Now that the country has a new President, it seems fitting that one of the country's best TV shows, 24, has a new President as well. Cherry Jones plays that new President, Allison Taylor, and it's even more fitting that the latest episode airs on President's Day on Monday, February 16 at 9 PM ET on Fox. Jones held a conference call to talk about the new episode, and here's what she had to say.
Cherry, so many 24 President's over the seasons have had serious character flaws. They usually make a lot of bad mistakes along the way, along the day. It seems so far that President Taylor is pretty unflappable and I'm wondering if she's going to stay that way.
Cherry Jones: Oh, I'm as flawed as the next little president. I've certainly got my -you'll see ahead that I have plenty of flaws, both domestic and international.
I'm wondering how intense is Kiefer? What's it like working with him and acting with him?
Cherry Jones: It's fantastic. And I'm so glad that episode has aired so I can finally talk about it. I had been told by my dear friend, Jane Atkinson, that when Kiefer's on the set it's a whole other temperature, and it's part of the reason why Kiefer's kept Jack Bauer so taut and intense for seven seasons. He's completely focused and you feel the dire nature of the situation, and you don't have to work very hard, you're just there with him. And then as soon as it's over and you're off the stage he's the most delightful, enjoyable, generous, delicious young man around. But, on that stage he's absolutely intensity personified.
Did you do any research for the role? And, if you did, who did you look to out in the political world?
Cherry Jones: Well, I've always loved reading a biography and I've read a lot about Eleanor Roosevelt, I've always been fascinated by her, and I also thought of Golda Meir. I love the combination of those two women, neither of them particularly vain, but Eleanor Roosevelt's compassion. She was tormented, I think, by her fear that she was not a particularly good mother, which I think a lot of career women and women who are driven to do greater good for larger society, the greater society - I'm completely tongue-tied right now. Please forgive me. Those were the two, and I threw in a smattering of John Wayne every once in a while just to get through the scene.
I'm a big fan of your stage work, is there anything coming up once you're done filming 24?
Cherry Jones: Well, it looks like I'm - yes, there is, but it hasn't been announced yet. But it's going to be on stage. And I'm really looking forward to it and I just - that was all finalized yesterday, so I'll wait for the theater to make the announcement.
You kind of touched on this, I interviewed an actor who played an admiral in a TV series and he told me that when he was cast he went around to different people in the Navy, how do you play an admiral? How does an admiral act? How does he behave? And, someone finally told him, "Hell, he's an admiral, an admiral acts anyway he damn well pleases."
Cherry Jones: That's right.
And that was the insight that he needed. I'm wondering if the same principle sort of applies to being a President.
Cherry Jones: Well, I think when you walk into that room - I mean, I have to say, when I first walked onto that set not knowing one crew member or knowing only Bob Gunton, was the only cast member I knew, there was a kind of deferential treatment that I felt from everyone simply because I was playing the President of the United States. It's funny how good actors will defer to someone who has the position of power. Everyone in that cast gives me the power I need. I just move through the day trying to figure out what the hell to do next. But the way everyone else treats me gives me all the power I need. So, kudos to my fellow cast members. They make it very easy for me.
Are they deferential to you in the same way when the camera isn't rolling?
Cherry Jones: Oh, absolutely not. I'm deferential to them.
How familiar with the show were you before you were cast on the show?
Cherry Jones: I'd never seen a single episode - that's not true. When I found out I had the meeting I went and rented the first season and watched the first two episodes and fell madly in love with Jack Bauer. I grew up on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible, those were my two favorite shows as a young child, so of course I had a proclivity for espionage, apparently. And I just fell in love with Jack Bauer. And then the minute I found out I was cast, I immediately raced out and rented every single season and watched them like popcorn, one right after another and became a real 24 fan.
We were told at the TCA's you'd had surgery. How are you doing?
Cherry Jones: I'm fine. Literally two days after I had that surgery, it was laparoscopic, I was doing three loads of laundry up two flights of stairs in my apartment building in New York. So, my doctor just said, "Do what you can afterwards." And I did the flight slowly, but I couldn't believe how quickly I recovered from that surgery. It's terrific.
You've played powerful characters before, but is there a difference between playing somebody who's powerful within their own environment and playing the President? Or, is power power?
Cherry Jones: It's interesting because on stage you know the beginning, the middle and the end and you can sculpt and create the arc through to the end of the evening. And you know who you are and what you've got to accomplish. And then when the curtain goes up you forget all that you know and just go into the moment. On television, in 24 I don't really completely know who she is. I just have to take what I'm given in the moment and I'm carving out a character each and every episode because I'm being thrown all sorts of - I know I'm not really addressing your question about power, but it's because I don't really know who she is. So, I don't quite even know how to address that question.
Because you don't know if there might be a revelation that she's secretly beholden to Jon Voight or something.
Cherry Jones: Exactly. Yes, I don't know. And so, it's amazing. I mean, I'm going in with the belief that she is someone who really has great moral authority because she's lived politically a clean life and has been driven by her need to serve. And we'll see if that's...
I guess, let me rephrase then. I'm sorry for the follow-up, but is it difficult playing a character where you have to play everything slightly ambiguously so that whatever happens next will be true to how you played it?
