When ‘24‘ returns for its eighth season Sunday, Cherry Jones will once again be leading the nation as U.S. President Allison Taylor.
At 53, Jones has several decades of stage credits and “small but pivotal” movie roles behind her. But until last year, she was largely unknown by television audiences. The first-ever experience as a series regular brought her an Emmy last fall and all kinds of newfound fame.
“By comparison to real stars, it’s still a very modest form of celebrity,” the actress insisted during a chat at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’m always stunned by the demographic for this show. It’s just all over the map and I have die hard dearest friends in New York who are the left of the left of the left [politically] and who whisper in my ear: “It’s my dark little secret. I love 24.” I say, ‘Don’t be ashamed!”
As she spoke to a small group of reporters, Jones was standing less than five feet away from series star Kiefer Sutherland who is also one of the show’s producers.
She said of the boss: “There is a laser focus when Kiefer is on any stage. He is a taskmaster. He is 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.”
Season eight is set in New York and President Taylor is at the United Nations trying to broker peace with a world leader played by Anil Kapoor of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ fame.
“I thought I was going to get to have a grand entrance at the UN,” Jones lamented. “Then I read on and [the script] said, ‘parking garage.’
Jones had won Tony Awards for playing the leads in ‘Doubt’ and ‘The Heiress,’ but she sometimes felt like she was starting all over because of the huge difference in acting for the small screen.
“With television, it’s got to be in the eyes, the truth has to be in the eyes,” she said. “I now get it and I look forward to the process. I used to hate it. Now I understand the way it works and I love working that small. I’ve spent my life working before a thousand people in large houses and it’s wonderful to just barely make a breath and you know that will, hopefully if you do it well, will have an impact.”
But then there is the challenge of the show’s style and storyline which does not always give actors the luxury of a back story and forces them to act in the moment.
“You feel sort of like a sculptor just carving away stone as you go. I didn’t know for the first two or three episodes last season that I had a grown daughter. So little by little things are revealed and you incorporate that but you try to stay true to the core that you’ve been given. … I didn’t know a thing about her. …Every little bit of information you get, it becomes you food and you ingest it and you see what energy you get from that.”
That has not been easy an actress who has always been so well-prepared: “I’m a little bit of a control freak in that I like to control what it is I do and in the theater you know the beginning, the middle and the end and I’m a person who likes to be a little more in control and would like to know the beginning, the middle and the end.”
It is not yet known if ’24’ will return next year for a season nine and if it does, it’s not known if President Taylor will still be in office.
Whatever happens, she’ll stay busy.
“I would love to do play in New York maybe in the fall if I could come up with one,” she said. “But my folks aren’t well in Tennessee so I spend a lot of time there but I do want to get back on stage before I forget how. This life is a little easier than eight [shows] a week I have to say. You get to go to dinner parties which is something I haven’t known in 30 years and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
The past two years have been a heady time for the actress who also found the time to play Eleanor Roosevelt in the feature film ‘Amelia’ starring Hilary Swank.
“I did play her which was wild,” Jones said. “I got to play Allison Taylor on a Monday morning and then got a flight late Monday night to Toronto. They picked me up and threw me right into my prosthetic make-up. So I got to play the president and the First Lady within 24 hours.”