'24: Legacy': Meet the New Jack Bauer

New and Returning Shows for 2017 - 24: Legacy- Corey Hawkins - H 2016
Courtesy of Ray Mickshaw/FOX

It's 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. Corey Hawkins is in Atlanta, on the set of 24: Legacy, preparing for a stunt meeting. He was in the air mere hours earlier, flying home from a screening and celebration of the series premiere in New York. The party ended at 3 a.m. His flight for Atlanta was at 7 a.m. He just missed out on a heavy snow by about two hours. Talk about tight timing — but then again, time management has become something of a specialty since Hawkins became the Fox franchise's new Jack Bauer.

"Everything is a race against the clock," he tells The Hollywood Reporter over the phone. "I just want to sleep!"

No time for naps. The new iteration of 24, which premieres Sunday on Fox after the Super Bowl, sees Hawkins in the lead role of Eric Carter, an Army Ranger who returns home from war only to have one of his most dangerous operations come back to haunt him on American soil. It's a surreal experience for Hawkins to be racing against the clock in the 24 context, given that he used to watch the series when he was a kid.

"I was definitely a fan," says the actor. "I think I was 13 when it first aired. I was either in junior high or the early high school days. I remember going to school every Tuesday after that Monday night show, and that's all anybody would talk about. People would be talking about what Jack Bauer did the night before. There was nothing like it on television, nothing with that kind of buzz and pop."

Now, it's Hawkins who is set to provide the buzz and pop. There's no Bauer in sight when 24 returns, with Kiefer Sutherland occupying a different role (and office) on ABC's Designated Survivor (though Sutherland does serve as an executive producer on 24: Legacy.) Even without Bauer, Legacy still takes place within the same 24 universe, with the pilot including more than a few references to the past. (Shout-out to the Edgar Stiles shout-out.) Eventually, series veteran Carlos Bernard will return to the show as Tony Almeida, one of the most recognizable and beloved characters from the series' original run. Hawkins confesses that he reverted to his inner 13-year-old when he first met the erstwhile Agent Almeida.

"When I first saw him on set, I ran up to his trailer and knocked on it like a little school kid," he says. "Here I am in the middle of this huge set and these huge stages, and I'm sort of the face of the show, but I'm fanning out and geeking out about the fact that he said yes and came back to the show."

Having grown up watching the series, and now living through it as an adult, it's safe to say that Hawkins is having a good time making 24. But it wasn't his early fandom that drove him to the Fox thriller.

"It was a huge part of the appeal," says Hawkins. "But the main draw for me wasn't just that. It was to play this character on television right now, in this day and age, in this very interesting political climate that we live in. It's certainly a pleasure and an honor to be able to represent by just being. Just by being and by doing the work, you're making a statement that things are possible. I didn't see that growing up. When I was growing up, I saw Jack Bauer. I saw other heroes who didn't necessarily look like me, but I looked up to. Now, hopefully there's a child who's 13 years old and will see my character and say, 'Wow. He actually looks like me.' And he can aspire to that, or she can aspire to that."

Hawkins says that the show will explore Carter's race, and how it relates to his race against the clock, in unflinching terms. "He's a young African-American male running on the street with a weapon and bruises on his face. We deal with that a lot," he says. "And we took it on face-forward. This is a reality. It's something that he's going to have to deal with, without taking away from his mission, without taking away from what he has to do. He is black. You don't have to 'make it about race,' because he is who he is. It's interesting how we deal with that."

From its very inception, 24 was a show that interacted with the modern moment. For instance, the very first episode of the series, which featured a plane crash, was delayed because of its proximity to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. In subsequent years, the show was frequently evoked in the national conversation about interrogation and torture, due to Jack Bauer's hands. Hawkins says that the new iteration of the series will be no different in how it holds a mirror up to the current political climate.

"Art's supposed to be a mirror to society," he says, "but it's all too real sometimes. This show was starting to be written two years ago, but the plot essentially remains the same. It's about a young soldier who was part of a raid in Yemen. And literally, I woke up the other day and that was the headline about Trump's first action overseas, and these soldiers who were part of the raid this past weekend in Yemen. Sadly, one soldier lost his life and a few others were injured. We're not writing to that, it's just literally … you can't make it up. This show is kind of eerie."

"It's actually not an interesting political time," he continues, clarifying an earlier comment. "It's a tense political time. And not just because of the crazy drama that's playing out with the new administration, but even more so the things that we deal with as Americans. It's controversial, and that's what this show happens to be. It's about starting that dialogue, and that's what I'm part of. We're asking the questions, not answering them."

Hawkins is tasked with filling out some very large shoes as the new 24 lead. But it's not the first time he's played a highly anticipated character. For one, he spent a season or so on AMC's The Walking Dead as Heath, a beloved figure from the comics on which the show's based. (On that subject, the actor says he maintains contact with The Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who intentionally wrote out Heath with an eye on a possible reprise: "He wanted to leave the door open, he left it open, and we'll see if Heath walks back through it or not. I can't say much more than that!") Even more famously, Hawkins took on the role of iconic rapper and producer Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton, an experience that he describes as nothing short of intimidating.

"I was scared as hell to go and play Dre," he says. "I didn't think I could do it. I was coming off of Broadway doing Shakespeare and then I went on to play Dr. Dre in this film that none of us knew what it would become. We knew it was special, and all we could focus on was the work. And then it went on to make over $200 million. The highest-grossing biopic. I never would have imagined it."

Now comes 24: Legacy, another opportunity he couldn't have imagined, and one that comes with its own set of challenges. But if his travel schedule is any indication, Hawkins can handle a challenge or two.

"People are very passionate about the franchises and things they love, and I just so happen to have been involved in some projects that people are very passionate about. And that's good," he says. "They're passionate about it, and I'm passionate about it, and the only reason to do something is if it challenges you."

For the moment, the biggest challenge on Hawkins' horizon: surviving the rest of his day without a nap. "Eric Carter just wants to take a rest," he says with an exhausted laugh, "but unfortunately, I can't."

24: Legacy premieres Sunday after the Super Bowl. Let us know what you're hoping to see from the series in the comments below, and stay tuned to THR.com/24Legacy for more coverage of the show.