The actress on what it’s like to play part of the Petrelli family on Heroes, and the wife of 24’s evil Graem, all at the same time.
Rena Sofer is a very familiar face on television, having worked consistently for more than a decade. The beautiful actress first gained fame on the soap opera General Hospital, while Saved by the Bell fans might also remember her as Zach Morris’s love interest in Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style. In the years since, she’s had roles on Melrose Place, Ed and Just Shoot Me, along with some short-lived series like Coupling and Blind Justice.. However, “short-lived” is hardly the term attached to the hit series 24, nor to Heroes, an out of the gate hit, which has already been renewed for a second season. And Rena Sofer is now a part of both of them, playing a member of an integral family from each series: The Bauers and the Petrellis.
On Heroes, Sofer portrays Heidi Petrelli, the injured wife of Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) and sister-in-law to Peter (Milo Ventimiglia). And on 24, Sofer has just been introduced as Marilyn Bauer, wife of Graem Bauer (Paul McCrane), and the sister-in-law of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). At the TCA (Television Critics Association) Press Tour, I had the opportunity to speak to Sofer for an exclusive chat with IGN. It was just two days before Sofer’s first episode of 24 was set to air last week, and the actress had to be tight lipped about the full nature of her secretive role, including her soon to be revealed familial (and romantic?) connection to Jack Bauer.
What’s especially notable about Sofer’s ongoing roles on both Heroes and 24 is that not only are the two shows filming concurrently, but they actually air in the same time slot, in a rather notable network showdown this season between two popular serialized dramas. Sofer spoke about the unique situation of being her own competition.
IGN TV: So what’s it like to be on two of the hottest shows on television… and they’re up against each other?
Rena Sofer: It’s so frickin’ cool! You know, everybody asks, “How do you do it?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m recurring on both shows, so the reality is, I can do both shows.” And that’s the best position to be in. And Heroes just asked me to come back and do more. So once I stop airing on 24 for a little while, I’ll be on Heroes, and then I’ll be back on 24. It’s gonna be awesome.
IGN TV: Do you think they’ll be a night when you’re actually on against yourself?
Sofer: Oh, wouldn’t that be fun? I don’t know how ahead Heroes is [from what’s being aired], but I know 24 is really ahead. I don’t really know the schedule, so I don’t know.
IGN TV: What can you tell us about your character on 24?
Sofer: Her name is Marilyn. And she has a connection with Jack.
IGN TV: In some of the promos for season six, it looks like there is a romantic moment between you and Mr. Bauer.
Sofer: All I can say is… I love working with Kiefer Sutherland!
IGN TV: We know you’re married to Paul McCrane’s character, Graem. Is Marilyn aware of his criminal activities?
Sofer: At this point in the show, I do not believe I am.
IGN TV: What’s it like working on 24?
Sofer: It’s intense. I mean Kiefer’s intense, and the show moves so fast, and you shoot so fast. But at the same time, everybody’s so relaxed and laid back. They love each other! This whole crew loves each other. And when you come in, there’s none of that, “This is our show. You’re a guest. We don’t even need to know your name.” They have so many guest stars, that you’re so immediately welcomed into their fold. Because you don’t know… You could be there for years! So it’s just an unbelievable show. It’s an unbelievable experience. And I’ve done things on that show that in 20 years of being an actress, I have never done in my career.
IGN TV: Emotional things, physical things, or both?
IGN TV: They do some pretty big action and stunt scenes on that show.
Sofer: Oh my god. It’s so much fun.
IGN TV: Does it tap into those fantasies we all have of being an action hero?
Sofer: Yes! And you get to be one, and it’s like, “Woo! My god!” Oh my god, yes. There was one particular day where I remember I was just praying that they were gonna call action, because the fumes I was smelling… And knowing what was gonna happen, I was like, “Please, yell action! I must run now!” So much fun.
IGN TV: They brought us to the 24 set the other day, and it was probably the most geeking out I’d seen a large group of press do.
Sofer: Isn’t that set unbelievable?
IGN TV: It’s great. [24 Executive Producer] Jon Cassar gave us a tour, and he seemed like such a genuine fan of the show himself.
Sofer: He is. And he would get so mad at me when I was doing Heroes. He’s like, “I want you for this show! You can’t go over and do that show!” And I’m like, “Dude, fight over me!” [Laughs]
IGN TV: At the Heroes TCA panel the other day, Leonard Roberts [D.L.] was saying how he’d talked to the 24 producers, and they were saying, “Why do you have to be against us?”
Sofer: I think 24 is a more mature audience, whereas Heroes is a little bit younger. But I have to say, neither one is child friendly. My daughter doesn’t get to watch either show!
IGN TV: When you were cast on Heroes, had it premiered yet?
Sofer: No, it was just like, “Oh, Heroes. Okay, sure! I don’t know, whatever.” And then it was just like, “I’m on Heroes! Alright!” And then 24 calls, and I’m like, “Alright!”
IGN TV: What was it like then, when by the time your first episode of Heroes aired, it was this big new sensation?
Sofer: I get recognized more for Heroes… Almost as much as General Hospital, which I did ten years ago. And people are like, “I love your show!” And after [debuting on 24] Monday, I have to start saying, “Which one?” Because they’re both such huge shows, I’ll never know who’s talking about what.
IGN TV: Greg Grunberg has said that even though people knew him from Felicity and Alias, he’s recognized more than ever for Heroes.
Sofer: I said to Greg, “Jesus Christ dude, I want to be you! You’ve hit the lottery three times!”
IGN TV: What’s it like going from one job, where you’re running around in action scenes, to another where you’re in a wheel chair, giving a very different performance?
Sofer: It’s so fun. It’s so different.
IGN TV: We’ve seen you twice on Heroes. Have you filmed any more since?
Sofer: I just got booked for three more.
IGN TV: How is it being part of the Petrelli family?
Sofer: I love Adrian so much. And this is the second show I’ve done with Milo. I did a show with Milo where I played his school counselor. And he has this fantasy about me, and we kiss in this fantasy. And now I’m playing his sister-in-law! I’m just like, “Oh my god!” I am the biggest fan of his and of Adrian. I’m so excited to be working with these people, because they are… You know, it’s great when you work with actors who appreciate the fact that they’ve got a good show. And they don’t let that come into play. They don’t let the star stuff come into play. And they treat it like a job, and they respect the people who come on. Because they know that all helps their show. It’s amazing.
IGN TV: A lot of actors have had your situation before, where you’ve been on shows that, for whatever reason, didn’t click with the audience. But this year, you’re now on two big shows. Is it just one of those things that you look at as being part of the life of an actor, where you’re going to have these turnarounds?
Sofer: You know what? I’ve been very lucky as an actor. I have worked all the time. Some shows I do, they get cancelled. Some, they’re critically acclaimed, and then they get cancelled. And some, I’m in the last season of this or that. But I can’t complain about my career. I’m one of those few actresses who works all the time, and even though I haven’t done a show that literally puts me on some kind of map — as in, that’s how I’m known and that’s how I’ll always be known — I’m very lucky.
IGN TV: How many episodes of 24 can we expect to see you on?
Sofer: You’re definitely going to see me on eight for now, and then, who knows?
IGN TV: Do you know what episode you’ll return to Heroes?
Sofer: I don’t know which number [episode].
IGN TV: But you’re going to be shooting soon?
Sofer: Yes! I will.
by Eric Goldman
January 30, 2007