Last season on 24, the first woman president, Allison Taylor, was introduced portrayed by Broadway star Cherry Jones. After winning the Emmy for her performance, Jones is back as President Taylor in season eight of the acclaimed drama. This time set in New York City, the action unfolds around the United Nations as a Middle East peace-keeping leader Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor, Slumdog Millionaire) negotiates international security with President Taylor. When Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) discovers a plot to assassinate Hassan, another intense, breathtaking day begins.
I spoke with Cherry Jones about her Emmy winning performance and a new season of one of the most innovative thrillers on television.
How do you feel about President Taylor a year later?
I thought some of her decisions last season showed extreme sleep deprivation there towards the end in terms of her chief-of-staff. I thought she was kind of brilliant and incredibly pragmatic. When you play a part, you get behind it and you try to figure out why and how, and there was very little that the writers scripted that I had any trouble fulfilling, including sending my child off to prison.
So I loved playing her last season. In each episode, I was always thrilled when I’d see that first script, and with each step, I thought she was incredibly pragmatic, but that’s just my own personal take.
Did you base your character on anyone?
I didn’t base it on anybody. I did jokingly say that it was based on Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir and John Wayne. Of any of those three, it would be more Eleanor Roosevelt.
On stage you have a complete arc, but with this you have bits and pieces, how do you do that?
You feel sort of like a sculptor just carving away stone as you go, because I didn’t know for the first two or three episodes that I had a grown daughter! Little by little things are revealed and you incorporate them, but you try to stay true to the core that you’ve been given.
I’m a little bit of a control freak in that I like to control what it is I do. In the theatre there’s a beginning, middle and end; and a person who likes to be a little more in control would like to know the beginning, middle and the end.
Did you have any idea of your character’s arc when you started on 24?
They handed me the first two episodes, I didn’t know a thing about her, I gathered that she’d been a senator, that he father had been a senator and other than that that was about the only background I had; and of course I had a son who died in the prequel, but that’s about it. So every little bit of information you get becomes your food, and you see what energy you get from that, I don’t know how else to put it.
It’s fun, I remember Joel Surnow said when I first met him for the part, ‘Actors love being on 24 because there is no past and there is no future, there’s just the moment.’ And that is a unique experience for any actor.
How hard is it to keep remembering when you come into work day after day, that it’s the same day and only a few minutes later?
You have to do your homework and you do have to know, because it’s over so many months of shooting. I said last year if I got to come back this year I would do note cards and put them on my dressing room mirror so I could remember where I was in the day. I didn’t do that this year; I just tried to remember what came two hours before, because anyone who’s going through something like this, I promise you, can’t remember more than two hours, because it is just hurtling at them at such a speed.
What was it like working with Anil Kapoor?
He’s just delightful. He’s a real gentleman. I don’t think he’s ever played the leader of a nation before, and I know that he’s enjoying playing it greatly. He has an amazing pair of glasses that he brought from home for the character.
Can you talk about winning the Emmy, what was that night like?
I don’t put much stock in awards; we all know it’s to publicize the shows. They so took me by the hand last season, because I had not done television before and Guy Skinner, who was the hand-held operator, would find my eyes no matter how far I buried them in the curtains, and the writers came up with this very strong interesting tortured woman, so I did share the Emmy with the crew. I handed it off to them, because most of these folks have been with the show for eight seasons and they boggle my mind.
These guys come onto soundstages at the beginning of the week and the end of the week, and the middle of the week they go and blow up helicopters. I think about them all the time when I’m not there wondering what they’re doing.
What was it like working with Kiefer Sutherland?
I got to be in that safe room with Jack Bauer last year, that was so fabulous. It’s true when Kiefer’s on set the temperature drops because there’s a laser focus when Kiefer is on any stage and he is a task master. He’s kind and pleasant and fun when it’s over, but when he’s there it’s all about making it believable, making sure the script is where it needs to be.
He came up with one of the greatest lines from last season, my character says, ‘Jack, how do I know I can trust you?’ And Kiefer changed a rather ordinary line to, ‘With all due respect Madam President, ask around,’ which was pure Kiefer.