Friday, October 10, 2014

Interview: Apolo Ohno Pushes New Boundaries

This weekend, while the majority of us are watching college and pro football, stuffing our faces at bars or outside barbecues, or just hanging out reading a book or watching TV, world-champion speed skater Apolo Ohno will be burning enough calories for all of us. Tomorrow, Oct. 11, Apolo will be competing in the Ironman World Championship, which is a 140.6-mile triathlon competition that takes place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He's been training for months to compete in this only-the-strong-survive competition, and I spoke with him recently about his training, and his hopes for the competition.

Celebrity Extra: What was the impetus behind your decision to participate in Ironman?

Apolo Ohno: [Fellow Dancing with the Stars champion] Hines Ward completed his first Ironman challenge in Kona last year, and I was inspired by it. I had been thinking about doing it last year, but I was traveling so much, it didn’t make sense. But I needed a challenge. I needed to inspire other people. I needed to inspire myself. I needed something that wasn’t anything like speed skating. I was a 40-second athlete. I could sprint. I was ballistic. I was powerful. But then after 40 seconds, that’s when my laces came off. Hines said this is the complete opposite side of the spectrum. It’s endurance based. It’s a triathlon. It’s three sports in one.

CE: Personally, I can’t imagine myself ever being able to survive an Ironman, but if I were to try, how would I train? How have you been training?

AO: You know, you think you can’t, but you could. It just takes consistency. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of time. The businesses that I’m involved with require me to be up very late, and I’m traveling internationally. And so it’s all about scheduling. I need this in my life, but I also do it because I want to inspire other people. One of the things that I was really, really adamant about is, I said, “Look, if I’m going to do this, we’ve got to make sure that we chronicle all the steps of the way.” So, that’s what we’ve been doing.

You can see the episodes of my training on There will be eight specific webisodes total. We’re chronicling from when I first arrived in Kona and seeing the transformation process — seeing my mind, my body, my struggles, and the difficulty in training for something of this nature.

It also chronicles my training. It’s different every week. This week, on Thursday I had a very long bike ride, a seven-hour bike ride. I rode like 100 or 110 miles or something like that, solo. It’s going to be very interesting. And then I follow that with a T run — or a transition run — which is a 40-minute run right after I get off the bike. It’s wild. I mean, anytime you bike 100-something miles, it’s a pretty intense day.

CE: Since you are a world-renowned athlete, that has to give you some advantages, but since your previous training is so different, that must present some cons for you as well.

AO: The pros are that I know what training is like. I’ve suffered through difficulty and pain in my own sport. The cons are I’m not an endurance athlete. I’m based around power, explosiveness, speed. Like any sprinter who’s designed for that, we require lots of rest between intervals. I’m very good at doing intervals as long as I have a little bit of rest. But with Ironman training, there is no rest. You’re going nonstop for hours and hours and hours, and you have to complete the entire 2.4-mile open-water ocean swim to 112-mile bike ride followed by running a marathon (which is 26.2 miles). And you have to do that all in under 17 hours.

CE: Wow.

AO: I know. Whenever I say that, it blows my mind. Especially in the conditions that we compete in in Kona, Hawaii. You’re in an incredibly beautiful place, but make no mistake, the conditions are brutal: 100-degree weather; 100 percent humidity; 60-mile-an-hour crosswinds; black lava rocks in which you have to run through and bike through; ambient temperatures upwards of 120 to 130 degrees. It just sucks all of the energy, nutrients, and minerals out of your system, so you have to make sure that nutrition is a key component in that entire process.

CE: How are you preparing mentally for the competition?

AO: I do meditation, and I focus on my breathing, making sure that I have those goals in sight. Any time you have somebody in front of you, you have to make sure you are achieving those goals, whether it is on a daily basis, weekly basis, or monthly basis. And I have specific goals set up. That’s the best way to maximize performance, whether in business, life, relationships, or in sports.

CE: Did Hines give you any advice for the big day?

AO: The first thing Hines said to me was, “Brother, I’m praying for you.” He said to just enjoy it. He said to take my time. It’s once in a lifetime. It’s pretty incredible.

I’m in a whole new place now. I’m more confident; I’m stronger; I’m getting leaner; and I can’t wait to arrive in Kona. It’s a good feeling.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Visit with the Rock-afire Explosion

Cameron Mathison Goes Undercover in Along Came a Nanny

Cameron Mathison has been one busy guy since his “All My Children” days. He’s the go-to host/correspondent for all the big talk shows; he danced his way almost to the semifinals with Edyta Sliwinska during the fifth season of “Dancing With the Stars”; and he’s guest-starred and starred on numerous TV shows and movies. Cameron’s current gig is that of an undercover nanny. On Oct. 12 at 9/8c on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel (formerly the Hallmark Movie Channel), Cameron stars in “Along Came a Nanny” as Det. Mike Logan, who must go undercover as a nanny in a formerly safe suburban neighborhood to find out who is burglarizing the houses.

Celebrity Extra: What was it about the film, and the character of Mike, that appealed to you?

Cameron Mathison: The comedic aspect was a really big factor. It was one of the first things that hooked me. I also really like that he was this big kid who hadn’t grown up, and he has to take care of other kids. He’s not really taken that seriously at work, but he wants to make a serious change as far as progressing in his job. He wants to move up. In order to do that he has to step it up. It was a moment in his life where he knew he had to take that step into responsibility and learn to deal with kids. I've lived through that phase myself, and I can really relate to it.

CE: While it was a feel-good movie, it was very believable and didn’t come off as pat or saccharine.

CM: Good! I’m glad it came off like that, because that can be a challenge. These movies get shot really quickly. We don’t have a lot of luxuries as far as time goes. To me, it’s important in my life, in general, to be happy and to be a benefit to those around me. We all got along really well. I try to be happy; I try to make the set happy. Sometimes it’s challenging when things are stressed, but with that said, this was a feel-good set. We were just having a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and there was a lot of silliness. It was probably one of my favorite jobs that I can remember doing. It was a lot of fun.

CE: How was your leading lady, Sarah Lancaster, to work with?

CM: She’s the best. She’s such a pro and so fun and so down-to-earth and genuine. It’s maybe a little intimidating knowing that she’s a big deal. I went in making sure I was as prepared as I could be so that I could just really relax and be spontaneous and listen and react and play off her. Right off the bat she was so sweet and kind and funny — she has a great sense of humor.

CE: This movie had a very “Castle” feel to it. I could see it being a semi-regular series for the channel.

CM: I’m a big fan of “Castle,” so I love that comparison. Let’s see … how do we make this into a series? I guess we have to keep on changing his name and undercover occupation, because I don’t think he could be a nanny in every episode. But if I were, that would be fun. I know that Hallmark loves their mysteries, and I love working for them, so let’s hope for more!

CE: What would you like people to come away with after watching this movie?

CM: That’s a good question. First, I want them to have fun watching it, because there’s lots of comedy in it. I want them to feel warm, because there’s love and there’s growth within the characters through the story. I’d like for them to be entertained by the comedy, warm from the love, and also surprised by the mystery. Those are the three biggies that I would like people to take away.

CE: I know you’re in Vancouver now filming a show. What is it?

CM: It’s called “Game of Homes,” and I’m hosting it. It’s a really fun renovation/reality show where they’re taking four dilapidated houses off their foundations, and moving these four houses to a really cool downtown location. The contestants make up four teams, and they each end up, through a series of events, getting a specific house. Every week they renovate a new room of the house and the aspect of the house. And every week there is a new challenge with prizes. You can win a trip to Paris or a week cruise in the Caribbean. The ultimate goal, if you win, is that you win your house and a piece of land to put it on. It’s a fun show, because it’s reality show-esque: You get to vicariously live with them; they sleep and live in their houses, even though they are being renovated. The stakes are super-high.

Another other aspect about it that I really like is that I graduated with an engineering degree like 700 years ago, and my dream was always to go into a design firm with my best friend, who’s an architect. I was going to be the engineer, and he was going to be the architect. That was always my dream. And then I bailed on him and went in the entertainment world. But since that time, this is the closest gig I’ve ever had that involves design, construction, engineering, load-bearing walls, header beams — all that kind of stuff. For me it’s kind of coming close to my original dream of what I wanted to do with my life.

CE: Do you know when it airs, and when we’ll get to see it?

CM: It’s a Canadian production. Initially, it’s going to air in Canada. But I have a feeling it’s going to appear elsewhere; it’s just one of those shows. I’ll definitely let you know when I know what channel it’s going to be on in the States.

Q and A: Week of Oct. 1

Q: I know it won’t start back up until next year, but can you give me any scoop about “Hannibal”? — Linda F., Galveston, Texas

A: As we saw in the season-two finale, Gillian Anderson’s character, Dr. Bedelia du Maurier, was more than just Hannibal Lector’s psychologist — she’s his getaway buddy (possibly lover?). Executive producer Bryan Fuller confirmed that Gillian has been bumped up from a recurring character to series regular. He also teased that when the show returns in 2015, it will be one year after Hannibal and Bedelia jetted off to Europe (after the bloodbath that he caused at his house), and that the show will feel like “a pilot for a new series starring Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson.”

Bryan Fuller told “The cast and crew of ‘Hannibal’ are positively giddy to be welcoming Gillian to season three as a series regular. A striking presence on stage and screen, she brings wit, grace and intelligence to every role she embodies. Screenwriting is so much easier when you’re inspired by a great actor, and Gillian has filled the ‘Hannibal’ writers room with wonderful inspiration. I can’t wait for audiences to see her make a bigger meal out of ‘the Cannibal’ than ever before.”

Q: “Banshee” is my all-time favorite TV series that airs on Cinemax. I’ve watched seasons one and two several times, and have bought the DVDs for both seasons. Can you please tell me when season three will return? — John F., Palm Springs, Calif.

A: “Banshee” will return for a new season in early 2015. The series — which is executive-produced by one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Tropper, and one of my favorite screenwriters, Alan Ball — centers on Lucas Hood, an ex-con and master thief who tracks down Carrie Hopewell, his former lover and partner in crime, who is now the wife of the Banshee, Pa., prosecutor. Lucas becomes Banshee’s sheriff and continues his criminal activities, even though he’s being hunted by the criminals he betrayed years earlier.

A bit of a spoiler for you: Jonathan Tropper revealed that while Proctor still will be an important nemesis for Lucas, Chayton will be back in a big way. Also, Dennis O’Hare, whom I loved on “True Blood,” will guest-star on one episode.

Q: Will “Cougar Town” be back for another season? — Carly T., via email

A: The Cul-de-Sac Crew will return to TBS for its sixth and final season in early 2015. SPOILER ALERT: Brian Van Holt, who plays the hilariously dim-witted Bobby Cobb, will be leaving the series early, with his final appearance in the season-six opener.

Q: I was happy to read in your column that “Beauty and the Beast” would be returning, but I haven’t seen it on the CW’s fall schedule. — Tina R., via email

A: The cop drama/romance/fantasy series will return for a third season as a midseason show, which means sometime in early to spring 2015.

Q: I know you like to read, so I was wondering if you knew the answer to this. I heard that one of my favorite books is being made into a movie. It’s called “Veiled Threats” by Deborah Donnelly. Is that true? — Regina T., Akron, Ohio

A: It has indeed been made into a movie, now retitled “The Wedding Planner Mystery,” and it will premiere on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 9/8c. The show stars Erica Durance (“Smallville”), Brandon Beemer (“Days of Our Lives”) and Andrew Walker (“When Calls the Heart”). I spoke with Brandon recently, and he told me about working on the film and with Hallmark and with the lovely and talented Erica Durance.

