The Australian-born-and-raised actress of Polish emigrants brought bombshell beauty and brains (plucky CIA agent Sarah Walker) and more than serial killer looks (Hannah McKay) to recent riveting roles. Now she's pumping new life into an established franchise as Kate Morgan in 24's rigorous reboot.
During a May 30 conference call from London for the 12-episode Fox series, which airs on consecutive Monday nights until its July 14 season finale, Strahovski (left) admitted she initially had concerns about playing another CIA field operative. But the ambitious, no-nonsense Kate Morgan is almost nothing like Sarah Walker, the equally driven but sometimes silly, always sexy partner of the title character in Chuck, the comedic NBC series that, even after building a loyal fan base, couldn't avoid its demise in 2012.
Just like it would be insane to try to compare that light-hearted, romantic show to the gritty 24, which returned after a four-year hiatus by counting down another harrowing day in the life of protagonist Jack Bauer (played by seven-time Emmy nominee Kiefer Sutherland), who tries almost single-handedly to end global terrorism.
"I feel like with Chuck, because it was a comedy-based show, it was more cartoonish, if you like," Strahovski said. "It was just more playful. We had a lot more fun with it. There was a lot of silliness in there. I mean, there were serious moments as well. And there was a lot of heart in that show. But its baseline was comedy. It's just sort of the complete opposite with something like this. We don't really see a lot of comedic moments in 24.
"In fact, I haven't seen all of it, but from what I have seen, I don't know if I've ever laughed at anything anyone has done on 24. So it really flips the coin. You have to try and make things as real as possible."
That sense of realism was what attracted Strahovski to the role of Morgan, a feisty but wounded character who sometimes doesn't go by the book and, after almost losing her job when her husband got caught selling secrets to a foreign government, is having to prove herself again.
"24 is filmed in such a way that it's really raw and really real and it forces you to be very real and, on the same token, not just with the acting but physically I was adamant that I didn't want her to be glammed up," said Strahovski, who has done gorgeous work in glamorous photo shoots for Spirit & Flesh and Complex. "I wanted minimal makeup and the clothing had to be real, nothing fancy."
As gutsy as Morgan is, Strahovski agreed that she brings additional qualities of her own to the role.
"Well, I think the one thing Kate Morgan is good at and maybe she's forgotten that she's good at is following her instincts," Strahovski said. "And I think to some people it might seem like she makes drastic choices when she follows her instincts. But that's certainly something that I've, very much in my personal life, I believe in honing that skill. I think everyone is born with a pretty good instinct and that maybe we get a little bit dumbed down throughout our life and by society. But I do think that instincts are a really important part of life. And so that's definitely one side of Kate that I can connect with is her instincts." (Strahovski, left, with actor Gbenga Akinnagbe in a recent scene from 24.)
That sixth sense has worked well for Strahovski, who was cast for Chuck shortly after arriving in California from Australia. The show's diehards (myself included) who continue to follow zany star Zachary Levi and his Nerd Machine still dream about seeing a Chuck movie. But Strahovski moved on to play a pretty tough villain in Hannah McKay, resuscitating a dragging Dexter (check out some of her powerful scenes near the end of Season 7). And she's likely to bolster her leading lady status in 24 as this juicy role lets her match wits with Sutherland's Bauer.
It's a physically grueling one, too. Not that the hectic pace bothers the athletic Strahovski, an outdoorsy type who enjoys days surfing at the beach, hiking and "hanging out with my dog" when she's not working.
"When you've got Kiefer (also an executive producer) and (director) Jon Cassar on set, then it works very fast," she said. "Which I love. It adds to the energy of the show and I feel prepared for those days when we do work that fast."
And while she's certainly qualified to handle the shoot-'em-up sequences after carrying and firing many a weapon throughout Chuck, Strahovski doesn't want to wind up typecast as just another attractive action figure.
For a versatile actress who already has made her Broadway debut as 1930s Jersey girl Lorna Moon (Golden Boy in 2012-13) and appeared in the cutting-edge comedy Louie the same night of 24: LAD's premiere, Strahovski likes the physical challenges that 24 offers. But there are other moments on set that she finds more compelling and rewarding.
Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski, left) gets some information from CIA head Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) during the May 26 episode of 24: Live Another Day.
"I think I'm more drawn to the intense, more emotional scenes," Strahovski said. "I like sort of exploring the human behavior that you want to explore when looking at those kinds of scenes. And I like looking at them. There are reasons why people do things that they do because they're often complicated. It's not often just one reason as to why people do things the way they do."
While Strahovski hints that the audience will have "an opportunity to see Kate's softer side" in upcoming episodes, she doesn't want anyone to think there's romance in the air -- at least for Morgan because it's "not really a Kate thing," she said, laughing.
"It's touched on in the show," Strahovski teased. "But I don't think it will be happening between Kate and Jack. Maybe elsewhere."
The plot thickens in Episode 6, which airs tonight (9 p.m. ET/PT), as Bauer and Morgan do come together, but not in the bedroom.
After finding the exiled hero in the opening episodes, the determined and mentally tough CIA agent sees him as her "second chance" to succeed professionally.
"All I can say is I think it's a fun place to be in at this point," said Strahovski, trying her best not to give anything away. "They're obviously two strong-minded people. The world knows Jack Bauer probably a little better than they know Kate Morgan. ... Being the types of people that they are, I'm not sure if they trust each other just yet entirely even though they're teaming up. They're still agents after all. So I think it'll be a fun journey."
Strap yourselves in, and prepare to enjoy what promises to be a bumpy ride.
Excerpts of other conference call comments from Yvonne Strahovski:
• On the possibility of Fox spinning off her character: "I don't know what to say about that. I've read a couple of articles here and there about that, so I don't really know. I'm just happy that people seem to like Kate Morgan and I hope that they continue to." (laughs)
• On working with Sutherland: "Definitely, I take inspiration from Kiefer and I continue to as I see him work. He just really dives into those scenes quite effortlessly. He's been doing it for so long and he has so much to contribute to this as a series. Not just as Jack Bauer. He really is mentally immersed in part of the machinery that is this show, from all different aspects."
• On the effect of the gloomy weather in London, where the series is shot: "It's definitely contributed to my mood, personally. (laughs) I think, yeah, it definitely adds to the show. It's an interesting flavor. ... Especially visually, I think it looks great on camera."
• On why the show didn't utilize her natural Australian accent: "That's more a question for the writers. But I would assume that just purely because it is the CIA, which is American, that they just wanted an American character. That would be something weird to do in my own accent. I'm really not used to doing anything in my own accent anymore. So it is actually more normal for me to put on an accent. I feel more comfortable doing that than doing my own, which is odd at this point." (laughs)
• On accepting parts in violent shows: "I'm not opposed to being in those types of shows. TV, film, theater, it's considered art. And art is a reflection of life. And what happens in life includes violence, unfortunately. And that's the world that we live in today."
24: Live Another Day photos by Daniel Smith/FOX.
Get to know Kate Morgan in this clip courtesy of Fox: