Cometh the hour

“A few weeks ago, Julian Sands, most fondly remembered as the romantic lead in A Room with a View, was invited to a party to celebrate the 100th episode of the real-time thriller series 24. It was held in the ‘beautiful’ set used to house 24’s antiterrorist agency in Los Angeles … but what the Yorkshire-born actor recalls most vividly is the guest list. There were a lot of ghosts.‘It was Valhalla, home for the slain,’ muses the 48-year-old, running his hand through his spiky blond hair. ‘There was the actress who played the mole Nina Myers, George Mason and Dennis Haysbert, and I was thinking — am I about to join their club?’ Sands, who is about to emerge out of the shadows, in the fifth series of 24, as the next ‘big bad’, knows his chances of survival are somewhere between ‘hmmm’ and ‘bye-bye’. Even Kiefer Sutherland says that, one day, maybe when ratings are slipping, his Jack Bauer might meet a sticky end. And he is a producer on the show.

‘The writers are extremely ruthless, although they are nervous about saying where my character is from,’ says Sands. ‘I see Vladimir Bierko as a westernised Chechen, an oil billionaire who longs for Soviet days. He is as pure and still as Ted Hughes’s hawk — ‘There is no sophistry in my body, My manners are tearing off heads’.’ Yes, it’s another elegant Brit in Hollywood, playing baddies for bucks. Alan and Jeremy must have been too pricey …

… At the time, he was unemployed, and living a childhood dream of climbing the Matterhorn … ‘I don’t know what they saw in me,’ he says. ‘I’d never actually seen 24 before I got the phone call in Zermatt. But I was hooked from Day One, Hour One. How could you not want to be part of that?’ …

… ‘The writers have not given me a great deal to work with, but they know I can work with a little. I am conspiring to unleash poison gas in LA, from inside an 8 by 12 concrete bunker, tapping computers and talking on mobile phones. This is modern power.’

Sands avoided a theatrical Slav accent because Dennis Hopper pounded one to death in the first series. Instead, Sands chills by doing as little as possible. You can see the hawk. No matter how long he survives — and he promises pyrotechnics — his is a quietly unnerving performance …

… However, he promises there are no more follies in the pipeline. The riddle of Sands’s success may be about to be resolved.

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