“I’ve always heard that Hallmark was a great, great network to work for. They run a tight ship. They know exactly what they want, and they know exactly what they are doing. I read the script, and I thought it was pretty fun, and it was good. I also loved the fact that I’d be working in Vancouver. I’ve never been to Vancouver. I was very grateful. So I went to Vancouver and had one of the best times shooting a project that I’ve probably ever had. The people were so great. And Vancouver was so awesome.”

Q: I just got caught up on season one of HBO’s “True Detective,” and I wondered if you could give me any scoop about season two. — Kyle L., via email

A: I can tell you that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn have signed on to star in next season’s hit HBO series, which is rumored to be about the “bloody murder of a corrupt city businessman found dead the night before a major transportation deal.” It will involve three police officers from different cities working together. There is no casting news yet on who will play the third police officer, who is said to be a female character.

Q: Can you give me any info about the latest 007 movie? Is it still happening? — Paul T., via email

A: The 24th James Bond film is indeed happening, Paul, with actors Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris returning, along with director Sam Mendes. They start shooting in December, with an anticipated fall 2015 release date. Sam confirmed that the latest film with be the second of a two-part project, meaning it will be a continuation of “Skyfall.”

READERS: I have some exciting book-to-series news for you. Hulu announced that it has ordered a nine-hour series adaptation of Stephen King’s 2011 bestseller “11/22/63,” a thriller in which high-school English teacher Jake Epping travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The series is being developed by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions. Of this latest project, Stephen King said: “If I ever wrote a book that cries out for long-form, event-TV programming, ’11/22/63’ is it. I’m excited that it’s going to happen, and am looking forward to working with J.J. Abrams and the whole Bad Robot team.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interview: CCH Pounder of NCIS: New Orleans Lets the Good Times Roll in the Big Easy

Veteran actress CCH Pounder has starred or co-starred in practically every great American TV series since the 1980s, including “Cagney and Lacey,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Miami Vice,” “The X-Files,” “E.R.” “Sons of Anarchy” and many more. Not to mention the fact that she’s starred on the big screen in feature films like “Avatar,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “End of Days,” to name a few. Next up for this talented and versatile actress is playing Dr. Loretta Wade on “NCIS: New Orleans,” which has its series premiere tonight at 9/8c on CBS. The show also brings her back to co-starring with former “Quantum Leap” star Scott Bakula, who stars in the new “NCIS” spinoff.

Celebrity Extra: You have such a prolific acting resume that you’re bound to work with some of the same people more than once — back in 1990, you co-starred on an episode of “Quantum Leap,” and now you and Scott are both on “NCIS: New Orleans.”

CCH Pounder: Oh, we were babies back then! How fabulous. It was ironic that we remembered each other so very well over the years, so it’s really great.

CE: What’s also great is the fact that your series premieres right after the season premiere of the original “NCIS.”

CCH: We’ve got a very sweet time slot. Quite honestly, if it fails you’d probably just have to go in the bathroom and shoot yourself. Everybody loves “NCIS.” People want to see more of it. Ignoring all of that, the point is that you get to be an actor, and you are reading scripts all the time, and hopefully your talent will find the sweet spot for it. I’m working on my third episode, and so far I’m feeling pretty damn confident.

CE: One of the things that works so well for the original “NCIS” is the chemistry between everyone. How’s your cast coming together so far?

CCH: My and Scott’s chemistry from working together has fallen into place very, very quickly. And I am really tickled with Rob Kerkovich, who just joined the cast. He’s very funny; he’s like a big geek god for everybody. We’ve had really good chemistry as well — those are basically the two main people who I work with.

CE: Tell me about filming on location in the Big Easy.

CCH: I think it’s becoming sort of like the next big place to film, besides Toronto. I saw at least five or six other location guides scouting areas. Are we all playing up in the swamp this year?

