"When we last saw Tony Almeida, he was being carted off to the local nick for treason. But in Season 4 of 24 he's back, with some rougher edges and something to prove. Carlos Bernard explains further.

Ruggedly handsome actor Carlos Bernard has never faced terrorists or made the kind of life and death decisions his character Tony Almeida regularly makes on the suspense show 24, but as it turns out, all that covert work may be in his blood after all.

"My dad and my uncle were both in counter-intelligence, so I got a lot of info that way, reveals Bernard during a break on the series. "My uncle, who has since passed away, was actually on the ground floor of the CIA, but was in the OS, which led into the CIA. My father was in counter-intelligence but didn't go into the CIA. It let me know what that world was really like to work in, which really helped me when we shot the pilot, to help build the character."

Tony certainly received some hard knocks during his stay at the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), most notably at the end of season three when he was charged with treason after assisting terrorists who had kidnapped his wife Michelle. It was slammer time for Tony, then he came charging in like the cavalry to save Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his girlfriend Audrey Raines (Kim Raver) in the current, fourth, season.

"The producers were pretty up-front with me about what was happening with the changing cast," says Bernard about his return. "They always planned on bringing my character back, they just knew it would take a few episodes to work him in because of what happened last season."

But Tony isn't the same man he used to be. His fall from grace caused him to hit the bottle, and, when he became emotionally distant, Michelle divorced him.

"It made sense to me because this is a guy who had poured a lot of his life into protecting this country," says Bernard. "He was trained in the military, brought up working in the field and putting his life at risk. Then to have to face a decision like that which he knew was wrong, at least as far as his job goes, and then to be pardoned and get out of jail...Even though he knows he made the wrong decision, there is still bitterness in the fact that after all the work he has done for the country, he felt like everyone had turned on him. That resentment and bitterness can creep in on people. And then to have his wife still carrying on with her career while he can't get a job, that is not a great situation to be in and different people handle it in different ways."

Despite the spiraling situation, Tony couldn't refuse Jack's desperate call for help when Bauer was cornered by gunfire.

"Tony probably got involved to help Jack out, but at the same time feeling here's a chance to redeem himself, which I think has taken over," offers Bernard about his alter ego's motives. "As the day goes on, there are situations that arise which have him switching back and forth. He wants to redeem himself but he's trying to watch Jack's back. After all, he'd be rotting in jail if it weren't for him. " The two weren't always best buds, though. In fact, back in season one, they were frequently at each other's throats. "Well, the are both hot-headed and have a lot in common," explains Bernard. "They feel they know which is the right way. A lot of the time, males in that alpha male category do not get along. They butt heads. I was talking to a friend about the same thing. When I think back to when I was younger, my family moved around a lot, and every time I moved, I would get picked on and get into fights. Well, it's funny that once you are done with the fight part, you usually become good friends. There's some sort of respect or mutual admiration that goes along with it and a friendship springs out of it. Maybe that is what happened with Tony and Jack. "

Along the way Tony picked up some of Jack's rogue tactics, especially when he plotted to exchange terrorist Saunders's daughter for his own wife last year. "That all started in the second season really, maybe in the first season, " says Bernard. "He was younger in the job and you are right, he was military trained by the book, and felt this is the way this job should be done. He's learned over time that sometimes, to do your job well, you have to break rules. And he's definitely learned that from Jack. In season two he started breaking them, and in season three you know where he wound up."

This year Tony has once more proven to be an invaluable asset by pitching in at CTU and even temporarily heading the organization. However, things are never that simple. Michelle, his ex, was also called in, and to make matters worse, she was promoted to be his boss. The tension between the former couple keeps escalating, so it is no surprise that Bernard isn't even sure he'd like them to kiss and make up. "You know what? I personally don't have a preference if they reconcile or not," offers Bernard. "What is more important is that they run smack into each other, that they have to deal with each other. As an actor, that makes for interesting scenes to play, that with their history they have to work with each other. What comes out of that, we'll see."

However, Bernard states that one thing he would prefer is to get out from behind the desk and become more involved in kicking some terrorist butt. "It is funny the way Tony's field time gets parceled out," he reflects. "I used to feel I'd like more field time, but what is interesting is, the way the writers have built the story towards Tony and Jack is they sort of build our own storylines and then throw us together for a while, then pull us apart and continue what is going on in their own worlds, and then throw us back together again. If Tony and Jack were out in the field all the time, it wouldn't be as interesting."

At the time of this interview, Bernard is on set shooting the 22nd episode, so what can devoted 24 fans expect from Tony? "I can't tell you that but it does involve Jack and getting into the field," says Bernard. That's not much of a spoiler, but even those close to Bernard have quit digging for that kind of information.

"My wife doesn't want to know anything about it," he chuckles. "She read the scripts the first year and it ruined it for her, so she doesn't want to know anything. Same with friends and family. Even my publicist doesn't want to know anything, and that is rare because usually those people in the business are a little jaded and beyond caring about the show itself but my agents and publicists all love 24. I have to sort of conduct business without letting them know why we can do certain things and not others."

In a final attempt to get Bernard to spill something, he's asked if he will be popping up in season five, but it's possible even torture wouldn't break his vow of silence.

"I don't know," he says. "I can't tell you that. It all depends with what happens at the end of this year, don't you think? That was a good try though. I can appreciate that."

Changing gears, the conversation quickly turned to People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, a list Bernard graced in 2003.

"It was pretty strange but they've kicked me off that list since then," he jokes. "I was booted last year. I got more grief from it than you'll ever know! From friends, family, producers, you name it. They love to give me sh1t whenever they can because usually that is what I'm doing to them."

24 is one intense series and no one could ever claim their day was nearly as bad as Jack's, but Bernard wraps up by thinking back to a recent event where everything seemed to go wrong for him.

"I'd say the last time I had to renew my license," chuckles Bernard. "I had to go to the DMV. Ever been to the DMV in California? Oh my God! It's such an affair! And then after I got it, I lost my fricking license within a couple of days. Now I am walking around with my expired license because I don't have the energy to go back."

Bryan Cairns"