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24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub on Scowling, Being Tortured, and What Chloe’s Really Typing

24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

After Fox announced last year that 24 would be coming back as a 12-episode miniseries, its producers waited two long months to call Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays the show’s most important supporting character, Chloe O’Brian. “People would be tweeting at me all damn day about it, and I would just have to represent,” recalls Rajskub. “But I was totally faking it, like, ‘Yeah, we’re really excited the show’s coming back!’ Meanwhile, I’m sitting there like, Are they going to call me?” But the team behind the long-running Fox program knew that Jack Bauer needs Chloe as much as viewers do: Who else could ever match the brusque data analyst’s knack for simultaneously mapping out escape routes, unfrying blown-up hard drives, and dishing out scowls to intelligence agents getting in her way? Rajskub was so jazzed about being asked back that she went all in for a Lisbeth Salander makeover to depict Chloe’s transformation into an Edward Snowden type in 24: Live Another Day, which premieres tonight with a two-hour episode. Vulture talked to the comedic actress about resurrecting her iconic character, how being in a bad mood got her the gig, and that one time Chloe hid a baby under her desk.

I heard you actually cut your hair for this.
[Laughs] I like your tone. Like, Why would you do that?

It’s pretty severe.
I just didn’t like the idea of sitting down and having a wig put on every day when I had to work. It was like, eh. And I didn’t want to take the chance of having it look like a wig. So we just cut it.

Did you have any input?
Yes. It was almost platinum blonde for a minute. We also looked at dreadlocks, but we ended up here. To make it even choppier and even more fucked up, I have little short hair extensions that get put in. The actual cut itself is a little bit prettier than how it looks on the show.

Did you cry when they cut it?
No! You’re so funny.

Anne Hathaway cried when she did it. Some people do.
Dude, I was kind of excited about it. I don’t know. It definitely felt weird. I was grumbly about it for a couple of days, but I got used to it and I’m kind of into it now.

Chloe’s always pissed off. I feel like now she’s got hair to match.
I agree — and especially when I read the first script and heard what she had been through [since the series finale in 2010]. This universal goth look seems right.

During a press conference in January, you made it sound like Chloe’s return hadn’t been a sure thing.
You know, the sequel was announced and then they just didn’t call me for a good two months. I think everyone assumes I have more pull … Not that I’m not connected to them, but I think the producers just thought I would be around for it. I think they were making all the writers’ and producers’ deals and, I don’t know, deals with all the more important people than me. Howard Gordon was quoted very early on saying, “I’m a huge fan of Mary Lynn’s. I really hope she’s on the show.” And I was like, What do you mean? You’re in charge of that! But that’s classic 24. You never take anything for granted. We’re shooting episode ten right now and I still don’t know if I’m going to die or not.

Our introduction to Chloe, back in season three, involved her being saddled with taking care of Jack’s daughter’s boyfriend’s baby while snapping at her CTU colleagues. Did you think she was weird?
Oh, I definitely thought I was going to[be] fired. I thought, This is ridiculous. My character is really weird. She’s really annoying. They gave me a baby to put under my desk. I am not long for this world. Originally I was only signed up for four episodes. So it’s been surprise after surprise over the years up until the very end. It’s still surprising.

Before there was cry face, there was Chloe’s scowl face. Was she originally described as being really peeved all the time?
Well, the story about me getting on the show is that my agent called me to audition and I was like, eh, because I didn’t really audition for dramas, and I had just had a bad C.S.I. audition. I said, “I’m not in the mood. It’s really far away.” And she just went, “They really want to see you.” So I watched three episodes because I hadn’t watched the show, and I go in in a bad mood and the creator Joel Surnow meets me in the hallway and says, “We’re going to write a part for you.” He’d seen me in Punch Drunk Love where I played a bitchy, overbearing sister to Adam Sandler. He liked that quality. But I was still like, “What?”

You were actually in the perfect mood when you went in.
Yeah. The first scene I read, Chloe wasn’t really there yet; it was just a lot of “Yes, Jack. No, Jack.” So we kind of developed it together.

When Chloe is furiously punching the keyboard, are you really typing? Or are you just pounding on it?
I’m really not good at computers in real life, so what I’m really typing are affirmations. Whenever something serious is happening, it’s, “You look really pretty today, Mary Lynn.” “You’re doing a really good job acting.” “Keep up the good work.” “Don’t take Kiefer’s intensity so personally. He’s just acting. He likes you.”

It’s amazing that Chloe has resisted using her computer skills to her advantage.
What do you mean?

She could go bad.
You’re so funny. That’s like a little view into how you think.

Well, you know, this year, she’s gone completely anti-government. I’m not saying that’s bad. Could be good, could be bad.

My all-time favorite Chloe moment is when she got to blow away this hit man who’d been ramming into her car like he was the Terminator. It’s the first time Chloe gets her hands dirty.
That was super exciting for me because it was a total different animal to do all those action scenes.

Any pointers from Kiefer?
Kiefer actually helped me early on when I did a lot of acting to a blind computer screen. I was completely thrown off because I hadn’t acted when there was literally no one there before. He talked me through that. As far as the action stuff, I don’t think Kiefer was there that day. I had a quick lesson with a gun guy in a parking lot. The best part of that was where the bad guy is shooting into the windshield while I’m in the car. That was super freaky. It was like a bulletproof windshield, so it didn’t go through, but they actually shot it while I was in there. I mean, it feels real when you’re doing all that.

In the previews for the new season, we see Chloe’s being tortured. That looks less fun.
I was doing press today and they showed a clip of that, and I was giggling because it’s so intense. When we shot it, my rational mind was like, This is embarrassing, screaming like this. But once you cross over and get into it, it comes out of you. Between takes it was actually kind of cathartic. There was something really tribal about it. There’s so much stuff like that in 24, but mostly I’m not the person that’s doing it.

When I talked to Kiefer briefly at the press tour, he said he was still hopeful that a 24 movie will happen one day.
I think I was in the one they were planning. I think. I remember there was a draft and it was waved in front of my face but I wasn’t allowed to read it. They’re cruel over there at 24. They like to lord their power over me.

24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub on Chloe’s Scowl Face