'24: Legacy': Carlos Bernard Reflects on 16 Years With the Real-Time Thriller

24 Legacy Still - Publicity - H 2017
Guy D'Alema/FOX

24 Legacy Still - Publicity - H 2017

[The following story contains spoilers for the 6:00PM-7:00PM hour of 24: Legacy.]

When Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) returned to 24 the first time, it was under extremely explosive circumstances. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was under attack and called the only person he could trust to provide back-up: Tony, half-drunk and hopeless after losing his job and his marriage in the line of duty, now back in the field with guns blazing and redemption on the horizon.

Tony's second 24 comeback was even more explosive and even more of an event, considering the reason he was gone in the first place: he was dead — but only mostly dead, as Miracle Max might say. (No, not the same Max on the boat at the end of 24's second season. That's a mutton sandwich of a different color.) As it turned out, Tony's death in season five was a short-lived affair, paving the way for a shocking comeback as a vengeful villain in season seven — and even in that case, Tony's loyalties were flexible.

With Monday's episode of 24: Legacy, Tony has returned to the series from parts unknown for the third time, his appearance in a 24: Live Another Day Blu-ray short notwithstanding. But this time, there's not much in the way of fireworks. A few minutes into the hour, in the middle of the first act, former CTU chief Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto) calls Tony and requests his help in a sensitive operation. There's no gunfire, no sudden shift in moral alignment, no surprise at all to Tony's return — just the show's longest-running character outside of Bauer showing up exactly when and where he needs to be.

For his part, Bernard remembers Tony's arrival on 24: Legacy playing out a little bit differently than what ended up on screen: "There was a scene in the sixth episode where you see somebody get the phone call from Rebecca, and you don't know who she's calling. The camera comes around, and it's me on the phone. That had to get dropped because they had to re-edit how the show flowed."

But he's not exactly surprised with how things changed in the final edit.

"Here's the thing about this show, man," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Writing 24 is like working on a Rubik's Cube. They'll pitch you an idea of what the story is going to be for a season, and sometimes it works out like that, and other times? It doesn't. You just have to go with the flow."

Bernard knows more than a thing or two about the fluidity of working on 24, as he's one of the senior most members of the show. He's certainly the O.G. CTU agent on set, the only actor currently on 24 who hails from the earliest hours of the series. During his time with the real-time thriller, Bernard's Tony has seen and done it all, from something as grand as surviving an explosion and coming back from the dead to something as simple as sipping a bad beer out of a Chicago Cubs baseball mug — a character note that was a tribute to Bernard's own status as a lifelong Cubs fan.

Now that he's officially back on the show, Bernard opened up about some of his earliest 24 memories, his views on Tony's evolution through the series, and why he hopes the character will find redemption before the clock stops ticking.

Let's start with some history, because Tony Almeida has come a long way since season one. When we first met him, he was a lovelorn guy who had his heart broken by a traitor. In the second season, Tony found his eventual wife in the form of fellow agent Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth). He went to prison for her, they briefly divorced, then they remarried only for her to die a year or so later, and only for him to briefly die later that same day. Then he came back to life and was recruited into a terrorist army, then he wasn't a terrorist — and then he was again. And then he went to jail. And now he's back. 

Oh my god, man. (Laughs) When you put it like that …

Could you have ever envisioned any of that for Tony, going back to the earliest days of the series, shooting that first episode in 2001?

No. No way. I'll tell you, it's such a distinct memory, that very first day of shooting on the pilot. I remember going in and reading for the character, and it was not my casting. It was like a computer guy. I was playing a bunch of criminals and killers, and quite frankly, that was my casting at the time — guest-starring on shows and appearing in small movies. I don't know why they cast me in the damn thing, but they did, and they kind of changed the part. One of the things that changed was the name. It was originally Andrew Geller. Literally 15 minutes before we started shooting, Joel Surnow, the creator of 24, came up to me in the hallway and said: "We can't call you Andrew Geller. That can't be your name." And I'm like, "Yeah, I agree!" So we started spitballing names, and someone came up with Tony Almeida. And I thought that was cool! I liked that! Then they sent the name to clearance, and it couldn't get cleared. The name they could clear was Tonio Almeida. And I was like, "Dude, you cannot call him Tonio Almeida. It's like a porn name!" 

You had the soul patch for it. It could have worked out.

Thank god for Kiefer. The very first scene we shot was him walking down the hallway into CTU, and he turns to me and says, "Tonio…wait, Tony…wait, what's your name?" And the producers go, "It's Tonio!" And he goes, "I'm not calling him Tonio. I'm calling him Tony." And I was like, "God bless you, man." (Laughs) Honestly, the reason I tell that story is the character was just a guest star in the pilot. He was not a series regular in the pilot. I kind of thought that if there was a place for the character to survive in this world, it would be in a good supporting role. But to think that I would have gone through all of these iterations of the character, like you said? This whole journey he's gone through? It's crazy. It's 16 years later now.

How much did Tony grow based on your input and the writers molding the character to you?

Right off the bat, they altered the character because they cast me. I think I brought a very different essence to the character. He was almost more of a Chloe type in the pilot. He was a computer guy, someone who really knows how to use technology. That quickly changed, because they figured out that I'm a complete idiot with computers. But writers write for actors. Sometimes they discover something in an actor that they can take advantage of for the character, that they can mine something out of a certain actor. Sometimes you see a TV show where certain characters are growing because the writers have tuned into something. I don't want to say they take a lead from the actors, but they find material. They take a lead from who you are and your essence. I think the writers did that with me. But throughout, it's been a very collaborative process. We used to sit around in the cigar room that they built on set and spitball ideas back and forth. I would bring them scenes that I had written that I thought would be cool for the character. Sometimes they would use it, and sometimes they wouldn't. They would always look at it and consider it. It was always collaborative, and I still feel that way. A lot of these writers [on 24: Legacy] were on the first show, and there's a lot of history there. One of the great things about television and a show like this is that if your character survives, you bring all of those life experiences that happened on the show — all of those tragedies from over the seasons that these characters go through — you bring it along for the rest of the ride. You're amassing so many experiences for the character. When I sit in the makeup chair, they're putting all these different scars from different seasons.