CE: I haven’t visited New Orleans since before Hurricane Katrina. How is the city coming along?

CCH: Where I am is a slightly touristy area, so everything is exceedingly optimistic. There is construction everywhere; it’s like Beijing. They are building like crazy; they are knocking down like crazy; they are repurposing. I am in the Art District, and every warehouse is being turned into living spaces — it’s just surreal.

There are areas where you still see the houses with the quadrants and the marks on them. There are places where the houses have giant holes in the roof, and they are abandoned. And there are also neighborhoods where people just didn’t come back. There might be two or three people living on that block.

CE: While the show does follow the “NCIS” format, it is indeed its own show, with a different feel and attitude compared with its predecessor.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Q and A: Week of Sept. 18

CCH Pounder (photo by Geneva Morgan)
Q: Last season’s “NCIS” finale was a two-parter that featured Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder, which seemed like it was a setup for an “NCIS” spinoff. Is that going to happen? — Brenda S., Joppa, Md.

A: “NCIS: New Orleans” is definitely happening. In fact, it premieres on CBS Sept. 23 at 9/8c, right after the season 12 premiere of “NCIS.” The crime-procedural drama stars Scott Bakula, CCH Pounder, Lucas Black, Zoe McLellan, Rob Kerkovich and Paige Turco.

As the title would suggest, the series is set and filmed in the Big Easy, and while it follows the “NCIS” formula, the show definitely has a feel all its own. Series star CCH Pounder told me recently: “The pacing is definitely different. It’s a different kind of temperature and atmosphere, certainly, but also, the pace of it is not as uptight as it would be in, say, Washington. It covers a wide swath of the Southern belt from New Orleans up through Alabama. The framework is the same, but the people and the content will be quite different.”

But just because the people are different, it doesn’t mean that familiar faces won’t be showing up now and again. CCH explained: “Everyone wants to come to New Orleans. Joe Spano was here last week; Meredith Eaton was here; Michael Weatherly is here now. So the food and the ’laissez les bons temps rouler’ (’let the good times roll’) attitude have enticed a lot of them to come on down.”

Q: Now that Jennifer Esposito has reappeared on “Taxi Brooklyn,” why did she ever leave “Blue Bloods”? I thought that it was reported she was ill? — Tony via email

A: Back in 2012, Jennifer collapsed on the “Blue Bloods” set due to complications from celiac disease and missed a week of work. Her doctor advised her that she needed to cut back her work schedule. Rather than work around her schedule, CBS put her on an unpaid leave of absence (and even implied that her collapse was a stunt to get a raise), and refused to let her obtain limited work in the meantime. When her contract with the show expired, she was able to look for work elsewhere.

Jennifer currently is co-starring in the action-drama “Taxi Brooklyn,” which is based on Luc Besson’s feature film called “Taxi.” Luc is best known for “Leon: The Professional,” the “Taken” films, the “Transporter” series, “The Fifth Element” and much, much more. “Taxi Brooklyn” wrapped its first season on NBC Sept. 10; there is no word as of this writing of a second season.

Q: I love Bill Cosby’s comedy. Does he have plans to return to TV? — Robert M., via email

A: NBC announced at the Television Critics Association tour this summer that it was developing a comedy for Bill Cosby, which could premiere as early as summer 2015. The series is described as a “multi-camera, classic extended-family sitcom,” with Bill as the patriarch.

Q: On your suggestion, I started reading Breeana Puttroff’s “Dusk Gate Chronicles” series, and I couldn’t put them down. I tore through the entire series in two weeks. Will she be releasing any new books soon? — Mary Anne K., Allentown, Pa.

A: Breeana’s new book, which is slated to be released in late September or early October, is called “Rumplestiltskin’s Daughter.” As of now, it is planned to be a stand-alone book, not a series, but as Breeana told me, you never know.

