For eight seasons between 2001 and 2010, plus a revival in 2014, 24 thrilled audiences with the gripping, high-stakes adventures of counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). On Feb. 5, following the Super Bowl, the iconic ticking clock restarts with a new cast and story about a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The Fox reboot’s hero is Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), an Army Ranger who led a successful mission to take out terrorist leader Sheik Ibrahim Bin-Khalid, whose followers are now killing off members of Carter’s squad—and he’s next on the list. He joins forces with former Counter Terrorism Unit National Director Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), wife of presidential candidate Senator John Donovan (Jimmy Smits), to root out the terrorists and thwart their plot—and a deeper conspiracy.
Playing out in real time with the ominous sound of minutes counting down, the drama’s format stays true to the one 24 fans remember. The show had “a brilliant construction and a brilliant propulsive engine that we recognize as this wonderful wheel that works, and there's no reason to redesign that,” says executive producer Howard Gordon. He and executive producer Brian Grazer had considered making a 24 feature film, “But we realized that the television format would be just much more compatible to what 24 is because of the stylistic element of real time that produces a kind of perishability, urgency, and unpredictability that has really intersected with digital consumerism today.”
With Jack Bauer out of the picture (Kiefer Sutherland is now playing the president on Designated Survivor, but is part of the executive producing team), the creators had the liberty to move ahead with a new story and cast. “Eric Carter is a young soldier who has returned from duty. He's not an intelligence officer. He's not a CTU agent. This is really an origin story. He's really feeling his way through this journey,” says Howard Gordon.
Interviewed by the producers via Skype from Australia, where he was shooting Kong: Skull Island (out Mar.10), Corey Hawkins was only actor who received the script. In Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, The Walking Dead), “We saw someone who had an earnestness and believability and ability to make us feel for him. I think the most important thing was having a character that the audience likes immediately and identifies with and will lead us into this strange world, and Corey had all of that,” says co-creator Evan Katz. “He's really made this character come alive. He has a youthful sort of idealism that we haven't seen in this show.” But that is quickly tarnished.
Carter is learning and coming to grips with the fact that the enemy may be one of us. The enemy may not be who you think it is. There are allegiances that aren't played out as they are on the battlefield, where you have your comrades and everybody's in it,” says co-creator Manny Coto. “The more he's plunged into this world, the more he realizes that the choices he made and was used to making on the battlefield don't apply in this environment.”
Hawkins felt the pressure of taking on such a pivotal role, but felt he was up for the challenge. “If the challenge wasn't there, then there was no reason for me to say yes to the role,” he says. “As an actor, the pressure is to step into Eric Carter's shoes and make him as full and as complex and as flawed and as human as I could, and that's the fun. And not following in the footsteps of anything that came before, because 24 is all about the moment that you're in.”
Hawkins sees Carter as “an average human being with extraordinary sort of ability in terms of being a soldier. But the rules of engagement are very different on the home front. And there's an adjustment period that we're going to have to watch him stumble through messily and get through that.”
The intersecting plotlines also follow what’s going on inside CTU, with Miranda Otto’s Rebecca Ingram spearheading the investigation. Last seen on Homeland as double agent Allison Carr, she’s one of the good guys here—we think. “I can be a good girl. I really can,” she says.
Also at CTU, Dan Bucatinsky, whose credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Marry Me, the Gilmore Girls reboot, Web Therapy, The Comeback, and Scandal, for which he won an Emmy, plays computer analyst Andy Shalowitz. “I’m the guy that just wants to go home, feed his cats, watch Wheel of Fortune and stay out of trouble, but trouble finds me,” says Bucatinsky, a huge fan of the original 24 who remembers binge watching the show on DVD. “That kind of gasp-worthy television was genre-defining and changed the hour format.”
Bucatinsky was eager to discover what each script had in store for him. “Every script reveals something you didn’t realize about the character. Everyone has secrets. And the revelations will continue to unpeel throughout the season,” he promises. “The storytelling is layered and complicated. In addition to being about things in the world that can be quite scary, it’s also about heroism that exists in ordinary people, not just ones trained to be heroes. It’s very inspirational because it taps into the courage in every man. That’s one of the things that attracted me to the project.”
The producers wanted to make sure that it would not be necessary to have seen the original series to follow the action, but at least one face familiar to 24 devotees will appear. Carlos Bernard will guest star in a recurring role as Tony Almeida. “He's just a dynamic character, a great presence,” Manny Coto explains the decision to bring him back. “It just felt right.” And, teases Howard Gordon, “It will turn out that he has a history with someone.”
While there’s certainly plenty of heart-stopping action in 24: Legacy, Coto sees it as a drama first and foremost. “It’s more of a thriller than an action series. I think of 24 more as an emotional roller coaster ride, which I personally enjoy more,” he says.
It’s also particularly timely. “Terrorism has changed,” he notes. “The big fear was largescale attacks and giant infrastructure, but it's become unfortunately something more that can arise in your own neighborhood: the lone wolf attack. That's something that the show is dramatizing this year.”
It also poses some big questions. “What does it mean to be an American black soldier coming back from war? What does it mean to be a high-powered woman who ran CTU? What does it mean to be a candidate of Hispanic heritage running for president?” Howard Gordon lists a few. “But the overall question is, what does it mean to be an American?” With any luck, we’ll get those answers by the time the countdown clock stops.
24: Legacy premieres Feb. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET, 7:30 p.m. PT on Fox.