The final countdown: After 13,628 dead and nine years of playing TV's most brutal hero, Kiefer Sutherland says goodbye to 24
By LISA SEWARDS
Last updated at 10:45 PM on 3rd June 2010
So, after nine years and seven best actor nominations, it is time for Kiefer Sutherland to hang up his bullet-proof vest. His cult TV drama series 24 is finally over.
The last few seconds have ticked away on the on-screen clock, and super-agent Jack Bauer is to go out in a blaze of glory.
Total body count in eight series: 13,628, including 12,000 in the California town of Valencia, wiped out by a nuclear bomb in a suitcase. Bauer's personal kill count: 266.
Heartthrob: Jack Bauer as Kiefer Sutherland in the hit U.S. TV show 24, which is coming to an end after nine years
The number of times he's saved the civilised world: infinite. The number of prestigious Emmy awards the show has been nominated for: 68.
'It has been the most incredible ride,' says Sutherland. 'I came into it after some personal problems and some films that didn't go down too well. I had thought my career was over and when I was offered the part of Jack Bauer, I had no idea then where it would lead,' he laughs.
'But when 24 became a hit, people started saying things about me like "comeback" and "resurrected". Maybe that's true - all I know is that I was given a great opportunity at the time I needed it most.'
We meet the day after one of his many end-of-series parties, which began in Los Angeles, where 24 was filmed, and moved to London's Stringfellows club, where he had finished up at dawn shirtless and staggering.
For a man either celebrating or commiserating his demob from a show that has kept him working 14 hours a day for ten months of the year, since 2001, he is impressively jocular and sharp in a crisp shirt and well-pressed pin-striped suit.
'Yes, I'm in denial,' he admits. 'I can't believe it is over, but it is and even if I'm now typecast as Jack Bauer and I can never work again, I'll never regret it.
'As we filmed the last scene, everyone, even the writers upstairs who we never normally see, came on set to watch. I tried to extend it as long as possible, right down to tying my shoelace.
'And when I stopped, I looked around at everyone clapping and saw all the faces who've been my family for so long.
'I'd spent more time with these people than even my own family. I went to say something and my voice faltered and my bottom lip started quivering, so I had to quickly look down at my feet to get out what I wanted to say,' says Kiefer, who is making a special appearance at Bafta.
Explosive: Sutherland has enjoyed renewed success and heartthrob status after starring as Bauer in the show
He adds: 'After we finished filming the last episode, we all went out to the Red Tomato club in Hollywood, but it was a short night because it didn't feel like a celebration. Even now, it's only been a few days since we finished filming, so it's still raw.'
The success was partly down to its ground-breaking format, which split a 24-hour day into one-hour, real-time episodes, with every ad break preceded and followed by an on-screen clock, giving the time that has lapsed.
As a spy action thriller, grappling with terrorism and political issues in the wake of 9/11, it has revolved around Bauer, a government agent who is called upon to avert nation-threatening crises.
The intensive work schedule has been all-consuming for Sutherland, who says he needed this sense of purpose in his life.
'I didn't grow up in a normal way. I was sent to boarding school at the age of 11 and I have been on my own ever since. I never went back to live with either one of my parents, so the cast and crew of 24 are the closest thing I've ever had to a regular family. 24's had a profound effect on me,' he says softly.
His father, of course, is the eminent actor Donald Sutherland, of M*A*S*H and Klute fame. The two certainly look alike, with their devil-may-care smirks.
Kiefer was born in England, where he lived with his father and mother, Canadian actress Shirley Douglas, and where his larger-than-life dad, with a wild, tangled beard, bestowed upon him the larger-than-life name of Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland and drove him to pre-school in a Ferrari he won in a poker game.
Sutherland, unsurprisingly, has a natural affinity with his father and his unconventional ways.
'At one point we didn't have any money and his only pair of trousers had a hole in them, but my mother's a tough lady, and he was nervous about asking her to sew them up. So where the rip was, he just painted his bottom black to match the trousers. That's his sense of humour,' he laughs.
His parents' marriage ended after Donald's affair with actress Jane Fonda. 'Dad would probably say: "I fell in love," ' Kiefer explains.
'I understand that. People do. And when they're falling in love, they believe in everything so strongly and passionately, this kind of heightened experience, that it's very hard to judge somebody for it.'
Kiefer's mother took him and his twin sister Rachel to live in Canada. Kiefer, who attended seven different schools, was first sent to a therapist at the age of seven.
'My mother was concerned that damage might have been done to me by the disruption in our family. Some other people might disagree. But I don't think there was.'
Not at that point maybe, but he dropped out of school at the age 15 to become an actor, landing the lead role in the coming-of-age The Bay Boy, for which he was nominated for a Genie award, Canada's version of an Oscar.
Former love: Sutherland with former fiancee Julia Roberts
This followed with a part as a gang leader in Stand By Me, a dashing vampire in The Lost Boys, and as a sensitive cowboy in Young Guns - when he was just 21.
While he had a fast-track youth, Sutherland was also keen replicate the family life he had briefly tasted and, at the age of 20, married actress Camelia Kath, with whom he had a daughter, Sarah Jude, now 21.
But the marriage lasted less than two years, reportedly falling apart when he couldn't stay out of bars or the arms of other women. He tried again in 1996, with former model Kelly Winn, but they separated after four years for similar reasons.
