IT WASN'T him. It was us.
Kiefer Sutherland's back after a four-year break from playing Jack Bauer on Fox's turbo-charged "24," a break he says the viewers may have needed more than he did.
"I love playing him. No, I wasn't tired," said Sutherland in an interview in January, shortly before leaving for London to begin filming "24: Live Another Day," which premieres tonight.
"When you see the kind of excitement that was generated when it was announced that we were going to come back, you wouldn't have found that if we'd gone straight into an episode of Season 9," said Sutherland.
The 12-hour "Live Another Day," which launches with two back-to-back episodes, tweaks the "24" format to skip a few hours of a single day - we'll no longer need to worry about when Jack goes to the men's room - but don't expect to be up to speed immediately on what he's been doing since going on the lam at the end of Season 8.
So, no flashbacks?
"There's an opening that [executive producer Howard Gordon] and I have discussed for a while, that would take you out of a present moment. And I think he's right in not doing that, though I . . . argued [for] that for a long time," said Sutherland.
"We need to tread gingerly into the form," said Gordon. "I think it's like - Look, Joel [Surnow] and Bob [Cochran] created this brilliant idea" [of doing a show in real time]. We have to be careful when we're messing with that."
Sutherland, who was born in London but hadn't lived there since the filming of "The Three Musketeers" in the early '90s, said that the city adds a fresh dimension to the storytelling.
"It's such a multicultural place," he said. "It's much smaller than Los Angeles. The neighborhoods are actually on top of each other and much more integrated. And trying to track someone in London, it's complicated. It's not longitude and latitude, it's very old little avenues, brooks - there are going to have to be moments where we're getting lost, where we're not finding where we need to be, where we're getting one street confused with another."
The Jack who turns up in London, trying to foil yet another assassination plot, isn't the same guy we met in 2001, or even the one we last saw in 2010.
"Jack Bauer started every season with a little hope, and that hope has been dashed as the season goes on," Sutherland said.
"We've inverted it this year. He's coming in so angry and so hot. He's been isolated from his country, from his family, for four years. He's been forced to hide underground for something he didn't think he did wrong. If he tries to speak his mind about it, he'll be killed the second he sticks his head above ground. So, he's coming in as an angrier Jack, even with characters like Chloe [O'Brian, the tech wizard played by Mary Lynn Rajskub], than we've ever seen him before.
"And it's up to those characters that actually matter to him to pull him back down to the Jack you might understand or know," Sutherland said.
"That's kind of an interesting place to start from."