C.Thomas Howell on <EM>24</EM> C.Thomas Howell on 24

If C. Thomas Howell's recent MIA status frustrates those who've had to rely on the USA network to air such memorable '80s fare as The Outsiders, Red Dawn and Soul Man, fear not. The drought has ended. During tonight's two-hour 24 "event" (starting at 8 pm/ET), the former Greaser makes his first of a handful of appearances as Barry Landes, a therapist whose ties to Jack Bauer are, shall we say, "complicated." As a result of this casting coup, longtime fans can finally allow their obsession to continue into the 21st century.
As TVGuide.com uncovered in our interview with Howell, there's a lot more to him than what all those "Stay gold, Pony!" lobbyists would like us to believe. For starters, he is hip to the business in which he works. He is a hustler, one of those go-getters who's so ensconced in the game that he always manages to come out on top like, with a plum 24 gig. Another reason to want to enter Howell's digits on our speed dial? His brain is a memory card full of dish featuring famous actors. (Hint: Brangelina connection alert!)

To listen to Howell talk about 24 is to read Siddhartha spout off about Nirvana: The actor enjoyed himself that much. "24 is full of phenomenal actors and actresses, so to watch them was really motivating," he says of his six-week shoot. "It's so different from anything I've ever done  even in terms of how it is shot, because you are never off camera. At any moment, the cameraman will whip around. It's like being a part of a play."

The work of best bud and 24 terrorist-buster Kiefer Sutherland didn't go unnoticed, either. "It was amazing to see Kiefer because he will come on [set] and immediately know what works and what doesn't... and then make changes that are really powerful," praises Howell, who began his movie career as a bicycling pal of Elliott's in E.T.

It wasn't long after coming onboard Fox's action-packed thriller that Howell soon learned the intensity of its appeal and the devotion of its fans, even overseas. "In Japan, they love the show so much that it has become out of control!" he marvels. "They have multiplexes with 24 theaters, and each theater, depending on the time you go, will correspond to one episode. For example, if you buy a ticket for a 5 pm show, you will be able to watch that episode of 24 set during the hour of 5 to 6 pm."
Though this father of three can't divulge much about how his character Barry fits into 24's landscape TVGuide.com, however, hears that his shrink has at least one sort of relationship with Jack's daughter, Kim  we do know that Barry will pop up again in the March 13 episode, with the "possibility for more," he shares.

In the meantime, Howell is busy perfecting The C. Thomas Howell Show, which broadcasts every Sunday evening on Los Angeles' 97.1 Free FM. Thus far, the former teen heartthrob has managed to lure a stellar guest lineup, including Macy Gray, Eric Roberts and Lisa Loeb. But Howell's goal does not include reserving airtime for only those with the most Google hits. "I want to round it out more, so that actors aren't my only guests," he confesses. "I'd like to talk to athletes or perhaps even someone who's simply done well professionally. I just want to give people a place and a forum to come and share interesting radio."

But have no disillusions: Rush Limbaugh he's not.

"I'm not necessarily political or educational," Howell confesses. "But when I get people on and we make that connection as artist to artist, there's a certain guard that is knocked down because of my history in this business."

With two decades' worth of experience  including collaborations with everyone from Kelly Preston and Tom Cruise to Oscar winners Elizabeth Taylor and Francis Ford Coppola  Howell could easily cash in as the National Enquirer's No. 1 source. But he's too classy a guy for that; no, he will spill the beans if (and only if) there is a lesson to be learned. Case in point: Shooting the little-known flick That Night, he found out firsthand how a little rumbling off camera doesn't necessarily make for bad lovin' on camera.

"Juliette Lewis was cast opposite me, and at that time, she was very undisciplined and raw," he recalls. "She made it difficult because she was so ticked that I was her leading man and [she] would yell about everything. She was just not happy. She wanted her then-boyfriend, Brad Pitt [for the male lead], but Warner Bros. refused.

"Dumb move on the studio's part," he now laughs.

"I thought the movie was going to be ruined because this is supposed to be a love story and she didn't like me, and I was starting not to care for her, but you know what? The chemistry was there on screen! I don't know how it happened, but it did."

The lesson for Howell? "It's impossible to tell [how a film will turn out]. You can have the best time [filming], but it could turn out to be a piece of s---!"

And the lesson for the rest of the world? There is no respite from Brad Pitt. He is everywhere!