In anticipation of the 24 finale, EW talked exclusively to the Emmy-winning Cherry Jones about President Allison Taylor’s trippy story arc this year (like how she’s overlooking the Russians’ involvement in the assassination of Omar Hassan and focusing on a doomed peace agreement instead). But spoiler alert, fans! Though the longtime stage actress doesn’t give away too much about the ending, she does tease a thing or two about where her character is headed. Read on after the jump:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you expect to be on the show all season?
CHERRY JONES: It was funny. The week before the Emmys, I was told they weren’t going to be able to use me in the back half. The arc had gone in another direction. Then two days before the Emmys, they called and said, “We are going to need you for the whole back half.” When we started getting into it, [executive producer] Howard Gordon kept coming to me and giving me ideas that maybe my character was going to be taking a turn. Each script I got, I’d look at it and go, “Really? REALLY?” Every day I’d go to work and say to myself, “It’s for the little children. It’s for the little children.”
You mean the little children she is saving by signing the peace agreement?
The peace she has become completely blindsided by. It doesn’t matter who tries to blow up New York or who is responsible for Hassan or whatever, we are going to make this work! Obviously, she has lost her marbles.
At the beginning of the season, you sure spent a lot of time on the phone in the U.N.
A lot of phone calls! I thought that was going to be my fate, and then at the very end I lose my marbles. It was challenging, but of course it’s always more fun for an actor to trip over to the dark side. Example A: Gregory Itzin as Charles Logan. Guy Skinner, the handheld camera guy who does all of those insane close-ups, came up to me and said, “Is this kind of hard for you?”
Would you talk about it with Howard Gordon? Maybe argue that her actions were way out-of-character?
By the end of the season, these guys are just this side of brain dead. They have been trying so hard. They don’t have an arc. Most TV shows would have an arc and they would figure out how to nudge everybody in the direction they wanted to go in. These guys look at the performances, look at who they’ve got and try to follow things they think will be the most shocking. The fact that my character has suddenly taken this turn was never anticipated by anyone, but they have to figure out a way to justify it. They and I have managed to do that. I’ve got to hand it to them, they live right on the edge. They don’t take the easy road.
Are you satisfied by how it ends for you?
Given how they needed to use me, I am. They give me a personal if not a professional redemption.
Is there an opening for you to do the 24 movie?
I can’t imagine that would be the case.
Up until the last month or so, have fans come up to you and said they wished you were the president?
Yes, to which I would reply, “Oh no, you must be grateful and joyful that we’ve got the president we have.” I would tell them to wash their mouths out with soap to utter such a thought.
What scene did you have the most fun doing this year?
I adore working with Bob Gunton [Ethan] and Greg. I was so happy to be with those two men, scene after scene. There was this one scene where I’ve got Ethan on one shoulder and Beelzebub on the other. It’s an actor’s dream. I didn’t have to do any of the lines, I just had to listen.
I thought the producers were setting up the possibility of a romance between Allison and Ethan!
I never thought that when we were doing it, but my friends back home in Tennessee would say, “In the trailer you all were holding hands.” He had a wedding band on! That’s the thing, even the actors don’t really know about their characters. I used to say to Bob, “Are you married, widowed, what’s going on?” And he’d say “I don’t know!” On 24, there is no past and no future, only the present. You are carving out the character as you go. It’s like sculpting. You don’t know from one script to the next where the chisel is going to fall. You have to go with it and make it work. Because the stakes are always so high, you can get away with so much more than something that isn’t so high drama-rama.