Penny Johnson Jerald

updated 05/26/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/2003 01:00AM

Popular vote: For her role as Sherry Palmer, scheming ex-wife of the President on the hit FOX series 24, Penny Johnson Jerald has won raves from critics and constituents alike. "People will come up to me," says Johnson Jerald, 43, "and say, 'Oh, you are so bad! You're evil!' "

Heated debate: As a teenager growing up in Baltimore, Johnson Jerald fostered her interest in performing by joining a neighborhood circus, where she learned to juggle, mime and eat fire. "I did burn myself," she admits.

Women's caucus: The Julliard-trained actress will next portray National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in an upcoming Showtime movie about the events of 9/11. Says Johnson Jerald: "She's the only woman in the room, and I love it."

Faith-based initiative: Johnson Jerald met her musician husband of 20 years, Gralin Jerald, 52, at an L.A. church. "He came to church looking for women," she says, "and he got one." The two live in L.A. with their daughter Danyel, 20, and nephew Devon, 22. Even her family isn't privy to show secrets. Says Jerald: "She's as hard as a rock when it comes to that. She'll say, 'No, you gotta watch.' "

Domestic policy: How does she prep for those fiery scenes with Dennis Haysbert (David Palmer)? "She'll flirt," says Haysbert. "She'll try to butter me up so I don't come down on her too hard, but I just look at her and say, 'It's not gonna work.' "

Term limits: "I want to do it now," Johnson Jerald says of the recent urge to have twins. "I gotta stop at some point because I'm just going to be too old. My daughter said, 'Please, wait until I move out,' and I said, 'Are you kidding? I'm going to need your help!' "

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