Cherry Jones: No. I don't worry about playing it ambiguously. I don't think I really play anything about Allison Taylor ambiguously because I don't worry about that. I let the writers worry about that. And then if they have some explaining to do, they can do that later on down the line. But I just try to go for broke. I want her to think quickly and speak quickly and decide things quickly. I wanted her to be one of those people. Sometimes on television, I think as actors we can take an awful lot of time when the clock is ticking and I always wanted to remember when I'm in that Oval Office that the clock is ticking and this decision has to be made three minutes ago. And I just want to say about this character, I wanted her to be older than I am. I wanted her to show a life that has been difficult. And I wanted you to see the mask of grief on that face, because this is someone who's just lost a grown child in the last six months and has had no time to mourn the passing of that child. And so she is very compromised. She's emotionally compromised when day seven begins. And yet, she's the President of the United States. And I wanted to come in with all of that. And she's not a cuddly person; she's a tough nut who's under a tremendous amount of emotional stress.
Allison's a very idealistic President. I was just wondering how will that make Jack's job easier or harder in season seven?
Cherry Jones: Well, that makes them a very odd pair. I think Allison is also incredibly pragmatic and that's their common ground. And they both have a steely resolve which I think creates a lot of mutual respect between them.
Now, even though this is just a TV character, do you get a sense of the difficult job the actual President has? Especially when it comes to things like sending troops to ...?
Cherry Jones: Well, I can't even begin to imagine. It is my job as an actor to imagine, that's what we get paid to do. And so when I walked into that Oval Office, it was very easy to imagine what it must be like on that first day and the bond that those men must feel for those who've come before them. I can't imagine - I'm sure it's why Barack Obama was carrying around those biographies of Abraham Lincoln almost like a security blanket. He needed that camaraderie and that wisdom and that mentoring from a former great President.
I've heard your character described as Hillary Clinton, if there was no Obama. How would you describe Allison Taylor?
Cherry Jones: I think she's not at all like Hillary Clinton. In the first place, she is very, I think she's battling depression. I think of Hillary Clinton as a very gregarious and pragmatic person and I think Allison Taylor is a - I think we've got a little bit of feedback here. I don't know if Allison is, as I said to Abbie, I think she's in a very emotionally compromised place right now because of the loss of her child. And I don't see Hillary Clinton invading Darfur. I just don't. It's a very bold move that these writers have made with the initial episode of this woman planning an invasion of an African country, an intervention, I should say.
Did you have any reservations about playing the part of President Taylor?
Cherry Jones: Well, I was reassured by the writers that they were going to try to fall back more into a more honorable President, more on the lines of a David Palmer than a Charles Logan or a Noah Daniels' President. And, it's not that I don't want to play an evil, wicked, bad President at some point. I would be happy to have done that too. But, it was important to me that she be written as a human being and not played with in any way because of her gender, you know what I'm trying to say.
Well, one of the things that has come up in the past is that there's a theory that President Palmer sort of paved the way for Barack Obama. Are you paving the way for a woman President?
Cherry Jones: I don't think the way needs to be paved anymore, quite honestly. I really don't. I think the country has suddenly shifted into looking for people of merit and obviously charisma, we're still suckers for charisma.
Obviously, you'll never be in the position of running the country or how you make these tough decisions, but how do you feel about how President Taylor's handling everything and the executive decisions she's making?
Cherry Jones: Well, it's interesting because I don't really know what the world of 24 is before we begin. All I know is that every single President before me has either been assassinated or resigned in disgrace, and several have been killed. It's a very patriotic thing, I think, on 24 to run for President because you have a large target on your back. But not knowing, as far as foreign relations exactly why she's invading that country except that I gather that like our own country, our real country, we have lost credibility with the rest of the world and it seems crucial to Allison Taylor that that be restored. And she also is fed up with what has been going on in our fictional Sangala. I am an idealistic person and I love that she's taking a stand. Whether it's the wisest thing to do, I'm not sure because I don't really know what else is going on in the world fictionally around 24. But I admire her for doing it. It sure has gotten us into a big mess, however.
And you talked about how her grief kind of affects her as a President. But you'll also be meeting your daughter. What will we learn more about President Taylor as we see her relationship with her daughter unfold?
Cherry Jones: That she has a very complicated relationship with her child. That's about all I can say.
Do you see your character as a Republican?
Cherry Jones: They are so darn clever, aren't they, the way they never really say. I've been quoted as saying I certainly think my hair is Republican. I'm not sure. I think the jury's out. And I certainly was never told. And I'm not at all sure she's a Republican. Who knows, maybe she's an Independent.
Right, there you go. And I know you sort of talked about all of this before, but do you watch Barack Obama and use anything that he does? I mean, he's not really like your President at all, and you said you looked towards Eleanor Roosevelt, but is there any President that you've actually taken cues from in any way?
Cherry Jones: Well, honestly, one thing that I did - she's been in power only nine months at the top of the show and I think she's already, because of the death of her child, I think I wanted to look very tired from the top. I mean, we all know what Barack Obama looked like by the time he finished placing his cabinet members. His face was twitching he was so tired. And after two years of campaigning for that office, they come into office exhausted. And I didn't want to look like some Hollywood person playing the President. I wanted to kind of look a little bit like ... I wanted her to look exhausted, and I do. I get more exhausted... I mean, I think about Franklin Roosevelt in 1943 and the bags under his eyes, two years before his death. And Lyndon Johnson, I'm old enough to remember President Johnson well and showing his gallbladder scars. But yes, I wanted her to look authentic and exhausted.
All right, but nobody in particular that you said, "I really like the way Lyndon Johnson did this. I'm going to play this scene that way."
Cherry Jones: Well, the famous photograph of Johnson leaning over that member of Congress, I can't remember who it was, where he's towering over this person, and the person's leaning back on a table. I thought of that many times when I've been shooting things and I've been having trouble with Admiral Smith or with Ethan Cannen, when they're giving me trouble. I try not to ever retreat.
You can watch Cherry Jones as President Allison Taylor on a special President's Day episode of 24, which airs on Monday, February 16 at 9 PM ET only on Fox.