By Kurt Anthony Krug
Penny Johnson Jerald is the first to admit that she's a workaholic; in addition to being a series regular on the ABC detective drama "Castle," she's attending law school.
"I finished a paralegal program to challenge my daughter (Danyel) a couple of years ago," said Jerald, 50, of Los Angeles. "Then after suffering a concussion in early 2011, I thought I needed a form of exercise for my brain... Voila! Why not law school? I've always had a love and respect for the law. My services will be greatly needed. And I love helping people. I've been helping friends and family already with just... six months of law school knowledge."
Jerald wouldn't reveal where she's attending law school in order to keep a low profile. Upon graduation in August 2015, she'll probably go into family law.
"She's crazy! She's working on a law degree in the midst of everything else she's doing in her life -- that's pretty awesome! I don't know how she juggles everything," said her "Castle" co-star Seamus Dever, a Flint native.
This begs the question: Will she leave acting for law?
"Acting will have to divorce me first," replied the Julliard School alumna. "I'll hang on until they wheel me away."
Jerald began her career with small guest-starring roles before landing more recognizable parts in the 1990s -- Beverly Barnes, the titular character's unflappable personal assistant on "The Larry Sanders Show;" and Capt. Kasidy Yates, love interest of Capt. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
In 2001, Jerald received high praise as Sherry Palmer on "24," TV's longest-running espionage thriller series. Co-created by Detroit native Joel Surnow, "24" chronicled the adventures of secret agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who raced against the clock to foil catastrophic terrorist plots. Each season occurred within a day's time with each episode representing one hour of that day.
"Sherry was all woman," said Jerald. "She displayed power, intelligence, embodied a certain sex appeal and -- ultimately -- will go down in history as helping to set the stage for the Obamas."
In the first season, Sherry's political aspirations surpassed those of her husband, Sen. David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), who makes a play for the White House. In order to protect her husband's candidacy and secure his presidency, she is willing to go so far as to commit treason. In the third season, Sherry is murdered.
"It was one of the easiest characters that I've ever embodied. I was married and a mother of a young adult. My husband and I were busy producing plays and music that depicted how people of color have had to work 10 times as hard to make it. And '24' was a platform to reveal that we are just as good. I had something to say and the passion to say it," recalled Jerald.
Another claim to fame is portraying former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice -- not once but twice -- in the 2003 tele-fim "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis" and the 2006 mini-series "The Path to 9/11," both of which dramatize the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I read every article and watched footage after footage of Ms. Rice. But once my front teeth were painted to give the appearance of a gap... I was Condoleeza Rice. End of story," she said.
Despite her convincing portrayal of Rice, Jerald never met her. She had an opportunity around 2003 but a hectic schedule prevented that.
"There was an initial attempt to attend a breakfast that was hosted at the White House during that time, but there was no way to be in L.A. to finish '24,' fly to Toronto to shoot ('DC 9/11'), and catch a shuttle to (Washington D.C.) for the breakfast," explained Jerald. "I never had the pleasure, but was told by a close friend of hers that she would be proud of my portrayal."
Since "24," Jerald has had recurring roles and made guest appearances on "Eve," "The 4400," "Law & Order," "October Road," "NCIS," and "Bones."
This season, she joined the cast of "Castle" as Capt. Victoria Gates, a.k.a. "Iron Gates." She replaced Wayne State University alumnus Ruben Santiago-Hudson's Capt. Roy Montgomery, who died in last year's third season finale.
"I never believed that I was replacing Ruben. Obviously, you can't replace a fine actor like him," said Jerald. "In my head, I had to treat it as though I was there to bring something altogether new (to 'Castle') -- no comparison. The real challenge was learning the rhythm of the show."
Jerald gave her reason for taking the part on "Castle," which is about a mystery-thriller novelist named Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), who works with the New York Police Department on homicide cases as research for his character Nikki Heat, who's based on Det. Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Thanks to his unique insights, Castle has helped solve many cases.
"It was time to do something that the whole world could watch with their entire families. It has romance, drama, family relationships, criminal procedure; 'Castle' has everything the doctor ordered," she said.
Earlier in the third season of "Castle," Jerald stated there was a possibility of playing a former love interest of Montgomery. However, that never happened.
"But now I know why," she said. "God knew I'd be the next captain."
Gates -- who comes from Internal Affairs, and whose father and uncle were police officers -- is much more hardnosed and by-the-book than Montgomery. Further, unlike her predecessor, she takes a dim view to Castle. Jerald described her character's relationship with Castle as "special. I believe she is going to fight hard not to like him."
Unlike Gates' contentious relationship with Castle and other characters, Jerald's relationship with her co-stars is anything but.
Jerald had to think about who'd win in a fight between Sherry Palmer and Capt. Gates.
"Let's see... If the two were in a boxing ring, Gates would have the advantage of knocking Sherry around due to skill. But Sherry would probably beat her down because she's just plain ruthless," she postulated.
Though she has played many memorable characters throughout her career, Jerald really has no desire to reprise any of those roles.
"I like to believe that I've given it my all when I had the privilege," she said.
Published: Mon, Feb 27, 2012