Right, like the scar on Tony's neck from when he was shot back in season three.

The neck bullet scar, the neck burn scar — all of those things, the character brings them along. I think physically and emotionally, all of that stuff comes along for the ride. That's what makes the show so much fun to act on after all this time, and what makes the character so much fun to play. We get to figure out now where he's been all this time. We saw him in prison in that DVD movie, planning to break out of prison. But what's happened since then? Putting together that puzzle, you can't help but have your own influence. You're going to draw from your own experiences as an actor to fill in those time gaps for the character.

Over the course of the series, Tony became almost a funhouse-mirror image of Jack Bauer. They both lost the loves of their lives under incredibly traumatic circumstances. They both reacted to the trauma very differently: Jack, certainly prone to moments of darkness, would always ultimately fight for the greater good; Tony, meanwhile, plunged down the rabbit hole of despair and ultimately sought vengeance, at the cost of several innocent lives. Does that comparison between Jack and Tony align at all with how you have viewed the character — that he's more of an emotional guy who has to wrestle with his own demons before he can consider higher purposes?

Yeah, I think that's totally right. He's a guy who is much more emotional than Jack Bauer. He's not as able to compartmentalize and react to those emotions. He's flawed. Honestly, he's flawed in that world of counter-terrorism, because he lets those emotions impact him so much. I always looked at it like this: there's Jack Bauer, and there's how the rest of us would deal with that job and all those tragedies and emotion. Not many people could deal with it the way Jack does, although it affects him in a certain way emotionally and psychologically. For me, Tony was a little bit more how your average person might react. Certainly he's not as skilled at keeping his emotions at bay, definitely.

How do you think Tony reacted to the Cubs winning the World Series?

Oh man. He was probably stuck in some f—king desert in the Middle East somewhere. (Laughs) And I'll tell you why: because I was stuck in the middle of a hotel in Atlanta. I had gone to Game 3, and then I had to go back [to work on 24, which films in Atlanta]. I was in a hotel by myself in Atlanta in a lobby watching Game 7, talking on the phone with my wife and friends. I couldn't believe that of all places, I was stuck in a hotel lobby somewhere in Atlanta all by myself when they finally won. I would imagine that Tony was also somewhere random, and not at the game. But I hope he was watching TV somewhere. I hope he was watching.

Could the Tony Almeida of today even enjoy a Cubs win, or is he too far gone at this point?

Look, in all seriousness, he's a pretty damaged individual. I think life and what goes with life is very different for him now. What you might call the simple joys of life, sitting at a baseball game? That's been washed away. He's trying to figure out what his existence is now. It's just a different world for him, I think.

Tell me more about that world. When Tony returns this season, it's at the request of Rebecca Ingram [Otto], who needs outside help in interrogating Henry Donovan [Gerald McRaney]. How does that align with your initial conversations with the writers about Tony's return?

They were always planning on bringing me in around the sixth episode or so, with the idea that Rebecca and Tony had worked together in the past.… The idea was always that he would be called back in by her to help with a new situation, and we didn't know yet what that was going to be. We just knew that she would be in a bind, and she would need to lean on some help that was outside of CTU — somebody who was free and clear of those rules to come in and help — and since they had history together, she was going to turn to Tony and he was going to come and help. That's how it was pitched to me in how I was going to come back into the fold — and one of the things that I always wanted for the character was a chance to redeem himself. This is a guy who is basically a gun for hire now, and he's really about himself. He's really about surviving and taking care of himself, because he doesn't really necessarily trust many people anymore, and he doesn't necessarily believe in the government agencies anymore. And he's been through a lot. He's f—king damaged, like you said. He was in solitary confinement. If you have ever gotten an idea of what that's like? That kind of solitude messes with a person.

And that's not even his first trip to prison!

Yeah, he's been through it. (Laughs) And obviously, you add to that something I feel he's not over, which is the death of his wife. He still hasn't come to terms with that. 

Even after Tony tried to seek vengeance back in season seven?

Yeah, because I don't think that ever helps. I don't think revenge, personally, is ever going to help you get over the loss of somebody. I think that wound is still there, absolutely.

You parted ways with 24 in season three, then came back six episodes into season four. You were killed off in season five, then came back from the dead with a huge arc in season seven. Now you're back for the first time since 2009, the Live Another Day Blu-ray short film notwithstanding. Why can't you escape 24? What keeps drawing you back?

I love working on it. I have great affection for the show. Those of us who were there from the very beginning — and there aren't many of us from the very beginning…in fact, I think I'm the only person. (Pauses) No, [co-creator Robert Cochran] is still there, and he's been there since the beginning. But here's the thing: this show kind of feels like it's my baby. I'm very protective of it in a weird way. I really enjoy working on it. The character is part of it. I love playing the character. But I really like the writers, and [director] Jon Cassar is one of my best friends. I love the people on it. I love the genre. I don't know, man! It's funny, because I got in the car to go to the airport and go shoot in Atlanta, and the driver — who was obviously a 24 fan — we're driving for about two blocks and he goes, "Just when you thought you were out! They pulled you back in!" (Laughs) I started laughing. I was just like, "Yep! You're damn right, man!"

What do you think of Tony's return? Follow our coverage of the series at THR.com/24Legacy for more interviews and news about the FOX thriller.