Gregory Itzin, <EM>24</EM> Gregory Itzin, 24

At the beginning of this wild season of Fox's 24 (Mondays at 9 pm/ET), the producers graciously asked Gregory Itzin what he'd like to see happen with his character, President Charles Logan.

"I said, 'I'd like to be the hero,'" Itzin says. "I'd like Logan to turn out to be the guy in the big white hat."

So much for the opinion of actors. With only a handful of episodes left in Day 5, Logan has emerged as the dark force behind a White House scandal that makes Watergate look like a couple of parking tickets. Contrary to everyone's perception, Logan's not the bumbling, indecisive half-wit-in-chief but rather the man who masterminded the plot to steal Sentox nerve gas and assassinate David Palmer. The president has ties to shadow people in the government like Walt Cummings, who wasn't a suicide after all and even the Russian terrorists are in Logan's pocket.

From a show standpoint, it's a series high point after a season of staggering twists and surprises. As coexecutive producer Evan Katz says, "I don't think anything like this has ever happened on TV. We've taken the most important person in the world  the president of the United States  and revealed him as a true villain."

But good television sometimes takes its toll on television performers. Itzin, a veteran Tony-nominated character actor whose TV credits stretch back to Mork & Mindy, admits he was devastated by the plot development. "I got very depressed for a while," he says. "As an actor, you want to be loved or liked, and when the guy you're playing suddenly turns evil, you feel marginalized. It sounds silly to verbalize, but you start thinking, 'What happens if Jack Bauer, America's avenging angel, doesn't like me anymore?'"

It doesn't help that Itzin, who's married to Judie, an artist, and has a son and daughter, spends his downtime with his good friend Dennis Haysbert, the 24 president fans adored. "Dennis and I go golfing a lot," Itzin says, "and they'll say, 'Oh, President Palmer! I can't believe they killed you.' Then they turn around and see me. The looks on their faces, it's a curtain of hatred. They'll turn to Dennis and say, 'That's the bad president.' It hurts."

If TV Guide's intelligence on the rest of Season 5 is accurate, Itzin should probably consider hiding out in a bunker somewhere. "I think we're looking at an inevitable face-off between Jack and the president, good versus evil," Katz says. "24's never seen a showdown like this one."

Itzin is just trying to get his head around it all. On the 24 set, there's a fan phone  (310) 597-3781  that gives lucky viewers occasional chances to chat with the show's stars. "When I talk to fans, I get that they love to hate the president, and that's fine," Itzin says. "I think the challenge in this role is to be very good in making him very bad, and perhaps out of that, something good will come."