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Jack Bauer Can Torture Who He Likes This Season: 24’s Annie Wersching Won’t Be Putting Up a Fight

On 24, the last time we saw Annie Wersching’s character, FBI Agent Renee Walker, she was putting down her badge in preparation to go all Abu Ghraib on a terrorist mastermind while her torture mentor, Jack Bauer, slowly died of radiation poisoning. (Most unnecessary spoiler alert ever: He got better!) She's back for season eight, and when she first appears in the final hour of the four-hour premiere (which airs on January 17 and 18; pace yourself!), it's clear that things have gone progressively downhill since she went renegade. We spoke to Wersching about the new season (this time around it takes place in “New York!”), what the series has in common with Jersey Shore, and whether she’d like to replace Jack Bauer.

You’re a major part of season eight. And, without getting too specific, Renee has quite a shocking moment at the end of the fourth episode. What was your reaction when you found out the circumstances of your character’s return?
It’s a pretty intense first episode for me. You know, it makes up for the fact that I’m not in the first three. I was like, “Oh, I’m not in the first three, that’s not fun.” And when I read four, I was like, “Okay, that’s cool.”

It feels like the roles have been kind of reversed this year. Last season you were the conscience for Jack, but this season Jack’s like, “Wait, what are you doing?” while you’re going crazy.
Totally. And this year, she really needs his help. She went through a lot of not-so-fun stuff in between seasons seven and eight ... and now she’s not going to lose anything if she does something bad, so all that remains is whether or not she has Jack and whether there is something for her to live for.

Last year, after some political outcry about the prevalence of torture on 24, the characters (often yours) frequently paused for impassioned speeches about the evils of torture, only to conclude, “But let’s do it anyway!” In the season thus far, however, that debate seems to have gone away.
I didn’t even think about that, but the whole struggle for Renee last year, for sure, was the whole moral compass. She was trapped between what she was supposed to do — working for the FBI — and what she was seeing Jack do out in the field and how it was working. ... But now that you mention it, there isn’t a whole bunch of conversation about it this season. They chose specifically last year to have a show where they really tackled torture, because it has always been something the show has taken heat for.

24 shifts locales to New York this year. One thing we noticed — perhaps to make the series feel more “Noo Yawk” — was that a lot of the actors who play NYPD officers seemed like extras from Jersey Shore or Entourage (actor Domenick Lombardozzi, who played the infamous Dom on the HBO series, turns up to beat up Jack Bauer). You may have Italian-American groups and the New York Police Department all over you.
I think [24 executive producer] Howard Gordon, in particular, has enough on his plate where he’s like, “Look ... ” He does the best that he can. Hopefully New Yorkers are just happy we’re representing New York in the show this year and maybe they’ll just gloss over that.

Considering they brought you back, the producers clearly like you, and the fans have been very receptive of your character. Do you feel like when Kiefer Sutherland finally leaves the show, Renee could be the lead in future seasons of 24?
I’ve heard people say that. It’s hard, because I was a fan of the show since season one, a hard-core fan. As a fan, it’s hard for me to imagine it ever working without Jack Bauer. But then again, of course I’d love to take over. And having been inside Renee’s head for the last three years, I totally think she could handle it, she could do it. Whether or not fans would allow anyone ever to take Jack’s place, however, is a little bit scary.

Photo: FOX