Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
6

Cult Tube Talk

Q&A: '24' exec producer Jon Cassar

By
Last month 24 returned for its long-awaited seventh season, and if the first batch of episodes are anything to go by, this is in line to be the most compelling season yet. Recently I met up with Jon Cassar, the show's long-time executive producer and director, for an in-depth chat about the new season and what the future holds for Jack.

There were quite a few changes to the format this year. Going in to season seven, were you nervous?
"Not any more or less nervous than we are every year, because we make changes almost every year. We've almost had a different President in each of the seven years that we've done the show! We're used to it - if we were a show that's never made a change then we'd be nervous but I guess the answer is yes."

You do change it up every year, but you were quite radical in getting rid of CTU, for example, which had been a key part of the first six seasons.
"It wasn't the case that we were definitely not going to have a CTU this year. It came more from how the story developed. What we did know, right from the beginning, was that we wanted to address the torture issue with Jack. Part of that was that Jack needed to be confronted by a situation where he has to virtually explain himself all of the time. So CTU was no longer necessary. They were quite used to his antics and kind of let him do it! That put us into a situation where we needed a new agency, and that was the FBI. Well, we didn't really need the agency as much as we needed an agent from that agency to be his new partner, question him and stop him from doing some of the things he was doing."

Does that theme of the morality of torture continue all season long?
"Yeah, we deal with it almost all year. It becomes a learning situation for the two characters involved, and then it informs the audience in a way. So Jack is learning from Renee, and Renee is learning, almost the wrong things, from Jack."

So they're officially a duo, then?
"Yes. It's interesting because we knew they were two characters that were going to run the whole series together, so finding the right girl was an extensive search. It was something we had never done before, anticipating the fact that she was going to go right to the end."

She reminds me a lot of Reiko (Aylesworth, aka Michelle Dessler).
"Yeah, and she does that because she has a natural beauty, but also because she has a real strength of character and the ability as a female agent to be believable. Actually all those things are why it was such an extensive search to find the right girl."

How much of a part does the FBI play throughout rest of the season? At the moment they're almost against the heroes.
"Yeah, but it's not like CTU was never in that position either. We put CTU in that position many times - either when there was a new Director of CTU or someone that wasn't going to tolerate what Jack was doing. Also I think a lot of what happens at the FBI this year is the politics of power and the idea that they take a stand against Jack because his organisation is - on that very day - being questioned by a Senate committee. They're putting their best foot forward to be not like CTU."

In terms of storylines, what can we expect in the next few weeks?
"Basically we're going to keep advancing the Washington storyline, which starts to intersect very heavily with the Jack storyline and the underground CTU and what they're doing. That intersection is the next stage of the process."

When does Jon Voight come into play?
"Jon Voight is very closely after that, so about the middle of the year is when you see his character start to emerge."

How did his casting come about?
"Basically it's a two-fold street - he liked the show and wanted to be on it. We wanted him, and wrote the character virtually for him. It's a chicken and egg situation, because I'm not sure which came first! It was definitely a mutual respect for each other. Someone asked me at one point 'Was Jon Voight ever on your list?' and I said 'Jon Voight is ALWAYS on our list! If Jon Voight wants to do your show, you're going to find a character that works for Jon Voight!' Now we're done shooting the year, I've got to tell you - it's one of those situations where he's done absolutely extraordinary work for us."

Is his character similar to Dennis Hopper's evil turn in season one?
"No, it's a very different character to Dennis Hopper. And he's not doing an accent, so that helps!"

We also know Kim is back later this season. How has she changed since we last saw her?
"She's definitely more mature. She's got her own family, which is obviously a completely different dynamic for her. Not just a boyfriend, but virtually a family. Also, like all of us that think their parents aren't that great, we start to realise that they're not so bad when we have a family of our own. So there's a maturity level to her that's gonna make what she does and how she plays in the show really different."

Has she moved to the east coast, then?
"Yes. No actually, she stayed on the West Coast but we've moved to Washington DC this year. So she's still in LA."

Her storyline happens in LA, then?
"Not necessarily!"

Over the years you've killed off many major characters. Any particular regrets?
"Not really, because they all push the story. Everything plays to the story. That actually changed television a little bit. I will personally say that 24 forced the hand of shows like Lost and Heroes - although Heroes hasn't actually done it yet - but Lost got to a situation in the first year where they kept putting people to the brink of death and they would survive. You can only do that so much when we're doing the same but then actually killing them. They were almost forced to kill one of their main stars by the end of the first year because of us. The regret for me, not in the storytelling sense, comes from the fact that these people were my friends. Reiko and I were best friends, so not seeing her around every day after working with her for four years was really hard to take. Same with Carlos [Bernard, aka Tony], until we recently got him back."

