‘24’ Star Cherry Jones on Playing the President and What She Thinks of Meryl Streep in ‘Doubt’

By
"Keep 'em closed ... the clown doesn't like it when you open your eyes." Photo: Getty Images

Did you hear about the historic, stressed-out new president-elect? The fake one on 24, that is — a helmet-haired lady! Played by Tony winner Cherry Jones, President Allison Taylor steps right into a hot, steamy geopolitical mess on her inauguration day in 24's "Redemption"; the two-hour prequel to season seven airs this Sunday. As Vulture bugged the secrecy-bound Jones for details on the new season (and other stuff), she was driving through the Hollywood hills, racing against time to make an appointment. Almost like a real episode, but without waterboarding or next-generation surveillance tech.

The following took place between 3:30 and 4 p.m. last Friday.

Hi Cherry! How are you?
I’m swell, driving around in my little Prius hoping to find 20th Century Fox studios in time for lunch. I’ve never been before — we don’t shoot at the studio. We shoot in lovely Chatsworth, California, the porn capital of America. I think 24 is the only legit show being filmed there right now.

Do you ever rub shoulders with porn stars at the local Coffee Bean?
I think I rub shoulders with a lot of porn crews, but I have yet to see anyone that seems completely fake from the waist up.

What can you say about President Allison Taylor?
She’s not Hillary. She has nothing to do with Hillary. She’s a combination of Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meier, and John Wayne. The day just gets harder and harder and harder. I have to keep girding my loins to survive.

What side of the aisle does she sit on?
They’re so clever on 24. Because you never really know. I certainly have my theories, which I’m not going to share with you.

Would President Taylor see eye to eye with our president-elect?
I absolutely think she would see eye to eye with Obama. I will say that, regardless of my policies, my hair will be read as pure Republican.

You weren’t familiar with the show before you signed on, were you?
I’d never seen it. I knew that it was violent, that there was torture — big negatives for me. But I’d grown up watching the Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission Impossible. I loved espionage thrillers.

Once you started watching, did you ever get in a zone where you were watching the show nonstop, round the clock?
Our dogs started putting their paws over their ears when they heard the theme. They were going kind of crazy. I went through a whole period where I would synchronize it with my own clock so that I could watch it in “real time.”

Tell me all about the First Gentleman, Madam President’s husband.
She’s actually very concerned about her husband. Concerned that he is in some way under some stress-caused misconception.

So he’s a crazy paranoid?
Word that in any way that is helpful to you.

What’s the most harrowing 24 hours you’ve experienced in real life?
I was about a mile and a half north of the towers on 9/11 and in my room when the second plane hit. I’ll never forget that first wave of people walking north with that thousand-yard stare that soldiers get. We couldn’t make eye contact. We tried to offer water, cell phones, or anything. I’ll never forget those moments.

You’ve been out of the closet as a lesbian for a very long time and have a partner. Thoughts on Proposition 8?
In another four or five years, the people who voted for it will be really ashamed of themselves. I remember for the first time Bob Dole said “gay marriage” on the Senate floor. Obviously he was against it, but the fact that he said it in my lifetime, I couldn’t believe. I think we’re hurtling toward tremendous change.

Have you and your partner had a commitment ceremony?
No, we have not had a commitment ceremony. I’ve never needed to get married. Marriage, to me, is a religious ceremony between people and their individual faiths. As far as my nation and my sexuality are concerned, I just want the rights of every civil marriage in this country. I have tremendous appreciation for the leaders of this movement.

In the upcoming film adaptation of Doubt, Meryl Streep plays the role you originated (brilliantly!) on Broadway. Variety gave her a crappy review. I know you’ve seen it. Thoughts?
Any day that you’re getting compared to Meryl Streep, you’re in pretty tall cotton. The first time I saw Meryl, I was 21, she was playing Kate in Taming of the Shrew in Central Park with Raúl Juliá. After that, I was basically hers for life. It was thrilling to see her crack this role that I knew backwards and forwards. There were scenes that I thought, Huh. Wonder why she did it that way? That rascal! She's so damn good. I’m going to the premiere, I’ll finally get to hug her and tell her how magnificent she is in it.