LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) On television and in life, actor Carlos Bernard is used to bouncing back. It has been a tough day so far for his character, CTU chief Tony Almeida, on the Tuesday-night FOX espionage drama, "24," which spends an entire season recounting a single day, hour by hour. Of course, they've all been tough days for Tony.

In season one, Tony sported an unfortunate patch of hair under his lower lip all season (hence, his Internet nickname of "Soul Patch"), the result of Bernard's failure to shave before filming the pilot episode.

It turns out that this fashion faux pas could have been much worse.

"You should have seen what they were going to dress me in for the first season," Bernard says. "Oh my God, it was cargo pants and a big, floppy flannel shirt. I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? I think you got the wrong character.'

"Sure enough, executive producer Joel Surnow walks in the room and goes, 'What the hell is that?' I said, 'Exactly.' That could have been disastrous. I'd have been dead within the first two episodes if I'd worn that."

And Almeida found out that his lover, CTU operative Nina (Sarah Clarke), was an evil mole.

"I was duped badly, totally, hook, line and sinker," Bernard says. "I knew nothing. That's a scene I want to see, Tony and Nina together again. I have a strong feeling she's coming back."

In season two, Tony spent a good portion of the day on crutches, a result of a dislocated ankle Bernard suffered while playing basketball. This led to what the actor considers his most embarrassing moment so far in the series, a scene he shot with Kiefer Sutherland (as the beleaguered Jack Bauer).

"The lame fight with Jack was actually going to be a cool scene," Bernard recalls. "They'd written it with us falling down stairs, just a knock-down, drag-out fight. Of course, two weeks before, I dislocated my ankle, so we turned it into, basically, he sneezes and I fall down."

Despite his bad experience with Nina, Tony pursued romance with another co-worker, CTU operative Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth).

"I don't think he's lucky in love," Bernard says. "That's the thing, he does make bad choices, but that's what I love about the show. People make mistakes constantly -- it's great.

"How boring would it be if we were always right? I love that part of it, because God knows, in real life ... I chose to play basketball last year, didn't I? It was not a wise decision."

As season three opened, Almeida and Michelle were married and trying to decide whether Tony should take a job in Washington, D.C. -- and what Michelle would do if he does.

"The marriage part is interesting," Bernard says. "The underlying theme of this season is, can these people have relationships that do these jobs? I think we're going to find that answer eventually."

After a field promotion to head of the Los Angeles-based CTU last season, Tony now is firmly ensconced in that position.

"My take with Tony always has been that it's not a job he ever wanted," Bernard says. "He never aspired to be running CTU, and it's been three years now that he's been running it. There's a part of him that doesn't want to be a desk jockey."

In episode three, which aired Nov. 11, Tony finally got to get outside, as he took off to help Jack catch a teen (Riley Smith) that is the unwitting carrier of a terrorist virus. Unfortunately, Tony's little field trip ended with him getting shot in the neck, and he spent all of episode four in surgery, with Michelle forced to take over at CTU in his absence.

"It's the amazing healing powers of '24,'" Bernard says. "We had a little talk about it when I read the third-episode script. Joel, when he originally told me about it, said, 'You'll probably be in the hospital for about five, 10 episodes. I was like, '10 episodes? Are you crazy?' He's like, 'Well, it's probably not 10.'

"It's a pretty quick healing process that I go through -- not so much healing as mending, get myself put back together so I can get back into action."

As long as Tony didn't die immediately, Bernard likes the idea of his character going through this trauma.

"The injury really adds to what's going on with him. Once I get out of the hospital, the combination of exhaustion, the injury wearing down on my mind, what's going on which I can't tell you pumps up the pressure on me a great deal, because of certain decisions that were made.

"So, there are all these great forces playing into the character. It was great, the whole getting-shot thing, because it just adds fuel to the fire. After all, Jack died and came back to life. If he can pull that off, Tony can get off a hospital bed. I'm telling you, it's the whole cast, not just Tony and Jack. We're the fastest-healing characters in television history."

Bernard also points out that, in the show's backstory, Tony and Michelle have been married for a while now -- so what about the pitter patter of little spy feet?

"We're still waiting to hear, 'Do we have any children, by the way?' Listen, I know these writers better than to assume anything. Sometimes I think these guys go into a room and say, 'What could never happen?' Then they try to make it happen.

"We were saying that next year, I'll probably be like the guy in 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' with no arms and legs, hopping around. It's a rough job, but somebody's got to do it.

"As long as you live, it's good."

By Kate O'Hare