“So far as I know it’s a single story. You know, my brain does strange things. I thought ‘Dusk Gate’ was done after ‘Blooms of Consequence,’ so I don’t know for sure. But probably if it did turn into a series, it would branch off from a few different characters. Like maybe a same world and same storyline, but focus on different people.”

So, what is her new book about? Breeana summed it up for me: “The story is basically a what-if retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. The idea behind it is that tales are told by the most powerful, so the stories that get passed down are from one point of view. And so ‘Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter’ is, what if Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a bad guy after all? In the real story, the heroes are not nice people. A king and queen get married because he forces her to spin gold for him, and yet Rumpelstiltskin is portrayed as the bad guy. So, my story is more an examination of that.”

Q: When will “Gone Girl” be released at the theater? Seems like I’ve been waiting forever! — Deanna R., via email

A: The long-awaited Ben Affleck-starring thriller — which is based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay — will be in theaters on Oct. 3. Save me a seat and some popcorn, because you can bet I’ll be there!

Q: We watched “Lone Survivor” last night on DVD, and the actor who played the new guy that they were giving a hard time looked familiar to me. What else has he been in? — Amelia D., via email

A: Alexander Ludwig, who played newbie Navy SEAL Shane Patton, is perhaps best known for playing Cato, the career tribute from District 2 in “The Hunger Games.” He’ll also play Bjorn (Ironside) Lothbrok — Ragnar and Lagertha’s now-grown son — in the upcoming season of the History channel’s “Vikings,” which likely will air in spring 2015.

Q: I can’t get enough “Outlander”! Please tell me it will be back for another season. — Eleanor W., The Villages, Fla.

A: I am thrilled to tell you that after its record-shattering opening weekend, Starz did indeed renew the time-traveling/fantasy/historical-drama/romance series for a second season. Early reports say that the second season will be at least 13 episodes (but I'm thinking it'll end up being at least 16, like this season), and it will be based on Diana Gabaldon’s second book in the “Outlander” series, “Dragonfly in Amber.”

Q: Like the rest of the world, I was shocked and heartbroken to hear about Robin Williams’ suicide. I know he was working on some movies before his death. Will any be released posthumously? — Kelli F., via email

A: The consummate funnyman with a heart as big as his funny bone left this world way too soon, as I’m sure we all can agree. He did leave behind four movies that have yet to be released: “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” “Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” “Boulevard” and “Absolutely Anything.”

Interview: Everything's Zen with Satisfaction's Tzi Ma

Tzi Ma as Satisfaction's Zen Master
The USA network’s nighttime drama “Satisfaction” has its first season finale tonight at 10/9c, and I had the chance to talk to series co-star Tzi Ma (“24,” “Rush Hour”) about the groundbreaking show. The series, which centers on Neil Truman, a 40-something family man who discovers he and his wife, Grace, aren’t as satisfied in their marriage as they thought they were. When Grace seeks her satisfaction in the arms of another man, Neil gets his own help by becoming a male escort (it’s a long story). He also seeks the advice of a wise and tell-it-like-it-is Zen master, played by Tzi (pronounced “tie”) Ma.

Celebrity Extra: You were working on “24: Live Another Day” when you got the call to come in to work for “Satisfaction.” How did you work that out?

Tzi Ma: It truly was a logistical nightmare. But thank goodness it all worked out, because I tell you, “Satisfaction” was on the brink of replacing me. I was supposed to be in Atlanta by the middle of May, and I was still in England (for “24”). I flew straight from London to Atlanta, and I was still on hold for “24,” just in case we needed to reshoot anything.

I had shot the first episode of “Satisfaction,” but by the time I was done with “24,” they were on the fifth episode. I went and did four episodes in a row. They waited for me. Sean Jablonski, the creator of the show, is so nice. He’s just so generous and so supportive and trusting. It worked out good. I’m so thankful that they waited.

CE: Tell me about the Zen Master.

