ahhh...high school reunions. A scary time for some; an ego trip for others; but mostly a chance to see who actually recognizes you. For Carlos Bernard, who will be attending his reunion soon at New Trier High School in Chicago, this likely won’t be an issue. Bernard is a star on possibly one of the most addicting shows to ever hit television. For those who own the DVDs, it’s often more difficult to watch just one episode of 24 than give into the temptation of continuing on to the next. In the spirit of the fast-paced spy show, which plays out critical national security events over a period of 24 hours, when Bernard landed the role of Tony Almeida on 24, his life also changed “overnight.” Far from Los Angeles or even his childhood playground of Chicago, Bernard recently found himself at a department store in Tokyo. He traveled there on a press tour promoting the show, which is very popular in Japan. And everytime Bernard would exit one department and enter other, an employee would politely approach him, say, “Hello, Mr. Tony,” and bow. Indeed, Bernard certainly has a recognizable face. But he’ll be the first to tell you that before his appearance on the show, “no one knew who the heck I was.” Like the rest of the cast of 24, Bernard was an actor but never hit anything nearly as big as his current role. Yet he was determined to remain positive, even after being fired from the soap opera The Young and the Restless. And unlike many other actors in this city who are often hesitant to tell people what they really want to do because their own self image is as cliché as most of the movies released, Bernard says, “I love actors and respect them. I am very proud to be one.” However, this wasn’t always his mindset. New Trier High School has a wonderful drama program. “I remember seeing a play and being completely intimidated,” recalls Bernard, adding that seeing is all he did. Even though the thought of acting excited Bernard, he never participated in high school drama. Having been raised by loving parents who only wanted him to have a nice, normal life in the Chicago suburbs with a full-time job, he “never wanted to fess up to anyone that I wanted to be an actor because I’d be afraid they would talk me out of it.” Instead, Bernard played sports, was an art major at Illinois State college, and became an art director for a magazine once he graduated. Nevertheless, his dream of performing never faded, especially after having been given a small taste of stage work in college. “I would walk into a theater thinking one way and I would leave changed,” says Bernard, using the play Our Town as an example. “After seeing it, you walk out wanting to seize the day. The small things in life become a lot more precious to you.” Bernard finally did give into his temptations after a friend dared him to try out for the renowned Second City comedy club which launched the careers of such comics as John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner. Getting into the comedy club and preparing himself to pursue the life of a thespian wasn’t the difficult part for Bernard—it was breaking the news to his mother afterward. “I told my mom I was quitting the magazine job, going to work freelance, pursue acting, and move out,” Bernard says with a smile, remember the expression on her face. “She called me crazy over and over again in a million different Spanish ways.” With his mother’s two cents behind him, Bernard proceeded to complete his education with Second City, earn a master’s of fine arts degree from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and finally arrive in Los Angeles to find an agent and get work—a task that didn’t prove to be too easy. Like most other actors—successful or not—Bernard has had his share of discouraging moments. Perhaps his lowest moment was finding himself going to temp agencies at the age of 36, broke, after losing his job with The Young and the Restless. After four months of not working, he finally got a job in graphics design which he began working on the day of New Year’s Eve. As to his state of mind—let’s just say the relevance of being recognized by his high school class let alone people across the world wasn’t exactly being contemplated. With that said, Bernard not only looks at his past, but also toward the future with the same positive attitude he had when he first moved to Los Angeles. “People try to take down your self-esteem all the time,” he says. “The point is that none of it matters. It has no bearing on anything. The difficultly, the adversity, and the ‘no’s’ are part of the fun.” As for now, Bernard just feels fortunate to have a job he loves and can go to every day. Someday he would love the opportunity to work with actors such as Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, and George Clooney. Coming from an actor who hasn’t been killed off a show like 24 after five seasons, he must be doing something right. But wherever his career takes him, Bernard takes comfort in knowing he will always have the love and support of his actress wife, Sharisse Baker-Bernard, and their two-year-old baby daughter. Oh, and we can’t forget Bernard’s mother. Somehow she has managed to come to grips with his career. “She loves the show 24,” says Bernard with a smile. “She’s my Chicago publicist.”

David Krissman