BY GAIL SHISTER
He's a sniveling traitor; his brother is a crusader against evil, and his father is a shady arms dealer who smothers him.
For Paul McCrane, life on "24" was never easy. Then, in the season's biggest shocker, he died.
Fans of Fox's hit thriller reached for oxygen masks last Monday when James Cromwell's Phillip Bauer suddenly strangled his evil spawn, Graem.
McCrane, however, expected to die.
"I knew I'd only be on for a couple of episodes, so I assumed he'd be killed," he says. "On that show, if you're only on for a short time, you're probably going to die."
McCrane, 46, a Philadelphia native, debuted last season as the mysterious puppetmaster behind President Logan (Gregory Itzin).
When "24" returned last month for its sixth season, Graem's identity as the treacherous brother of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was revealed.
Too weird? Hey, it's "24."
When McCrane read the script, "it seemed patently absurd, at first. Then I thought it was a riot. Because the show has established this roller-coaster, adrenaline-rush, twist-and-turn genre, anything goes."
Howard Gordon, a "24" executive producer, came up with the Cain-and-Abel storyline.
"I told the writers, 'This is probably a crazy, terrible idea, but what if Jack's brother is Paul McCrane?' It was preposterous, but almost instantly, we all decided it was too good to resist."
Equally hard to resist was the Shakespeare-meets-Bible idea of Graem dying by his father's hand. Other options were discussed -- Graem escapes; Graem kills his father -- but in the end, it was unanimous that Graem had to go.
"We weren't quite sure how he'd go, but we knew it would have to be in a pretty spectacular fashion," Gordon, 45, says.
"We felt it would describe, in some way, why Jack is Jack. He comes from a family of betrayal, avarice, misguided hubris."
To McCrane, it was business as usual. He's practically made a career of strange, gruesome demises.
On "ER," as imperious Dr. Romano, his arm was severed by a helicopter blade. In a play in high school, his character was decapitated. In the 1988 remake of "The Blob," his Deputy Bill Briggs was pulled through a door. Backwards.
"It seems to be something I specialize in," McCrane says with a laugh. "I don't know what I did in a previous life, karmically, but it can't be too bad because the stuff isn't happening in real life."
With his boyish looks, McCrane began his career playing soft-spoken sensitive types. After his success as a lovelorn gay student in 1980's "Fame," he had had enough.
"I was cast as every sort of fragile character there was. At some point in my 20s, I said I wanted to go up for bad guys. My representatives thought I was out of my mind. Then I got fairly successful doing bad guys."
"In the pantheon of '24' bad guys, he's one of the greats, and that's saying something. He's in good company. I actually still think of him as the kid from 'Fame.'"
The kid from "Fame" has a wife (jewelry designer Dana Kellin), a young son and a daughter, and he's making a name for himself as a director. He's done episodes of "ER," "Jericho," "Without a Trace," and "House," among others.
In fact, it was a directing job that necessitated a shortened gig on "24" this season, according to Gordon. "It was a happy accident that our situation and his availability coincided."
On another "24" note, Gordon says we haven't seen the last of ex-President Logan, presumably pacing in a prison cell.
"He'll figure into this season in a very interesting and great way. We need him. President Palmer (D.B. Woodside) needs him, and Jack needs him to help stop something very bad from happening."
Back to McCrane, Gordon says there's something about Philadelphians that makes them great at being bad.
"They've got guts. Only someone from Philly could stand up to Jack Bauer."
An LJ cut for those who want to remain spoiler free :)