SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains information
on critical plot developments on the second series of 24.
Berkeley has a reputation for playing men of ambiguous character.
He has starred in countless movies including Air Force
One, Apollo 13, Candyman and Terminator 2: Judgement
Day. More recently he has portrayed the role of George
Mason in the series 24. In
September 2002 he married his co-star on 24,
Sarah Clarke, who plays Nina Myers. In the new series
Mason is in charge of CTU's Los Angeles bureau, having inherited
Bauer's office. We caught up with Xander Berkeley as the second season of 24
was about to start on BBC2.
Rea: What was it that first attracted you to the role of George
Mason in 24?
Berkeley: I have to confess to pure ignorance on my part on
what I was getting myself into. But that's how things work
out sometimes. There was a writers strike and it looked like
production on a lot of movies would have to be shut down.
I wasn't sure whether this would last for some time, as these
strikes have in the past, so I thought I'd better make hay
while the sun shines so that I could go travelling.
I severed the tether, justifiably, from Los Angeles for a
little while. At this time a number of pilots were being cast.
Because these shows spent so much time and effort ensuring
that the lead actors are just right for the role a lot of
shows are keen to offer guest roles to known movie actors.
I received two offers for roles on the same day and because
the dates were different I worked out that I could record
both shows and then get the hell out of Dodge.
I first read the script for 24 I thought I was playing
a different character. It wasn't until I turned up on the
set that I realised that I was playing Mason and I thought:
'Oh God! I'm playing the prick! I'm tired of playing the pricks.
So what do I do with this one?' So I gave him a bit of rye
humour and a little cynical detachment and they enjoyed writing
for the character enough to bring him back towards the end
of the show. I'd been reluctant to do a TV series for a long
time, just as I'd been reluctant to get married and I ended
up doing both with this show and it's turned out to be a fabulous
You are well known for playing heavies as well as "pricks"
are these roles you are keen to distance yourself from? And
when people met you in the street how do they react to you?
Sometimes people give me a wide berth and security guard watch
me closely in department stores [laughs]. It's just one of
those things that happens in Hollywood. I try to do variations
from one role to the next, but it could be worse. I don't
want to play some bland guy, you know some putty in the crack
plot pusher - that's not terribly interesting, so you want
to play some guy who has at least some kind of function to
the centre of the story and if it's not the hero it is going
to be the bad guy. The great thing about 24 is that
his character started off one way and as the series progressed
he revealed a number of hidden layers. And the writers have
ended up redeeming him and turning him into a heroic guy.
And I understand that series two will see your character becoming
more heroic. Is it true that you will spend a great deal of
the series dying?
Oh, really? This bloke knows more than he ought to! Shame
on you! [laughs] Don't let it out for the audience [laughs].
that anyone knows at this point is that there is a nuclear
threat in Los Angeles and, you know this so I can tell you
this much, that at one minute you think I am desperately trying
to get the hell out of Dodge, like a coward and the next minute
I find myself in a fire fight. This involves airborne plutonium.
As an actor how do you prepare to play the role of a dying
Well, you read a lot about what happens to someone who might
have been exposed to plutonium inhalation. Also the writers
have had to be on top of things because apparently there is
a 12 hour window before the symptoms start to show themselves,
so you don't want the audience to forget. Also you don't want
it to become morose and you don't want to play it in a self
pitying way because the guy never came off as someone who
was particularly wet and self pitying. He ends up having to
resolve a lot of things and becoming very heroic.
What do you think it is about the show that makes it so popular?
Do you think the events of September 11 have focused the publics
attention more on the threat of terrorists and that a look
at how a counter terrorist unit may operate is reassuring
to the the public?
I'd hate to think that it is because of 11 September that
people are interested. You could also make the argument that
after those horrific events people don't want to think about
those things. In fact, that was a major concern we had about
the first season just before it aired.
had to be edited, especially scenes with the plane. And, while
we weren't dealing directly with terrorists last year, there
was an element of it because it was centred around a counter
terrorist unit and there was a terrorist plot against a presidential
In season two, instead of stepping away from it they went
into the centre of it and that was something else that we
thought might have backfired. But the choices they have made
have consistently paid off. It's something that people need
and want to be more informed about because it does affect
our personal lives.
