If you’re a fan of 24 (Mondays at 9 pm on FOX), you don’t have to be told what needs to be done to save America from a terrorist attack. So in this season’s hour 4, when FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) needed information from a former undercover contact in the Russian mob, she did what any red-blooded American would do: she put the guy’s hand in a vise and cut his thumb off.
Okay, it was more complicated than that (how else was she going to get the parole bracelet off!), but you know what we’re talking about. A few episodes later, Walker stabbed a sexual assailant in the eye (well, actually, she had to sleep with him, it was undercover, but you know!). In last week’s episode (April 12, hour 17), a looming nuclear threat resolved, Walker and series hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) finally consummated a supposed long-simmering romantic tension (huh?) – only for Walker to be felled moments later by an assassin’s bullet (pull the drapes, Jack, it’s “between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.”!).
Thus dispatched, Walker/Wersching took part in a special press conference call. Due to a glitch in the cuing system, I did not get to ask my two questions. But FOX was kind enough to set up a separate (exclusive!) short interview with Wersching. The show concludes its eighth and final season with two-hour special on May 24.
Wersching talked with me about the thumb scene, about working with writer/producer and show-runner Howard Gordon, and about her upcoming plans.
Jon Garelick: Annie, hi.
Annie Wersching: Hey there, how are you?
Jon Garelick: Good, thank you so much for doing a little over time. I really appreciate it.
Annie Wersching: Oh sure.
Jon Garelick: And I really enjoy the work you did on 24. It was really such a fun character. You did her so well.
Annie Wersching: Thank you.
Jon Garelick: I have to ask – were you at all surprised – 24 is known for some extreme plot turns – were you surprised at all at the extremity of Renee’s transformation in season 8?
Annie Wersching: I mean, it was actually just a phone call from Howard where I first sort of hear what he wanted – the direction he sort of wanted to take her in for season 8. I mean, I was surprised a little bit just because I knew even from where she started episode 1 on season 7 to where she went by episode 24 of season 7 it was very different. She had an incredible arc in one season. That was very cool. So I knew it was going to be somewhere starting on the dark path. I didn’t quite know how dark it was going to be, and then once I read my first script where the first night of shooting I was cutting off a thumb, I was like wow okay they are really going there. But not too surprised.
Jon Garelick: I think those were – I think it was maybe those first two episodes of the season where maybe those are two of the most violent scenes I’ve seen on 24 that were just jaw-dropping. First with the cutting the mans thumb –
Annie Wersching: And stabbing out the eye, yeah, all of that, I mean it was definitely a challenge to sort of try to keep it somewhat real and like she was the same person as the person in season 7. So it was a challenge, but it was definitely to try and make it work, and when I saw the thumb moment it reminded me very much of when Jack says, “I’m gonna need a hacksaw”. So I was like oh I get one of those moments, cool.
Jon Garelick: As far as the violence of that, and when you talk about her as the same character, do you ever have those moments with either the writers or Howard or whatever, where you argue with them about what the character would or wouldn’t do?
Annie Wersching: Right, right, you know, I sort of chose to kind of be – I mean a lot of people, actors do things in different ways, and I sort of noticed in season 7 on my time there that a lot of people after they get scripts they go up to the writer’s room and sort of make their case and all that stuff. For whatever reason, I didn’t sort of follow in that path. I kind of just let the scripts come in and tried to do my best, but I really wasn’t up there bugging them about a lot of things. So I sort of already established that was kind of my relationship with them. On that first day, because my first day back shooting season 8, was that scene, the thumb scene, and I remember very much feeling like – and I remember texting Jon Cassar who isn’t on the show this season – you know, director/producer – who was very instrumental in them casting me as Renee. I got very close with him and always felt I was in really good hands with him, so I remember texting him saying God, I wish you were here to help me find this. Because at first, it was the first stuff I was shooting and one, she was undercover so there was that aspect to it, and two, she has so much other stuff going on. So I didn’t necessarily go to Howard and fight any of this stuff saying this won’t work. But, I did find it challenging and I was definitely happy when I felt that I finally sort of found it.
Jon Garelick: So you figured this is what it is and it’s just my job as an actor to figure it out basically.
Annie Wersching: Yeah, I mean it almost becomes sort of a – the same regard, if it was something that really truly I was like this will never fly, this is never going to work or if I was having such a hard time that I couldn’t make it work for myself, then I probably would have been like I don’t know how to do this. This obviously is just not realistic for her, or something like that. But, I think because I was able to sort of, in my mind, justify and figure it out.
Jon Garelick: Is that something that Jon Cassar would have helped you with his directing tips about what you can do as an actor?
Annie Wersching: I mean I think that’s what I felt in that moment. I always felt very safe in his – I mean I felt safe in the other director’s company as well, but for whatever reason I remember sending him a message being like wow, this is kind of hard, I wish you were here to help me. He was definitely like I’m completely confident that you’ll find it and figure it out, and it’s going to be – you know, just one of those little –
Jon Garelick: Can you recall something specifically where he’s helped you in the past? I’m wondering if there was some little tip he gave you in past episodes or anything. Things you might have had trouble with or you weren’t quite sure how it was supposed to go, and he said try this or whatever.
Annie Wersching: I remember in episode 24 of season 7 where Renee is finally sort of – she’s deciding what to do about Wilson, who’s in the room, and I’m out in the other room with Janice. It was like Renee’s very, very last scene of 24, of episode 24. I wasn’t initially having problems with it, but sometimes when the director comes up and they just say one little thing and you’re like “oh, that’s perfect”. I remember him being like okay at this moment, I think it was the moment where she sort of sets down her badge and takes off her jacket, and I think he said something to the effect of like at this point the thing that’s going to be eerie about it, is that by the look on your face you’re just going to be able to tell that now she’s made the decision; now she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s just at peace with it as far as going into the room to Wilson as opposed to being – because the first part of the scene I was being somewhat tortured about it trying to figure out what the right call was. I remember when I watched it I was like yeah, that’s really good. Like sometimes you just have those things where you’re like oh that’s a good idea; why didn’t I have that?
Jon Garelick: So in other words, his idea about how to play that or what you should be focusing on.
Annie Wersching: Yeah, I mean it was just one little – I was basically doing that, but sometimes it’s just one little thing that maybe from this point on she’s accepting it now and that’s what’s kind of eerie is that now the emotion is gone from her face.
Jon Garelick: Well, I really appreciate the time. I know you’re how many months pregnant are you?
Annie Wersching: A little over five months, due in August.
Jon Garelick: Well that’s great. Well, you’ll have some other kind of work ahead of you I guess.
Annie Wersching: I know, I know.
Jon Garelick: Do you have other acting lined up at this point that you can talk about?
Annie Wersching: No, it’s a little hard to – I’m taking a few months off to have the baby, but I really, really love to work so I’m sure I’ll be back out there pretty quickly trying to see what’s next.
Jon Garelick: Is there anything coming out that I should be aware of that you might have done already?
Annie Wersching: I did a small independent film called Below the Beltway that shot in between season 7 and season 8 that I think is about to debut at a couple festivals. Like maybe the Newport Beach Film Festival or something, I’m not sure, but I think that’s just about to start the festival circuit. And there’s a couple other ex-24 alums in that: Sarah Clarke who played Nina Meyers and Xander Berkeley who played George Mason are both in the film as well.
Jon Garelick: Oh great, cool, well I will look for that. Well thank you for taking this extra time, I really appreciate it. Good luck with the baby and with everything else.
Annie Wersching: Thank you.
Jon Garelick: Take care.