Carlos Bernard: The TV Squad Interview
Look at him! American hero turned rogue black-ops bad-ass turned American hero again. Carlos Bernard has taken Tony Almeida around the block more than once on FOX's tick-tocking drama 24. Despite the fact that he "died" in season five, Bernard has made one thing clear during Tony's "resurrection" on the show's seventh season - you can't keep a good man down.
I had the chance to speak to Bernard last week. Lots of scoop on the remainder of the current season, some info on the soul-patch era, and the one thing that everyone is dying to know - where's Tony's Cubs mug?
Jonathan Toomey: We've actually met before, not sure if you remember.
Carlos Bernard: Oh yeah? Where'd we meet?
JT: Back in January 2006, during your second visit to The Tony Danza Show. I was working there at the time and as I recall, we had a pretty in-depth conversation about the selection of hard candy in the green rooms.
CB: [laughs] That's right, I was there twice.
JT: So you were in the middle of 24's season five then and it was just a few months before you got "killed" off. I don't know if you remember Danza's thing, it was big for him to do "24 in 24" where he'd recap the previous week's episode in twenty-four seconds or less.
CB: Yeah, I remember he did that.
JT: He rarely succeeded, but I remember it was a very sad day when he had to take down Tony Almeida's face from his big Velcro character board.
JT: When you were at Danza that day, how far into filming the season were you at that point? Did you know you were dying?
CB: Oh yeah. I knew at the end of the fourth season actually. They called to tell me what the story was going to be for the fifth, and the original plan was to kill me along with everyone else at the very beginning – I don't know if you remember that...
JT: Along with Palmer and Michelle and everyone else.
CB: Right, and I was like "OK, great," but I told them I thought they were wasting an opportunity. I pitched the idea of Tony surviving and going on this vendetta to find the person who killed Michelle. But this show is like a Rubik's Cube – everything has to fit together perfectly and that's why I ended up in a hospital bed for half the season. They just couldn't figure out how to fit in that storyline. It came down to "we can't keep paying you for nothing" [laughs], and that's why the door got left open because they were half-heartedly doing it [killing off Tony].
JT: So are you saying they went into it knowing that you weren't getting the silent clock treatment?
CB: I don't think they fully knew as they were doing it. They knew they wanted to leave the door open. I didn't think they'd bring the character back. I'd moved on. The possibility was there, but I didn't think they'd do it.
JT: At the time, were you satisfied with how Tony went out?
CB: No, nobody was. But it was done in a rush and they were writing on the fly at the time. Season seven is the first season they finished writing before the show started airing, but that was because of the writer's strike. We had the chance to re-write things and stop if things didn't make sense. Because of that, from top to bottom, I think this is going to be one of our strongest seasons. Personally, this is my favorite since the first. But back to season five, they were just really under the gun. I don't think anyone was satisfied with it.
JT: So why did they decide to bring Tony back now and not in season six?
CB: They pitched me an idea for season six and it just smacked of audience manipulation. It didn't really make sense. But that got the ball rolling and they realized for season seven, they needed a character that was really close to Jack to pull him in.
JT: So you were on board with the story then? With Tony being a bad guy since we saw him last?
CB: I was totally on board with it. I thought it was a very organic evolution. It was a couple times now that Tony had been abandoned by the government. This was a guy who had dedicated his life to serving, and he got used. What was really important to him had been destroyed.
JT: Talk to me about the evolution of Tony's facial hair.
CB: [laughs] Season one, I had the soul-patch because I just came off from doing another show and I thought it might be OK for 24. Then we shot the pilot and I kind of realized, "Oh my god – it all takes place in one day." You read the script and you get the concept, but it's not until you start shooting that you realize it. So the soul-patch was in. I lost it for season two because I was sick of it. It sort of came back with some stubble in season four. This season was a completely different story. We played a lot with how Tony was going to look. I really felt like his exterior should reflect his interior feelings. We wanted it to be a bit shocking. I know in my personal life, when things aren't going well, you aren't very well kept.
JT: Exactly, you let it go a few days. But what you're saying is that there really was an extensive conversation about the type of facial hair a villain should have?
CB: Well, yes, but I don't really see him as a villain. I see Tony as where he's at right now, and I think his actions were just an extension of what he was going through.
JT: Why do you think Tony and Jack work so well together? They share a similar patriotism, but they both have very different views about their government.
CB: There's a history of trust. They knock heads over things. I know in my life, people who disagree with me and that I can have arguments and debates with, those people, I just don't trust anyone who doesn't lose their temper from time to time. Think about grade school. You might actually trust someone more if you get into a fist fight with them as a kid. There's something about having it out with someone. That's how you know where someone stands and I think that's true for Jack and Tony.
JT: You've arguably taken Tony full circle twice now. What's that been like for you as an actor?
CB: It's been more than I could ever ask for. Most TV shows that give you a chance to play one role for more than a year can become repetitious and characters don't evolve. This is one of the few shows where that isn't the case. So much happens in the world of 24. Tony has traveled a very far distance at this point. He was a red herring in season one.
JT: I know Kiefer Sutherland is signed on for day eight. We gonna see you back? Are you ... alive?
CB: I don't know, I can't say [laughs]. I go season to season and a lot of it depends on the story they come up with. I love working on a show and I just couldn't have a better situation than 24. Kiefer and I are like brothers at this point.
JT: Looking at eight and beyond, what do think the success of the show says about its longevity? If regulars like Jack, Tony, and Chloe were really gone, dead or otherwise, could 24 pull a Law & Order and still work with a heavily rotated cast?
CB: I don't know. I was wrong about everything [laughs]! I didn't think we'd make it to air when we shot the pilot. Then we got picked up and I didn't think we'd make it more than halfway through the season. Now season seven – so I was wrong all along. It wasn't just 9/11 when we premiered [in November 2001]. We thought we were dead in the water. For other reasons besides that, it's just such a strange format with a lot of things going against it, like syndication. But to answer your question, personally, I guess I don't see it going beyond Kiefer. That being said, again, I don't know. Seven seasons! It's older than my daughter!
CB: Everyone just works their ass off to make it as good as possible. It's just such a hard show to write. We actually wrapped before Christmas, but at the beginning of seven, I remember walking into the writer's room and they were all wearing season six t-shirts. Basically, it was motivation because they were all disappointed. These are the types of people that don't like to lose. It's got by far the best ending of any season yet. The last six episodes are even better than the front half of the season. There was a point with one of these final episodes where we halted production for almost a month so the writers could re-write some stuff. You've got to hand it to the writers and producers for doing that because it's expensive to shut down, but it paid off because from that hour on, the rest of the season is just fantastic.
JT: OK, last one. What about the Chicago Cubs mug? Are we going to see it this season?
CB: Well, it's still there. But it's tough because Tony is a guy who has nowhere to be now and seeing it would have pulled you out of the moment. There is a scene, where we got a Cubs mug in. It wasn't the Cubs mug because we thought it would be too obvious. It hasn't aired yet, but I'm not even sure if it made it on camera.
JT: So this could potentially be a Where's Waldo for Tony's Cubs mug then, assuming it made the cut?
CB: Kind of – yeah. So we'll have to see if it actually got picked up [laughs].