WASHINGTON — Early one cold November morning, actress Annie Wersching leads Kiefer Sutherland to an "armored" SUV with dark windows parked outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture building.
After director Brad Turner yells "Cut," onlookers snap photos of the star. Sutherland spots a participant in a charity run for Lupus on the Washington Mall and comments, "Why is that guy wearing shorts? It's cold."
Where Sutherland normally works, people wear shorts year round. Welcome to Washington, Jack Bauer.
A little over a year ago, Sutherland and the crew of his popular Fox TV series, "24," came to the nation's capital to film segments of the show's seventh season. The completion of that season was delayed a year by the Writers Guild strike, but it finally makes its debut in a two-night premiere beginning Sunday, Jan. 11 (8 p.m. EST).
Jack Bauer actually returned to the screen this past November in the Fox TV movie "24: Redemption," a series prequel that was set in Africa. Now, the series' new season begins with the intrepid agent for the fictional federal Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) forced to return to Washington to face a Senate investigation into his conduct.
"He's called to face charges of abuse of power and torturing certain individuals in an unlawful manner," Sutherland says. "For the first time, he's put in a position to have to confront a lot of the things that he's done."
However, Bauer is pulled from the hearings by FBI agent Renee Walker (Wersching) to help with a more pressing matter _ the reappearance of Bauer's thought-to-be-dead fellow agent, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), who is apparently is no longer one of the good guys.
After six years of making "24" mainly in Los Angeles, the production thought it was finally time to take the show to the home of oft-seen presidents in the series. "We wondered if that was starting to bother people," laughs director Turner.
While filming in Washington isn't new for fed-themed action series, it was a welcome change for the "24" team. "It was kind of like going on a field trip," Bernard says.
Shooting here lends the show a sense of realism impossible to produce by simply intercutting stock "plate" shots of Washington with scenes shot in Hollywood. "To have the Washington Monument in the background of a drive-up, and in a simple, incidental way, just tells you you're in Washington," explains cinematographer Rodney Charters. "That's a pretty hard thing to fake."
Turner and his crew searched the season's early scripts for opportunities to make use of recognizable Washington locales. "It was a matter of finding moments to get scenes on the street, and do it naturally so that it's seamless," the director says. Adds Sutherland, "If you can take advantage of getting iconic places like the Capitol or the Lincoln Memorial in a shot, you try and do that. It's like a postcard for us."
Yet doing so isn't a simple matter of setting up a camera and taking pictures, particularly in a security-sensitive city such as Washington. "There are 17 different jurisdictions to deal with, some with their own police forces," says Jon Pare, the show's production manager. "Sometimes, when you leave a curb and step into a street, you've just crossed a jurisdiction."
But an OK from the District of Columbia to film on a sidewalk and one from the National Park Service for the grass beyond may still not be enough.
"There's one place I can think of specifically where the sidewalk is divided into three different jurisdictions," says local location manager John Latenser. Simply put, "Washington, D.C. is the most difficult city in the United States to film in."
But for the actors, it's worth all the trouble. "You're constantly aware you're in a capital city," says Sutherland. "You can feel the power of it, the sense of responsibility that's in the air all the time. Somehow it felt like more was at stake."
Even a visit to the Capital Grille, a stylish restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, left an impression on the actor. "Three tables over, there were three men that were talking about something that was going to have an impact on our lives," he says.
Among the many loyal fans of "24" is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose office said he was thrilled to see Sutherland's acting and stunts in person when he visited the set the following day.
"He's a fan of the show and checked out what we were doing. He's always been really gracious and kind with us," Sutherland says. The crew even visited the real CTU _ the National Counterterrorism Center _ while in Washington.
Meanwhile, fans greet Sutherland as he arrives in the toney Georgetown section of Washington to film a scene at a house once occupied by John F. Kennedy.
"I'm just waiting for (Sutherland) to break into Jack Bauer mode and start neck-punching people," says bystander Kim Sandlin. "I'm looking forward to having Jack Bauer's blood on our sidewalk!"
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