Jones says the two are still close and she would have thanked Paulson, but she was determined to dedicate the evening to her parents.

“My mother and my father both started a steeper decline right around the time 24 started for me,” says Jones, whose small-screen job allows her to make lengthy visits to her hometown of Paris, Tenn. “I’ve done eight shows a week pretty much every week of my life. I was always working. I couldn’t go to funerals, weddings; I never had time to go out to dinner with friends,” she says.

In addition to caring for her father, a former florist, and her mother, a retired English teacher, Jones has been using her celebrity to raise money for the town, which has been hit hard by the recession. “My sister, Susan, and I concocted this town hall meeting day with President Taylor. The whole time I was on the set of 24—I won’t say [I took] anything that wasn’t nailed down, but…” Jones admits she would gather memorabilia whenever she could. “During the firefight when Jack Bauer threw the president into the White House safe room, his bullet shells were all over the floor,” she recalls. “Between takes I would surreptitiously kneel down, pick them up, and stuff them in between the cushions of the couch where I was sitting.” In one day, Jones says, they raised $24,000 for five community organizations.

“I joke that coming to Hollywood as a middle-aged lesbian, the pressure is off,” says Jones, who feels free of the need to look a certain way or take certain parts. “You get to be who you are.” Jones is enjoying being exactly who she is. No doubt.

Tags: television