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Jack Bauer of '24' is back 'harder and meaner' (if that's even possible)

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This image released by Fox shows Kiefer Sutherland in a scene from

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This image released by Fox shows Kiefer Sutherland in a scene from "24: Live Another Day." THE CANADIAN PRESS/A-Fox-Daniel Smith

LONDON - There are times when Kiefer Sutherland barely resembles Jack Bauer.

For one thing, he smiles. Sutherland is charming and gracious as he sits with a small group of international reporters in what could pass for an interrogation room with better lighting. The room is upstairs in a converted warehouse studio in West London where Sutherland and the rest of the cast and crew are shooting "24: Live Another Day." The 12-episode, "special event" summer series begins Monday with a two hour premiere on Fox and Global.

The 47-year-old actor, dressed casually in a tapered black sweater, looks fit, healthy and relaxed — three words not usually associated with the heroic killing machine he played for eight real-time seasons.

Sutherland thought he'd left Bauer behind in 2010 when Season 8 came to a close. There had been plenty of talk about a movie, at one point to be shot between seasons of his next series, "Touch." When that show was cancelled after two seasons, and the movie re-boot stalled, Sutherland threw himself into other feature projects, including "Forsaken" a western shot in Alberta co-starring his famous father, Donald.

He didn't have to play Bauer again. An executive producer as well as the star, he was among the highest-paid actors in television throughout the run of that series. Besides his steady feature film career, the actor could have made a nice living purring through car ads and other voice-over work.

But, dammit, something about Bauer pulled him back in.

When executive producer Howard Gordon ("Homeland") asked how he saw Bauer four years later, Sutherland replied, "harder and meaner."

"Is that even possible?" came the reply.

Sutherland got why that would be the immediate reaction. Jack Bauer was killing friends and loved ones now to protect the world from terrorism.

Still, says Sutherland, "it's always possible for someone to go darker."

Look at Jack's current predicament. At the end of Season 8, he was completely estranged with no hope of reconciliation with his daughter (played by Elisha Cuthbert). He has lost another person he cared for in FBI agent Renee Walker (played by Annie Wersching). On top of that, he had actually saved the day — "doing things that were seriously questionable, in all fairness, illegal and inappropriate," allows Sutherland — but if Bauer hadn't done them, nobody gets to live another day.

Yet there's Bauer, alone, on the run, hunted by the government he had helped, left with "a huge sense of anger and frustration, self-loathing as well, and that has made for a kind of lethal mix."

The only way to cope with that, feels Sutherland, "is just to block that all out — you become a really, really hard character." When Bauer sees the impact of his actions this season, however, on reluctant accomplice Chloe O'Brian (a punked-out Mary Lynn Rajskub) and presidential daughter and former love interest Audrey Boudreau (with Kim Raver returning in that role), "you start to see him going from a very hard rock to being broken down into sand. That's an interesting thing as an actor to play."

Bauer turns up in London just as the president of the United States (William Devane) is scheduled to meet with the British prime minister (Stephen Fry). The CIA track him down, led by Steve Navarro (played by Benjamin Bratt).

Bratt had never met Sutherland before coming to London to work on "Live Another Day." Years ago, both had, at separate times, been linked romantically to the same actress: Julia Roberts.

"He's the engine that truly drives this show," says Bratt, who feels all of Bauer's deadly excesses "wouldn't work without a great lead actor." He calls Sutherland "the consummate professional" who "takes his work very seriously and yet he's a gentleman."

Sutherland describes the time leading up to production on these new episodes as "six months of absolute fear and nervousness." TV has changed enormously in the four short years since "24" ticked down to its final seconds. Why risk the legacy of success the series already enjoyed?

"Network television has taken its lumps," the actor observes. New media companies such as Netflix drop entire series in a day. "People are finding new ways to watch television," he says. "'House of Cards' is a phenomenal example of that."

It was executive producer Gordon who was as relentless as Jack Bauer in making it all happen again. As Sutherland says, "Howard's a really compelling guy."

As good as the eight seasons of "24" were, "there was never a single season that Howard and I ever felt was perfect, which is what made us really interested in coming back." Fellow executive producer and director Jon Cassar says many associated with the series always felt the middle episodes "were kind of like treading water a little bit." With this shorter, summer run, "you don't get that," says Cassar. "You're gonna get 12 really great, tight hours."

So the plan to bring the show back as a limited run series — not unlike cable shows such as "True Detective" but also the new network norm with "Under the Dome" and "The Following" — helped clinch the deal. Sutherland could commit to six months in England instead of the 11-plus he would spend helping to shape 24 episodes a year of "24."

A change of scenery, especially shooting in London, was also a factor. Besides the fun of having Bauer chasing terrorists in front of Big Ben or the Tower of London, the actor was back in the city of his birth. "It's great," he says, "when they let me go through the British line at customs."

Finally, there was age. Sutherland could hear the "24" clock ticking louder than anyone. Already a grandfather at 47, he felt it was now or never.

The Canadian in Sutherland would emerge in the pick-up hockey games he played in Los Angeles throughout the run of "24." Shooting in England has made that impossible anyway, but the other thing, as he says, is "I'm getting old."

Jack Bauer, on the other hand, would never hang 'em up. "Dammit Chloe," you can almost hear him snarl, "Where are my skates?"

___

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in London, he was a guest of Shaw Media.

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