To many fans, they’re two sides of the same coin: 24‘s socially awkward former CTU computer geek Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Janis Gold (Janeane Garofalo), the equally intense FBI analyst who’s essentially filling Chloe’s official role now that she has gone rogue.
They won’t meet until the Feb. 16 episode, and before the season ends, sparks will fly. But they’ve already sized each other up while rooting out “phantom data” and reconfiguring motherboards. Chloe’s take: “These people can’t do anything right,” Rajskub says.
Says Garofalo: “We’re under the impression that each are more talented hackers than the other, even though I know deep down she’s better than me.”
The rivalry is purely fictional. The actors are longtime pals who met at a party in L.A. 15 years ago, they said as they reunited for a joint interview last week, sharing hugs and coconut lip balm. They crossed paths doing stand-up comedy — and still do — and Garofalo gave Rajskub her first TV exposure on a Comedy Central series she hosted.
Rajskub replaced Garofalo on HBO’s talk-show satire The Larry Sanders Show in 1996, and both credit star Garry Shandling’s help as an acting coach and a champion of improvisation, frowned upon on most series. “I was always really scared but really excited” by the freedom, Rajskub says. But now, “where I can’t change the words, I just make a face.”
That’s the secret of Chloe’s appeal. She has been a breakout character since first appearing in the Fox hit’s third season in 2003. “I don’t think Chloe is funny,” Rajskub insists.
“Not on purpose,” Garofalo says. But “the way you show no emotion toward people, even people you’ve been intimate with,” is a hoot. “The only people you seem to like are Jack Bauer and that guy from The Sopranos with the lisp,” she says of Louis Lombardi’s Edgar, the beloved nerve-gas victim. (As for his tragic Season 5 demise, “people still come up to me and talk about it,” Rajskub says.)
“Some people say, ‘Do you just act like Chloe?’ ” Garofalo says. But “there is only one Chloe; there is only one Mary Lynn. There’s no way to imitate it.” Besides, “as the episodes go on, because it’s such serious material, there’s no room to be wacky or kooky.”
Not on camera, anyway. But they had the perpetual giggles while shooting scenes together. “If we make eye contact, forget it, especially with that kind of dialogue,” says Garofalo, who doesn’t own a computer but hid Post-it notes on her on-screen screen because “I can’t memorize stuff I don’t understand.”
And when both returned last spring after the writers’ strike, which stretched production across 16 months, Rajskub was pregnant. “But it was the same day in 24 world,” Garofalo says. “So anytime she would walk into a scene carrying a coat or a cutout box, I would laugh so hard because of the obvious difference in the way she looked.” (Rajskub is absent from six spring episodes because of the birth of son Valentine, now 6 months old.)
Both actors “can take some of the most mundane material (and) do stuff few other actors can do” with a mere facial expression, says executive producer Howard Gordon.
But the characters “are not exactly alike,” he says. “Chloe is tone-deaf in a way; she doesn’t know when she’s saying something inappropriate,” whereas “Janis has a very self-conscious, self-aware sense of irony.”
And though Garofalo first passed on the role because she’s “steadfastly opposed” to torture, which she says is “used far too abundantly on the show,” Rajskub has a different take. “Love it,” she jokes. “Quote me on that.”