When you are filming is it always at the back of your mind
that this is supposed to be shot in real time? There must
be a lot of continuity issues. How does this differ to other
programmes and movies you have been involved with?
I keep going back to the same set and wearing the same clothes
which helps focus me on the fact that it is still the same
day. I am never sure at what point my stubble is supposed
to be at - because obviously as the day progresses you should
start to see stubble on all the male actors. So tracking things
like that helps you constantly remember that this is still
the same day. Beyond that there are the subtleties of just
how exhausted these people would be at one moment and then
driven by adrenaline the next.
You starred in Apollo 13, which has being re-mastered
and re-released recently by IMAX cinemas...
Actually we were on our honeymoon when the premier was held
in September, so we actually missed that. But I still want
to see that very much.
With the advent of DVD lots of movies are being reissued with
additional material, but having a movie re-released through
IMAX is pretty unusual?
I was fascinated to see it in that format, because it is such
a visceral way of telling the story and I love the IMAX format.
I also went to China a few years ago to do an IMAX movie [China:
The Panda Adventure]. I went straight from doing Time
Code - which I think 24 borrowed a lot of its stylistic
format from - to work on China: The Panda Adventure.
It was just great travelling in China. After being in a film
that was one quarter of a movie screen, I thought it would
be a good transition to go to a 105mm format.
Isn't it a little unnerving seeing yourself blown up so big?
Oh, yeah [laughs]. Very much so. But I'm looking forward to
seeing how Apollo 13 looks.
I remember seeing you play John Conner's step father in Terminator
2 and being impressed by the make-up in the movie. Isn't
it true that when you meet your end in the film it is a make-up
effect and not, as most people think, a computer effect?
Yeah, that effect was done laboriously and painstakingly with
a cast of the back of my head and a blade that comes out.
It was not a digital effect. It was a total physical effect
with puppetry and a blade that could contract. There was a
small blade going out of the back of my head that retracted
sideways away from the kitchen cabinet at the same time as
the blade that was down my throat was pulled out. The problem
was that the blade had to be far enough down my throat to
look as though it was coming out of the back of my head. To
get this right I had to practice sword swallowing for two
weeks. So I'm on set with this blade sticking out of my head
and another one down the back of my throat when they decided
at the last moment: 'I wonder what would happen if we ran
a tube of milk and a tube of blood down either side so that
when the blade is pulled out you can see blood and milk dribbling
from my mouth.'
they tried this and it looked so horrifically awful - it just
turned into one pink stream of liquid - that they had
to split the two at the back of my throat. I gagged and the
whole experience just about freaked me out. And we had to
keep redoing the scene because they couldn't get the calculations
right and I was leaned back against this cabinet, which was
not comfortable. So, the whole thing was a nightmare until
about five in the morning.
was laying dead and was not able to move because first they
have to get the puppeteers for the arms and the wires and
the silver guy. Then they had to get Robert Patrick walking
out of frame and if I moved I'd have ruined the whole shot.
What are you up to at the moment?
There's a bunch of things. Sarah, who plays Nina on
24, and I got married in September and we were able
to do two movies together in the summer. And I've just done
a movie called U-Boat with Willam H Macy.
What would you say is the work that you are most proud of?
Difficult to say because I love different genres. In the sci-fi
genre Terminator 2 and Gattaca are two of my
favourites. Sid and Nancy is still a favourite of mine
and I think the movie still holds up. I think Air Force
One is a great action movie and I enjoyed working on that.
And I also had a great time working on both Apollo 13
and Shanghai Noon.
Are there any directors or actors that you are keen to work
Yeah, there's a lot from both categories. I can't help but
have my sites set on Scorsese, Cohen Brothers and Spike Jones.
If you weren't involved in acting what would you be doing?
I want to direct films, because I am a painter and a sculptor
and I've done a lot of writing. And directing is the ultimate
way to bring together all the art forms I've been involved
with over the years. I've done a lot of special effects make-up
on the side oddly enough.
Thank you for your time.
thanks to David Cox at DSA
one of 24 is available now from 20th Century Fox Home
Entertainment RRP £44.99 (DVD) or £39.99 (video)
Season two of 24 is currently showing on BBC2 on Friday
nights at 10pm