Sitting in the corner of a hotel bar in Pasadena, Calif., munching his way through a dish of nuts, Kiefer Sutherland recalls one of the stranger times he was recognized by a "24" fan.
"I was on a ski lift once," he tells Zap2it, "and a CIA operative recognized me, which is amazing, because I had a hat on, goggles and a muffler, riding on a chairlift, swinging away.
"He says, 'I like your show.' I'm like, 'How could you recognize me?' He smiled and said, 'Don't tell anyone this, but I work for the CIA. I just got back from Afghanistan ... . The only bone I've got to pick with you is that my mother can't figure out how you can get that much done in a day, and we can't.'"
That operative may have some more explaining to do to when Sutherland's character, former Counter Terrorist Unit operative Jack Bauer, tries to pull off another one-day miracle when, after four years off American television, he returns in the 12-episode event series "24: Live Another Day," premiering Monday, May 5, on FOX.
Shot in London, the story finds Bauer attempting to prevent the assassination of U.S. President James Heller (William Devane), who previously appeared in the show as the secretary of defense. At Heller's side is his daughter, Audrey (Kim Raver), Bauer's former love, who suffered torture for him, and her husband (Tate Donovan), Heller's chief of staff.
Hunting Bauer are London-based CIA agents played by Benjamin Bratt, Yvonne Strahovski and Gbenga Akinnagbe. Stephen Fry appears as the British prime minister.
"Jack's been in hiding for four years in Eastern Europe," says Sutherland, who was born in London and lived there until he was 3. "He's living the hard life.
"Historically, we've always come into the season with Jack having some kind of hope, and it's dashed, and he escalates in that direction. In this, we're going to go from up here" -- Sutherland raises his hand high above the glass-topped table in front of him -- "where he's the angriest and meanest he's ever been."
Says executive producer Howard Gordon, "We're continuing the story of the way we prosecuted the war, both good and bad. ... This is about blowback, in a sense. But the most important thing it's about is bringing Jack back in a way that's consistent with where he's been and taking him hopefully to the next place in his long and difficult life."
President Heller is in the British capital to negotiate a treaty dealing with military drones, but there's a plot afoot to take him out. At the heart of it is British national Margot Al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley, "Game of Thrones"), the widow of a notorious terrorist, and her indoctrinated daughter, Simone (Emily Berrington).
Along the way, Bauer must turn again for help to former CTU tech expert Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who suffered devastating personal losses and has turned into a punked-out anti-government hacker working for a WikiLeaks-type organization headed by Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott).
If all of this sounds very au courant, that's business as usual for "24."
Since its premiere in the wake of the 9/11 attacks -- on the day of which the show was already six or seven episodes into production -- "24" rolled out its eight seasons of 24-episode days in a kind of limbo, living in the past, present and future all at once.
Despite being conceived months in advance and written and shot weeks in advance, many episodes seemed to resonate in the day they aired, or the few days before, or the few days after, presaging or echoing world events with a sometimes eerie synchronicity.
"What's so interesting," says Sutherland, "Howard calls me to talk about doing it, and there was a Julian Assange-type character in the piece. But Julian Assange has been very quiet for the last two years, relatively.
"And, literally, Edward Snowden pops up and is what he is, and part of me was like, 'Couldn't he have waited three months? Because then we would have been just ahead.' That's a joke, obviously."
When Season 8 ended in the spring of 2010, Jack was a fugitive from both the U.S. government and the Russians. But Jack being Jack, when an opportunity presents itself to save the day, he can't quite say no.
And, in the end, neither can Chloe, despite her anger and bitterness.
"When they first encounter each other," says Rajskub, calling in from London, "it is not good, which I'm predicting people are going to love and hate at the same time. They are not seeing eye to eye.
"For me, it took my character going through this horrible personal experience in order to lash out at him. ... When he finds me, it's really exciting. Of course, there's no time to discuss personal things, and I reluctantly wind up helping him again."
Photo/Video credit: FOX