Kiefer Sutherland’s Designated Survivor character Tom Kirkman goes through a seemingly unimaginable overnight transformation in the pilot, from low-level cabinet member to President of the United States after a catastrophic attack kills everyone above him in the government. And yet, the star and exec producer says what’s happening in the U.S. right now is far stranger than fiction. At the Mipcom TV market in Cannes this afternoon, Sutherland told a packed Palais audience, “This is certainly the most bizarre and unfortunate political election cycle I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime — and I still remember Watergate. It’s so negative, so polarizing and polarized. You can talk about the candidates all you want, but people are backing these candidates and the rigidity of it is alarming.”

Where art veers dramatically from the current state of real life is that in Designated Survivor, “We can have elements from left, right and center discussed factually, correctly, calmly, intelligently. There’s a great responsibility in that and we have a great opportunity to maybe add some elastic back to the political discourse in the U.S. If we can accomplish that, I will be very proud of our show.”

Sutherland says the hot new ABC series, from The Mark Gordon Company and ABC Studios, “has a really fresh point of view. The common sense is the foundation of the character… (Kirkman) can approach the country’s issues domestically and abroad with common sense and fairness as opposed to a political agenda that has been dictated by three years of campaigning.” It’s when Kirkman becomes more political that “he starts to make mistakes,” Sutherland said, adding, “That will be a constant thread throughout the show.”

The erstwhile 24 star said he found similarities between that series’ iconic Jack Bauer character and Kirkman. “Both have a desire to serve and both are willing to take on a fight they know they can’t possibly win. The through-line is something I really relate to. I would like to aspire to be one of those people.”

In fact, if Sutherland were able to revisit one of the characters from his past, he wouldn’t reach too far. “It would be Jack Bauer because I played him for so long… I’ll hold him very close to my heart so if there’s another way, one day down the line to visit that… But my primary focus is on Designated Survivor and I’m hoping we get to do it for a while.”

While 24 was the “greatest and most rewarding experience” for him as an actor and a person, it was “a lot of work,” Sutherland said. Being aware of the long days and time commitment, he wasn’t too keen to get back into series TV. But, he knew if he didn’t do Designated Survivor “for reasonable reasons, I would really regret it.”

He praised veteran producer Gordon as a “great editor.” With the pilot, “we shot an incredible amount of footage and he was so delicate with how he put it together. I can try a lot of different things and feel very confident that in an editorial phase, Mark will handle that in an incredibly smart way.”

The series, Sutherland explained, allows for more flexibility than he had on 24 where “the real-time aspect was the real star of the show, but also a problem. We would paint ourselves into a corner around episode 14 or 15 and we’d have to do something wonky and then make up for it.” Designated Survivor is “designed to never get caught in that position… If at one point the political storyline is having difficulty, then it can shift back to the family drama. The three storylines living inside the show at all times give the writers time to react.”

On why he first opted to move into television with 24, Sutherland laughed, “The reality is my film career was in real trouble.” Today, he said, there are so many film actors working in TV because “it’s the most exciting medium… When I started working, there were five studios in the U.S. and all were making 50 movies a year. Now there are barely three making 15. And if you’re going to do one of those movies, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be wearing tights and a cape. The movies I grew up loving aren’t getting made. That kind of storytelling has been absorbed by television.”

Sutherland took a stroll through some of his more enduring film roles saying Stand By Me was all down to Rob Reiner. “He told a story that was so close to his own heart and the innocence of youth was really important for him to tell.”

Of 1987’s The Lost Boys, Sutherland said the only thing he regrets is that he was so young when it happened. “I wasn’t aware that we were making something that was going to last as long as it has and be this iconic pop thing… That film will always surprise me. If I do a signing for something, that’s the one that someone will show me their calf and there’s a Lost Boys tattoo on it. I wish I’d been a little more mature and able to understand how cool it was to be a part of it.”