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February 07, 2017

Liberating A Legend

Like a hard-core but humble Hercules (chains? what chains?), Corey Hawkins breaks into hyper-hero mode in 24: Legacy , the newest installment of the prized Fox franchise.

Tatiana Siegel
  • Andrew Eccles
  • Andrew Eccles
  • Andrew Eccles
  • Andrew Eccles
  • Andrew Eccles
  • Andrew Eccles

Corey Hawkins breezes into the lobby of the Greenwich Hotel on a frigid New York morning.

Sporting a black T-shirt, black jeans, black Kangol baseball hat and an infectious smile, the 24:Legacy star looks more like the steadfast Juilliard student he was just six years ago than the new face of the Fox network.

Sitting down for breakfast, he eschews the fad diets circulating Hollywood, ordering scrambled eggs with cheddar and a bagel and cream cheese. It’s six days before Christmas, and the 28-year-old actor is in town to promote the reinvigorated franchise before heading to his native D.C. for the holidays.

Despite a packed schedule, Hawkins managed to sneak out the night before to catch John Goodman on Broadway in The Front Page. The two actors bonded while working on the upcoming monster tentpole Kong: Skull Island and struck up a friendship. “He’s like a mentor,” Hawkins says.

Given the high-profile turn his career is about to take, Hawkins may need some guidance. On Sunday, February 5, Fox debuted the highly anticipated series — which also stars Miranda Otto and Jimmy Smits as the D.C. power couple enmeshed in the drama — in the plum post–Super Bowl slot.

Gone is Kiefer Sutherland’s iconic counterterrorist agent, Jack Bauer. In his place is Hawkins’s Eric Carter, an ex–Army Ranger and the only man standing between America and the largest domestic terror attack in history. “The challenge is making sure that every single moment is honest, no matter what,” he says. “It’s doing Eric Carter justice. Not trying to fill Jack Bauer’s shoes. Not trying to step into Kiefer’s legacy.”

For a kid who grew up in a gang-ridden D.C. neighborhood — not unlike the former home Carter is forced to revisit for protection — it’s a dream opportunity, far bigger than his breakout film role as Dr. Dre in the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton.

Even hit films linger for just a few weeks in theaters and the national conversation, inevitably giving way to the next box-office champ. But as the centerpiece of Fox’s crown jewel, Hawkins gains a whole new visibility in the American home on a weekly basis.

Not surprisingly, he’s feeling the weight. “For Fox to say, ‘I think he can carry this network and carry this franchise,’ is a huge, huge responsibility,” he states. “An honor.”

Just ask Fox television group’s Gary Newman — co-chairman and CEO with Dana Walden — and he will acknowledge that expectations are sky high. When Fox launched the first trailer for the show, during game one of the world series, it racked up 42 million views in one week, he notes. The stakes are equally stratospheric for the series that will air in the Monday 8 p.m. slot.

“A lot is riding on this,” Newman admits. “We’ve given it the premier launch opportunity that any series will have this year, so it really is critical to us in terms of the success of our season, to say nothing of the fact that this is a treasured Fox series that we did not bring back lightly. If we didn’t think we had a great story and great actors and the right time running it, we wouldn’t take a chance with it. It’s too precious to us.”

Precious might be an understatement. The original 24 ran eight seasons on the network and nabbed the top Emmy prize in 2006 for outstanding drama. With its signature ticking-clock, real-time format, the series also spawned the 2008 telefilm 24: Redemption and the 12-episode special-event series 24: Live Another Day in 2014.

As a testament to Jack Bauer’s global appeal, Live Another Day aired in more than 150 countries and was a top U.S. series in the U.K., Canada and Australia. The second season of a local version of 24 in India dominated the Indian Television Academy Awards in 2016, where it took five honors.

Perhaps more important, the original 24 captured the zeitgeist in a way that few series have.

The pilot, shot prior to 9/11, aired less than two months after the nation-altering terror attacks of 2001. Topics like interrogation torture played out on screen in prescient fashion, before waterboarding became a news-cycle talking point and household concept. Sadly, the threat of domestic terrorism never receded — nor did U.S. military engagement — setting the stage for a 24 rebirth.

In 2014, Manny Coto and Evan Katz began mulling the idea of what happened to the field team that brought down 9/11 architect Osama bin Laden, given that many members reportedly went into hiding due to fear of retaliation. The two writers, veterans of the original series and showrunners of Live Another Day, approached 24 creators Joel Surnow and Bob Cochran for their blessing to proceed.

“We wanted a continuity and graciousness about it all,” Katz recalls. Surnow and Cochran gave them a thumbs-up, and Cochran even agreed to join the writers’ room for season one if the project moved forward. Coto and Katz then wrote a pilot script and joined 24 executive producers Brian Grazer and Howard Gordon to pitch Newman, outlining the multi-season arc they wanted to tell.

The drama would kick off in the wake of the death of a fictitious terrorist, rather than bin Laden. Newman sparked to the idea and turned to Sutherland to gauge his interest in reprising Jack Bauer. “We went to Kiefer first to see if he wanted to play it,” Newman says. “He loved the script but felt that he didn’t want to go back and play that role again. He happily signed on as an executive producer.”

With the Sutherland option off the table, Coto and Katz tweaked the script, building it around a next-generation protagonist but keeping the concept of a terrorist hunter being hunted back home. They then began looking for their leading man, one who could potentially bridge 24 loyalists and millennial audiences.

Katz’s wife, veteran casting director Lisa Miller Katz, had just begun working on the pilot in 2015 when she saw Straight Outta Compton.

“She called me from the parking lot of the movie theater and said in a very excited way, ‘I got your guy! I got your guy!’” Katz remembers. “Then we saw the movie, and Corey is literally the only person we gave the script to [for the Eric Carter role]. We Skyped with him — he was in Vietnam and Australia shooting Kong. He read it, we Skyped again and, remarkably, he said yes.”

For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of the latest issue of emmy magazine, on newsstands February 14, 2017 or here.

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