been: ‘Shall I get that phone call? Jack? Where are you?’ It made my tracking of him more sub-stantial, better than just [syrupy voice] lurve.”
To say Nina turned out to be “interesting” is, of course, an understatement. But Sarah really wasn’t to know. The makers only decided to make her The Mole well into filming. “They probably figured it out around 12 or 13, but they didn’t tell me until five from the end. So I went back and tracked… It does work surprisingly. I’m that good,” she laughs.
In fact, Sarah and the rest of the cast knew little more about the plot than the viewers. “We would get the final draft of the script a week before shooting, but there would be other drafts hanging around the departments a week in advance – you know, wardrobe needs to be prepared – and we’d try to go find them. We had bets going on who was The Mole.”
But looking for scripts wasn’t the only thing that kept our Sarah busy during shooting. There was also a “lurve” thing going on, with Xander Berkeley, who played George Mason, her boss. The pair met on the pilot and are now married. Judging by the girlish flush that lights up her face when she talks about him, he’s the other reason for her sickening happiness. “It was pretty intense,” she moons. “I wasn’t looking for that at the time. I was like, ‘I’m getting a TV show – this is fantastic!’ And then to meet Xander was just the best thing that could possibly happen.”
BUT WHAT’S IN STORE for Nasty Nina second time around? In the US, they’re already well into season two of 24, but Sarah’s not giving much away. Between the can’t-tell-you-thats, she reveals a little: “I get a few bruises this time – more action scenes. And you see a year of prison and what it does to Nina – I get arrested at the end of the first season. They have a name for me on the internet: ‘Pure Evil’. Which is kinda scary, because I’ve justified the whole thing in my own mind.”
And Sarah also promises – how to put this politely? – more consistency. “It seems they figured out what worked from last year and how to plot a storyline. They were kinda winging it that first year, I think. The assassination attempt on Palmer was supposed to happen around show 18 and they had to do it by show seven because they just couldn’t put it off any longer the way the story had progressed. And there were a few gaffes in the plotlines – I think Teri Bauer got the brunt of so much of the inability to come up with ideas, and they admit that – that amnesia thing…” she trails off with an embarrassed, what-can-you-do? look. Naturally, plenty of typecast offers have now come her way, but she’s managed to resist the temptation. She’s taken some film roles that – spooky numerical-title tie-ins apart – are far removed from Nina, including playing a beach-bum drug addict in Thirteen and a “clueless girl-friend” in The Third Date, both due out later this year. The latter also features Berkeley, as does another recent project, Below the Belt – “He told me he was going to Denver for a month and a half… We go a lot of places together,” she explains sheepishly. So much for Pure Evil.