Long days Bernard fully admits he's amazed with his character's story arc last season, which took him from a disgraced, disgruntled and drunk former agent to a decisive man of action at the top of his game in just 24 hours. "You've got to suspend disbelief a little bit," he said. "The story arc, if you really want to chart every season, is pretty fantastic. For an actor, it is great fun because of the changes that happen within the character. Usually, on television, you don't get that kind of evolution." It takes about 10 months to film a season that unfolds over the course of a single day. While Bernard said he gets his share of nicks and bruises filming the action sequences, it was an off-camera injury in the second season that nearly sidelined the character for good. "I severely dislocated my ankle playing basketball over a Christmas break. The foot was pointing the wrong direction. The doctors had to insert a screw to hold my foot and ankle together." Bernard said he was concerned that the injury could easily be the end of Almeida. "I tried to concoct a story to make it seem less drastic. I just had a bag of bones at the leg and I was calling the producer saying I sort of sprained my ankle really bad. They ended up having to write the injury in for the rest of the season. Because I couldn't put weight on it for three months, I had to be on crutches. "Jack and Tony were supposed to film a fight scene the day after we got back from Christmas break, but it turned out that Kiefer had broken his knee cap and I had this, so they orchestrated this really lame fight where he ends up kicking me in the ankle and that's how they explained it on the show."

High school reunion Having faced some of the toughest bad guys on television, Bernard recently stepped up to the potentially grueling challenge of dealing with his own past by attending his 25-year New Trier East High School reunion in November. "I don't feel like I got the star treatment. There were definitely people who wanted to take pictures with me and get autographs for their kids, but it felt pretty normal. "I have about a dozen really close friends from school, and we see other every time I come back. The rest of the classmates, it was great to see people I hadn't seen in a long time." Bernard, a member of the varsity baseball team for four years, said he didn't do any theater in high school. "I was too chicken ... because the theater program there was pretty fantastic, and I was very intimidated by that," he said. Born Carlos Bernard Papierski, his childhood was spent painting, drawing and playing baseball in Evanston, Skokie and Mexico before the family, which had roots in Poland and Spain, moved to Wilmette. While attending Illinois State as an art major, Bernard appeared in a few stage productions. But it wasn't until after college, while working as an art director for a local magazine, that he accepted a dare by a colleague to audition for Second City and studied there for a year and a half. "I wasn't the greatest at the improv comedy, and shortly thereafter I applied for graduate school and went to the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco in 1988 for a graduate acting program in classical theater." When Bernard moved to Los Angeles in 1993, he found it difficult to find work and representation, so he decided to go with a more marquee-friendly name. "My agent thought Papierski was confusing the casting directors. And also my grandmother, on my Spanish side, had always called me Carlos Bernard, and so I went with that." Starting in 1995, he began to appear in small roles in television and straight-to-video movies, but his first big break occurred when he was hired for a recurring role of Rafael Delgado on "The Young and The Restless" in 1999. "The part was supposed to last a couple of days, and the next day they called my agent and offered me a three-year contract," he said. "Seeing as I was absolutely penniless at the time, I decided I might as well. Ten months into it, they wanted me to play the character as stereotypical dark, brooding Hispanic bad guy, and I just didn't want to do that. He was a Spanish painter, so they sent him back to Spain."

Later this year, Bernard will be seen as a heroic field hospital doctor involved with the president's daughter in the NBC miniseries "10.5 Apocalypse." The project also will features Kim Delaney, Dean Cain, Frank Langella and Beau Bridges as the president.

Pioneer Press