The long delay to season seven is finally coming to an end for "24" fans, as Kiefer Sutherland and crew offered preview clips and details at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Clips of the "Exile" prequel to the seventh season featured Jack Bauer caught in the midst of a coup d’état in Africa, escorting a friend and an armed child through the chaotic streets with ten minutes to reach his destination. Gun fire breaks out and in typical Bauer fashion a body count is quickly wracked up, only to end on a cliffhanger with his young escort pulling a gun on him.
The panel spoke at length about the benefits of an extended delay before shooting the prequel and seventh season, and the ability to shoot on location in Africa. Executive producer and showrunner Howard Gordan began by explaining how the "Exile" prequel came about. "Kiefer and I, after the writer's strike, were sort of riffing a bit about some of the Africa story that had been discarded. This would be like a 10-minute scene, and David [Fury] called back and said how about a two-hour movie? It turned out to be a good idea. I think we start this year with Jack on trial for his sins and I think there was an emotional link missing [that is filled in by this prequel.]”
Executive Producer Jon Cassar described the on-location shoot. "We went down [to South Africa] for I think three days and the rest of it would be Simi Valley pretending to be South Africa. [We told them] it would be a really difficult shoot and they accepted it right away and said do the whole thing there. It all turned out pretty exciting for us."
Kiefer Sutherland, making his debut CCI appearance, agreed. "When we went to Africa we went with one of the best scripts we've ever had. Thank you Howard [Gordon] for that. We didn't have to rush it like we normally do and it kind of set a precedent for the rest of the season for how we were going to approach it. There is nothing in my twenty-two years of experience like going on location to help you bridge to reality. That young boy is one of the finest actors I've ever worked with."
Evan Katz and Manny Coto explained, "It's allowed us to really flesh out the stories in a way we've never been able to. It's allowed us the freedom and creativity to really make season seven much deeper."
“Star Trek: Enterprise” co-creator Brannon Braga was also introduced as a new writer for “24,” and described his trial by fire jokingly: "I've become an alcoholic since I started writing this show. It's just been absolutely amazing for me."
Carlos Coto is another new addition. "First off, I got to work with my brother, which is really cool. I jumped in the middle of the season, and Brannon said there is nothing that can prepare you. So now I am just happy and I sort of see my self as the other Carlos.”
Actor Carlos Bernard spoke about his return to the show and experience working with the writing staff. "I have to basically write the show for them. It’s not easy!” he joked. “No, it's been amazing, really since the very first day of the show it’s been this amazing mixture of people. We know that when this is done it's never going to happen again. I think it's been my most fun year."
Gordon described the rollercoaster ride of the Tony Almeda character. "This is the fourth time he has died, but you know we love this character. I do credit Manny and David Fury for insisting Almeda was not dead. They had an idea to bring him back last year, and you know we didn't like how he died. We just were not happy with that death."
Sutherland added, “I think one of the most difficult thing for the course of the show has been working with phenomenal actors who eventually depart. So every time Carlos is revived, I am amazingly grateful. We all knew as actors that everything has to service the story. The way he came back was just so extraordinary and so very ’24.’”
Regarding the upcoming season, the panel revealed that it involves the horrors of children soldiers in Africa. Both Sutherland and Katz felt it includes the best episodes of "24" yet. "I have to tell you the stuff we did in Africa for this prequel is right up there. I am an optimist for the future so I am going to say we have not made my favorite episode yet," said Sutherland.
Katz agreed, "I'm going to say my favorite episode is in this season."
As for how different this season will be from prior ones, Sutherland said, "We're not trying to reinvent the show, every year we take what you all have told us what you like, through the Internet, through fan mail and fan phone calls. We try every year to take out what you don't like, put in what you do like. For the writers it's an unbelievable challenge."
Regarding his character this season, Sutherland remarked, "I think one of the coolest things about season seven that I am really excited about is for the most part he's trying to be better and I think that's something that I really loved about the character."
Bernard spoke briefly about the evolution of his character to this seventh season, "There's a real growth to each character you're following along on that path. For me it was very organic. It felt very natural to me."
Sutherland joked about two of his favorite scenes over the course of the show. "The first season, I shot with Carlos; I got to shoot at him and tackle him, so I loved it," and "probably chopping that guys head off in season two."
Will Bernard be sporting his signature soul patch this season? "That, sir, is none of your business," he said.
Regarding the guns and gadgets used in the show, Sutherland said, "We got really lucky with the prop and special effects guys that we work with. We have a lot of people on our crew that come out of the feature world. A lot of the gadgets, they obviously don't exist and [those guys] make them. And with regards to the guns, all of the guns are real. They have a small metal piece down the barrel that allow you to shoot a real round with the powder taken out of it."
Moving briefly to some of the more controversial aspects of the show, David Fury spoke about the portrayal of torture, and use of children in the cast. "The fact that we deal with torture, and the consequences of it, I think that's what makes it worthwhile drama. We are not endorsing drama, but we explore it," said Fury. As far as the children aspect, "I think this is the first time where we've put children in danger,” a statement the audience disagreed with, calling out numerous other examples of child endangerment on “24.” “Okay, okay, I get it, there were other times we put children in danger, it makes for good drama!" Fury retorted to laughter.
Getting away from the serious topics for a moment, Sutherland was asked when his character takes a break to use the bathroom and eat. "I shot a scene where Jack Baurer is going to raid an office, and ran into a washroom in the lobby, and came out nine seconds later a lot happier, but they cut it out. [Assume] whenever they cut to the White House, Jack is in the bathroom, and not only that but he's getting something to drink, and something to eat," Sutherland said with a chuckle.
As for how his character seems to be able to travel through traffic-clogged freeways in miraculously short periods of time, Sutherland said, "For the most part we've figured out ways to get around traveling around Los Angeles. I hope you understand our ‘24’ day is a really light traffic day."
And dispensing with a final lighter topic, Sutherland was asked about his character's tendency to use the phrase "damn it!" during the series. "'’Damn it’ started because you can't swear on network television. I am limited in speech to some degree, in that I needed something to express frustration, whether that was being unable to control my 16-year-old daughter or a nuclear bomb has gone of."
The actor’s backed off using it as much as since he learned it had become a drinking game on college campuses, joking that there was one episode when he said, "Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it!" in a row, and thought, "That's going to be fun for the drinking game."
The panel wound down with some final notes about the future and cast additions for the new season. Asked about a future feature film, Gordon said, "I think we concluded that while the television show is on the air, no." As for additional cast this season, actors include Jon Voight, Cherry Jones as the first female President, Annie Wersching, Janeane Garofalo, and Rhys Coiro.
Sutherland concluded with a heartfelt thank you to the fans: "I just want to take a second, because we never really get this opportunity, and this is the first time I've been down to this event, and you guys have been so kind and so nice. This show is the best thing I've done. You guys are the reason I've been allowed to do it, so I cannot thank you enough, thank you for your patience and support. You all rock!"
Now discuss this story in CBR’s TV/Film forum.