But in between came his notorious engagement to Julia Roberts, whom he met while making Flatliners in 1990. They were the Brangelina of their day until Roberts dramatically called off the engagement just three days before their wedding and flew to Europe with Sutherland's then best friend, Jason Patric.
JACK'S ONE LINERS
Allegedly, Sutherland had been linked with a stripper, which he denies. But he does say now: 'I commend Julia for seeing how young and silly we were, even at the last minute, even as painful and as difficult as it was.'
And Jason Patric? 'I'm surprised that I never got a call from him saying I've fallen in love da-da-da. Instead, I found out from a stranger.' And his father? 'I think he just went: "Oh, son.'' '
After the engagement controversy, Sutherland's career nosedived. He appeared in A Few Good Men and Freeway, then took on second-rate films just for money.
In an effort to retain some dignity, he threw himself into the rodeo circuit after taking up steer roping at a cattle ranch he bought in California' s Santa Ynez Valley.
But he was saved from breaking every bone in his body when his friend Stephen Hopkins, a British director working on the pilot for 24, phoned and offered him the role of Jack Bauer.
'It turned out to be the most incredible opportunity. But even now, unless there's a problem, I can't watch myself on screen.
'I always feel I come up short, could have done it better, should have tried harder, should have let it be.
'It's a confidence thing. My mother is funny, I'd get these calls from her saying: "Hi, honey, I just couldn' t watch it." And I'd say: "Me too.'' But Dad's a great fan of the show and unbelievably supportive of me.
'He and I both understand you don't get an opportunity like this - it puts you in 0.1 per cent of actors to have regular work like this. Even if I am now type cast , I wouldn't have changed a thing.'
'When I started working, there were five major film studios, each making 50 or so movies a year, a new one for every week. Now there are three making less than 13.
'The reality of working 14 hours a day, five days a week for ten months of the year for nine years gave me confidence. I'll credit 24 with this for the rest of my life.'
Film version: Sutherland is hoping producers will make a film of 24 after it finishes
Sutherland and executive producer Howard Gordon are working on a script for a feature film of 24. Why has 24 been such a phenomenon?
'Probably because Jack is human - he is always faced with an unwinnable situation.
'One of the aspects of Jack I loved the most is that while he was taking on terrorists, he still couldn't handle his teenage daughter.
'As I had a daughter of the same age at the time, I could totally understand. Also, people respond to a guy who succeeds on some level and fails on another.'
Which is broadly true of Kiefer himself.
His wild behaviour has included 48 days in prison after a 2007 drink-driving charge in LA, a charge of assault last year after allegedly head-butting a fashion designer in a New York nightclub, and being pictured drunk with his trousers round his ankles in 2005.
Then there are the attention-seeking antics, such as the time he attacked the Christmas tree in the lobby at London's Strand Palace Hotel in 2006.
He's like a bashful schoolboy when he also admits to once destroying the prototype for the Jack Bauer action doll.
'I approved it and that night me and my friend took him out for drinks and, well, we set him on fire.
'Then the next day someone called and said: "You need to send us that doll. It's the only one we have." '
Sutherland admits drinking has been an issue. 'I have a few drinks and I'm not so worried about tomorrow and not thinking about yesterday.
'And I'm not stupid. I know it's my fault - usually it's an effort to make someone laugh.
'Then the next day, I think: "Oh, God, don't let me do that again." So why do I do it again? And again?'
Probably because, like Bauer himself, Sutherland is irresistibly fallible, which is why we can forgive him so much and so often.
The final episode of 24 is a two-hour double bill on Sky1 HD and Sky1 on June 6 at 9pm.
Did it change the world or was it just great TV?
by PAUL CONNOLLY
Does Barack Obama have 24 to thank for being America's first black president?
After all, the series' first president was David Palmer, an African-American, so perhaps the character of Palmer made such a concept less outlandish than it might have appeared before.
Did 24 help legitimise questionable interrogation techniques, such as water-boarding, for the U.S. secret services?
Did President David Palmer in 24 (left) pave the way for Barack Obama to become President of the United States?
Certainly, Jack Bauer was very much a punch-first-ask-questions-later kinda guy.
Did 24's rampant suspicion of government prefigure the rise of the anti-government Tea Party in the U.S.? It would be foolish to discount such a possibility.
These may seem like odd questions to ask of a TV programme but, in the U.S. and Britain, 24 was gulped down like lemonade on a sunny day by those most elusive viewers, middle-class forty-something dads, a group of people who can make a difference for good or bad.
Perhaps, however, I'm guilty of over-thinking things. Perhaps 24 was just bloody good television.
Though conceived before the terrible events of September 11, 2001, 24 tapped into the paranoia of the new age of global terrorism.
Yet it approached this with such panache that the show's cultural footprint is probably overshadowed by just how exciting the shebang was.
The brilliant use of real-time - represented by the now iconic digital clock tick-ticking away on the screen - as a driver for the narrative was genius.
Bauer, too, was a terrific construct. He may well have displayed an often worrying tendency to enjoy torturing suspects, but he was also a family man.
Bauer was no robotic killing machine.
He just did whatever he thought was necessary to protect his country and his loved ones.
We'll miss him. Until the inevitable movie version, of course.