Jon Cassar, a native of Malta who grew up in Ottawa and is a graduate of that city’s Algonquin College, has directed “24” since it blasted its way onto the air in 2002. Now an executive producer on the Fox action hour, he directed Sunday's 24 Redemption, a two-hour TV-movie made to bridge the sixth and seventh seasons.
I've spoken with Cassar in the past, once on the north Los Angeles set of the series when he gave critics a tour and again in September when he was in Toronto at the tail end of the film festival. He was stoked then about catching up with some old friends and was also in town to discuss a future film project about a pair of real life female pirates. "Kate Beckinsale would be perfect for one of the parts," he said.
A long suffering Leaf fan, he says all it took was a phone call to get series star Kiefer Sutherland, another hockey nut, a Leaf jersey from the team. “They are as much fans of his as he is of them.” he says.
Cassar certainly paid his dues in the Canadian TV industry, working cross border CanCon such as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and Mutant X. The 50-year-old perfected his run-and-gun, one-or-two-takes-tops shooting style on the action series La Femme Nikita in Toronto. That series was also produced by 24 co-creator Joel Surnow. Many of the Canadian actors who passed through Nikita, including Alberta Watson and Carlo Rota, were later brought into the 24 mix. Cassar would dearly love to get ex-Nikita star Roy Dupuis (The Rocket) onto a 24 mission, but so far Dupuis' busy schedule hasn't allowed for it.
Maybe he can work him into the inevitable 24 feature film. The TV-movie was a bit of a trial run for that eventuality, Cassar, admits. The writers strike pushed the seventh season of 24 back a full year, allowing for the cast and crew to go to South Africa this past June to shoot 24: Redemption. Cassar says it was an invigorating and a bonding project, with stars like Robert Carlyle and Gil Bellows thrown into the mix. There's more about that in the feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press here.
Cassar says he and the cast and crew snapped so many digital pictures between takes they've collected them for gallery showings. At the end of our interview, he handed me a disc containing several shots he and other had taken. They are currently on display at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, not New York as earlier and erroneously reported here. The photos are on display at the Bell Family Gallery at the Beverly Hills Paley location until Jan. 11; check out this link to the showing here. The moody shot above of Cassar in a South African street was snapped by none other than Sutherland. Several others shots on the disc are below:
Cassar at the camera in South Africa. Shot in three weeks last June, the African winter was windy and provided several technical challenges.
With Bobby Carlyle and Sutherland, two actors who had worked together before. Cassar says he was surprised when he directed Carlyle to shoot a gun and the Scottish-born actor (who once played Hitler!) said he hadn’t done much of that before. “You don’t hear that often on our set,” he joked.
With some of the young African actors who appear in the two-hour TV-movie, which airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. on Global and Fox.
With Gill Bellows (Ally McBeal), who plays a prickly embassy official on 24: Redemption--not the part he originally auditioned for. Prior to the shoot, Bellows met Cassar at the set but just didn't feel right for the part the two men had discussed. By the time he arrived back home from the audition his agent had called to say Cassar felt the same way and had offered him a different character.
“Jon’s a homer,” Bellows told me during a Fox press scrum last July in Los Angeles. “If he worked with somebody in Toronto, and he thought they were really good, he would fight for them to get a job on the show.”
Bellows says he was a fan of 24 ever since it began--even though it torpedoed The Agency, his own U.S. network spy show that debuted the same fall of 2002. "Both were CIA shows," he says. "I saw their pilot and said, 'We’re screwed.'"