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Kiefer Sutherland says his "Designated Survivor" character is like Jack Bauer: "He manages to rise to the occasion"

ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg(NEW YORK) -- Last week, ABC's Designated Survivor returned for the back half of its first season, and the episode ended with Keifer Sutherland's President Kirkman about to learn about the conspiracy behind the bombing of the U.S. Capitol that nearly wiped out the entire government. According to Sutherland, tonight's episode takes things to the next level.

"For the first 10 episodes, there was a lot of investigation into the conspiracy...and now that's starting to play out," he tells ABC Radio. "The conspiracy is bigger than they had thought, and certain people are sacrificed as a result of that."

In Designated Survivor, Sutherland's Kirkman is the HUD secretary who becomes president because he's the highest-ranking government official left alive after the Capitol bombing. Kirkman struggles to adjust to his new position, but eventually earns the country's respect.  In that way, Sutherland says, Kirkman reminds him of the iconic character he played on 24.

"He manages to rise to the occasion," Sutherland tells ABC Radio about Kirkman. "When I first read the script, that was one of the things I liked most about the character: the idea that someone was gonna step into what seemingly was an unwinnable situation and takes it on.  Jack Bauer actually was a lot like that...I admire people and characters that can do that."

In addition to showing the inner workings of the government, Sutherland says he likes the fact that Designated Survivor tells the very human story of "a family that goes into the White House overnight." He also notes that the show "takes the ideology out of politics."

Says Sutherland, "We...examine issues -- everything from gun rights to foreign policy -- and really have an honest look about what is best for the country."   

Designated Survivor airs tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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