The ticking clock was reset for 24: Live Another Day, a groundbreaking and thrilling new event series following heroic agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), now a fugitive from justice. Willing to risk his life and freedom to avert yet another global disaster, Jack needs the help of his old CTU confidante Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), if he’s going to keep CIA head Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) and CIA agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) off his trail. The show also stars William Devane, Kim Raver, Tate Donovan, Giles Matthey, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Michael Wincott, Stephen Fry and Michelle Fairley.
During this recent interview to discuss the event series, actress Michelle Fairley, who also recently gave very memorable performances as Ava Hessington on the USA series Suits and as Catelyn Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones, talked about how she came to this role, taking on terrorist Margot Al-Harazi, who she views as a very committed woman, connecting with a character that is so violent towards other people, getting in on some of the action, how big of a fan she was of 24, prior to doing the show, and how humbling it is to hear from fans of her work. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: What was the casting process that you went through, and what were your thoughts on taking on this character, who is a terrorist?
MICHELLE FAIRLEY: Basically, what happened was that I was offered the part. My American agent at Paradigm and my London agent at CAM worked together with the producers at Fox. They came up with the suggestion, and eventually it was accepted. The next thing to do was to talk to the writers and find out who this person is, or who they have based her on, and find out what her story is. Because they write the scripts as they go along, the writers made it very clear to me that they knew exactly what they wanted this woman to be like. Also, once you start inhabiting a role like that, and it goes on film and they’re watching it and seeing what your strengths or weaknesses are, then they can write accordingly for the person playing the role. It makes it very interesting, watching how characters interact. They knew exactly how she was going to pan out, but it makes it more exciting for them to write with a particular person in mind.
When you got the script, how was Margot described to you?
FAIRLEY: When I was offered the part, I had a great conversation about it. I’ve had many great conversations with the writers in L.A. They were just incredibly passionate about the fact that this is a committed woman. It’s very easy to mark her as a loony, but you can’t actually play her as that. She’s an intelligent woman who totally believes in her cause. She’s mourning her husband, as well. He died in a terror strike. She has a lot of pain in her life, too. She totally believes in the cause that her husband was fighting for. She’s committed. The guys were very diligent about the fact that this woman is running this like a military operation, and that it’s taken many years of planning to come to this point. She’s patient. She knows it’s the right time to strike, and she will take this with such seriousness. It’s so orchestrated. Not only is she watching it herself, but she’s also having to check the people around her, at the same time, to make sure that there are no weak links in this chain because it’s taken so long to get to this point.
How did you find a way to connect with a character that is so violent and so committed to hurting other people?
FAIRLEY: You’ve just got to throw yourself in there. You have to trust and do as much research on passion as possible – passionate causes and people, like freedom fighters. With people like that, it’s an absolute gut belief that they are in the right. In some ways, people like that are easier to play because they don’t question things. They are just totally driven. The problem with them is that most people just label them as mad and as crazy, but to them, they’re actually not. They don’t walk around going, “Oh, I’m crazy.” They are passionate and driven, and totally committed. They have tunnel vision to achieve their goals. They expect to do what they have to do, in order to attain that. Also, the thing with Margot is that she is not asking anybody to do anything that she herself has not done in the past. She knows what it takes to do these things. That’s why she is very conscientious and very watchful of the people around her. She’s been in that position herself and she knows the doubts that will creep into somebody’s mind because they’ve probably crept into hers. She has had to fight against those doubts, in order to achieve her goal.
Will we get to see Margo out in the field, or conducting some operations herself?
FAIRLEY: She does get some action, absolutely she does. It’s further on in the series. Her daughter is definitely the foot soldier. What Simone is doing is what Margot used to do. Margot is second-guessing any possible commitment problems that her daughter might have because she went through them herself.
What can you say about the relationship with Margot and her son-in-law?
FAIRLEY: Margot’s son-in-law isn’t committed. Marriage is incredibly important to her daughter, and it’s a very fine line that Margot has to tread. She expects 100% loyalty from her children, as she would give them 100% loyalty. As far as she’s concerned, there would actually be no side to take, if push came to shove, where her son-in-law was concerned. They’re completely driven by the mission, and she’s expecting total commitment from her family. There is no question about that, at all. She’s never ever had to call this into question, ever. They are a very close family. There is a real power struggle for affection because those children lost their father. Margot’s last husband was their stepfather.
Before taking on this role, were you a fan of 24?
FAIRLEY: Yes, I absolutely was. I loved it, actually. One of the great things about being cast in it is it meant that I had to go back and re-watch some of the seasons, which was fantastic, just to get into the rhythm and pace. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger. It’s just fantastic fun, and the actors are wonderful in it.
Your career has mostly been on stage and television, and you’re probably best known to British audiences. And now, at this stage in your career, you’ve done both Game of Thrones and 24, which are two huge international hits. What has it been like to find that kind of fame, at this stage in the game?
FAIRLEY: That’s very kind of you to say those words, but in many ways, you don’t think of it like that. You think of it as being fortunate enough to even be considered for roles like that, and to do a job that you absolutely adore. No matter where you go in the world, if people do approach you because they recognize you, they do it with such grace and adoration and love for the shows. It’s incredibly humbling, actually. If anything, it makes you want to do even better. As an actor, you’re constantly riddled with self-doubt. You are your own worst critic. It’s very hard to sometimes even accept compliments, but it’s incredibly humbling when people come up to you because there is no reason to, apart from just to say, “We love the show,” or “We love your work.” You don’t expect that, so it’s always lovely when it happens.
Because you’re playing a villain now, are you prepared for people’s reactions about that?
FAIRLEY: Well, you take the good with the bad. In many ways, if they hate her, that means that I’ve made her work because she is detestable. What’s interesting about Margot is that she’s in progress. You will start to see more of her own backstory and what actually drives this woman. Her commitment has come through pain and loss. It’s about revenge. It’s about questioning what governments do and the power that they have over their own people. She’s not just a villain. There is an emotional conflict within herself, as well.
24: Live Another Day airs on Monday nights on Fox.