TM: The one thing I liked about what Sean was, when we talked about the character, we didn’t want this guy to be your stereotypical Zen master who just sits quietly. We’re playing him as a pretty normal guy. And that’s what I appreciate. It’s hard to do these things. Once they say you are the Zen master, you can get stuck. It’s hard to break out of that controlled, stately idea of the character.

You’re supposed to be wise, and you’re supposed to be able to talk in metaphors, and everybody will just say, “Oh my God, this is so crazy and so wonderful.” That’s not how we approached this guy. We approached him as a true practitioner of Zen in that everything’s in the moment. He has no premeditated thoughts about why this guy is coming to him. That’s how we approached the relationship between Neil and the Zen Master. If it were just a regular Zen master, I may not have wanted to play the role.

CE: When you prepared for the role, how did you approach it?

TM: The one thing I asked from our directors was, “If there’s any time that you feel that I’m just reading a line, please let me know, because that’s what I don’t want.” We have wonderful writers on the show, so you don’t want to mess that up. They get paid the big bucks for a reason.

CE: We don’t get to see a lot of the Zen Master, but when we do, his scenes are always important. Will we get to see more of him?

TM: No, I’m never featured heavily. It wouldn’t work that way. It has to be that he’s the guy who comes in and transitions himself out. But there are some little twists in an upcoming episode where it comes out that he is not really using the “Zen” philosophy to talk to Neil about certain things.

CE: When the folks at “24” contacted you about returning to the series in the role of Cheng, what was your reaction?

TM: I was excited. (Writers) Evan (Katz) and Manny (Coto) called, and they talked to me about it. They said, “We’re thinking about doing this, but it’s going to be really intense. And we don’t want to tell you too much. We really want everyone to be surprised.” We didn’t know what the ending was going to be. But given what they told me, I really felt that this character was almost like a new character. The stakes were much higher because he had nobody to answer to, just like Jack Bauer. That parallel is very exciting.

CE: What was the reaction from “24” viewers concerning your return?

TM: The reaction has been great. The one thing about the fans that’s so cool is that they don’t come up to me and spit in my face, like: “Oh, I hate you! You’re against Jack Bauer!” It’s a love/hate relationship. It’s like: “I hate you. Can I take a picture?” I’m a character actor. I try not to be so visible out in public. To be recognized that way in such a consistent manner because of this show, it’s scary for a character actor. But the fans have been great. They’re writing stuff online like: “Oh my God, I can’t believe it! He’s back! Cheng is back!” I’m really enjoying it.

CE: What are your thoughts on Freddie Prinze Jr.’s statement that during his time on “24,” Kiefer Sutherland was unprofessional and difficult to work with?

TM: Look at what Kiefer’s done for “24.” He’s been in practically every scene, from beginning to end, for nine seasons. That should tell you something about this guy’s work ethic. I don’t know any actor who comes to the set more prepared than him. You can’t carry a show like this being an asshole. Everyone has his moments, even me. The fact is, he doesn’t compromise because he is trying to achieve excellence.

CE: Tell me about your new movie, “Million Dollar Arm.”

TM: It’s a simple movie about an American sports agent (played by Jon Hamm) who’s trying to revive his career because it’s going down the toilet. He wants to create a game show; it’s like “American Idol” but with baseball. He travels to India to find his athletes.

CE: You did a few episodes of “Nash Bridges” back in the day, with one of my favorite actors, Don Johnson. What was that experience like?

TM: I shot the 99th and 100th episodes of the show, so it was a big deal. Don is so generous. He took the entire cast and crew to Vegas for the shoot. We shot at the Mirage, the Bellagio — it was a ball. Don came straight up and said, “Brother, I’m so glad you’re on the show.” He’s another guy who’s really intense. Some people think he’s a diva, but he’s not. The guy is serious about what he’s doing. It’s a bum rap that guys like Don and Kiefer get in terms of being divas or being difficult. They’re not; they’re passionate and professional.