Julian Sands, <EM>24</EM> Julian Sands, 24

Here's what's odd about Julian Sands. You'll be having a perfectly lovely conversation about all the innocent people he's threatened to exterminate this season in his role as billionaire villain Vladimir Bierko on Fox's 24 (Mondays at 9 pm/ET), when suddenly the guy starts talking about taking his kids to the zoo!

What's next? Unleashing laughing gas on CTU?

But it turns out he's making a point about his character. "My children," Sands says in his highborn English accent, "often stare the longest at the creature in the reptile house that's the stillest. Bierko is that snake."

Bierko is indeed the quietest  and most slithery  of menaces. With his Savile Row suits and Russian oil money, you'd expect to find him nibbling Caspian caviar, not scheming to gas half of Los Angeles. And therein lies his dark magic. As Sands puts it, "He's not flamboyant or baroque. He's not Captain Hook or the Sheriff of Nottingham. He just sits there. That's what makes him attractive."

Actually, prior to last week's episode, Bierko was just lying there, unconscious, having been nearly blown to smithereens after Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) preemptively exploded Bierko's reserves of lethal nerve gas. But like all the best 24 bad guys, Bierko's destined to get badder as Day 5 rolls toward its cataclysmic close. He and Henderson (Peter Weller) will work together for the greater bad, though Sands hedges a bit when asked for specific plot details. All he'll say is, "Henderson's a procurer for Bierko's needs and Bierko's a mechanism to bring about Henderson's greater aim." And, of course, there was that mega-plot twist, one that exec producer Evan Katz promised will "knock your socks off," on April 10. ("Befuddled" and "overwhelmed" President Logan, apparently we hardly know ya.)

And in a season that's already had fans' heads spinning over the deaths of key players like Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and lovable Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi), there's no predicting what sort of endgame 24's producers are concocting. "We tend to let our villains emerge slowly, but when they show themselves, we keep increasing the stakes," Katz says. "By this part of the season, Jack's success starts to depend on defeating them  and that almost always requires face-to-face confrontation."

Sands is eager to oblige. Even as he earned a reputation in acclaimed heartthrob roles like the free-spirited suitor in Merchant Ivory's A Room with a View, Sands found himself drawn to the James Bond villains of his English boyhood. Says Sands, "I remember being enamored of the likes of Oddjob, or Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, who sat stroking the pussycat on his lap. They were exotic. And you wanted to grow up to be exactly like them."

But actually playing a villain has some unexpected side effects. "I've noticed people hovering a bit anxiously as I peruse the organic grocery section of my local Trader Joe's," he says. "But once they realize I'm no threat, I usually get smiles."