So if Tony's come back, could Michelle? I'm a bit of a Michelle fan, I'll admit.
"Erm... no. Absolutely not. I'm not even going to give you a slither of hope."

She's definitely dead?
"Yeah. I think we got away with Tony coming back - it was obviously a massive, Vegas-like gamble for us - but we knew the ramifications of what people might think. The writers came up with a smart, intelligent and wise way to bring him back - and then to integrate him into the story. Not to bring him back to make a guest appearance and then be gone after three episodes! You'll see he plays a very intricate part right to the end of the year."

I think people were skeptical of Tony coming back at first, but then when you watch the episodes it's totally believable.
"...and that's exactly what happened. I would have loved to have said that we were absolutely 100% sure about it, but we really weren't. Even within our shop, within ourselves, there was a 50-50 split. Both sides being very adamant - one side was saying 'this is going to be great for our show', and the other side was saying 'this is the death of our show'. Including Kiefer, who was on the negative side, but when the script came out he was able to sway the one side to the other."

Is it true you were originally planning to bring Tony back at end of season six?
"That's absolutely true. It was one of those things we toyed with. Basically the scene went: the season's over, everything is done, Jack's walking down an alley, he hears a voice, he turns around and out of the darkness comes Tony Almeida and he says 'we gotta talk'. That was going to be the cliffhanger for six, but even just explaining it sounds goofy now! We felt it just didn't feel right. But you also need to know that the fans were a big part of this too. They really influenced our decision because they were so sure that Tony Almeida wasn't dead - mostly because we didn't give him a silent clock when he died. There was actually a website, tonyalmeidasnotdead.com, so obviously we knew there was a faction out there that would accept that Tony Almeida wasn't dead."

Surely that website has gone out of business now?
"Either that or they're just patting themselves on the back saying 'yeah, we were right'. There's not a website called michelledesslersnotdead.com. Maybe when that comes out - you could start it yourself - we'll start considering it."

Going back to those final scenes at the end of seasons - do you feel pressure to come up with something satisfying? The one you eventually went with at the end of season six was quite sedate.
"Before the strike, the writers were already writing the next season. So we knew at that point that in season seven, Jack was going to be disenfranchised from everything. He had no family, he had no work and his work as a government agent was officially over. So that's really where that sedate kind of ending came from."

Following the strike have you changed your writing model? I recall you saying previously that you planned it as you went along...
"... and we still do. Quite honestly, we used to hide the fact that we wrote two episodes at a time because it was such genius work. In actual fact there is no time. You can't do it. You would have to take a year off to write 24 episodes and then shoot in another year, so you do have to write it as you go along. Every other show out there, like Lost, Heroes and everybody else doing serial, I can tell you right now - when they say the write the whole thing and they have it all planned, they're absolutely lying to you! I can't tell you the amount of times the people of Lost say 'we know exactly how it's going to end'. No you don't! I know you don't, because we used to lie like that too."

Recently there have been stories and suggestions from Kiefer that season eight will be the last. Is that official?
"It's official as it can ever be, but only because of the fact that season eight is Kiefer's last contracted year. After that, it's all about appetite. Whether the audience has an appetite for us, and then if the ratings continue - at this point they're very good for us - whether Fox has an appetite to continue the show in today's different financial world of cutbacks. And of course it's going to come down to whether Kiefer has an appetite to do another year of television - or, at that point, if he wants to explore possibly doing a 24 movie, or saying goodbye to 24 and going off and having a feature career. Of course none of those we could tell you at this point."

Will there be a prequel to season eight?
"Personally, I think it's a great idea. I think the prequel that we did for season seven (Redemption) was very refreshing for our audience, to see Jack in such a different situation, so I would love to do it. There's still a question mark because it depends on how early we can start shooting season eight. Right now we have a May 1 start, and with a May 1 start there's just enough time to do it, but if we push back any further then we won't have a window to do it."

Where are you at with planning season eight then?
"I started shooting the last two episodes of season seven at the beginning of December. Obviously then the writers had nothing to do so they started writing for the next season. They have spent three weeks into December, and as many weeks as we are now into 2009, writing season eight. When I say writing, I don't think they're writing dialogue at this point. They're still doing everything they can to come up with a story and a structure that they think is going to last 24 episodes."

Add your comments to this entry below!

You May Like

Comments

Loading...