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24 - Season Three - Dennis Haysbert Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

International Press Junket 2004 - 24; Interview with Dennis Haysbert

Q. Three years is a long time on 24, which has a propensity to kill people off. What do you think the President’s life expectancy is on the show 24?
A.
You know what, I don’t know. That’s the honest truth. I don’t think the writers and producers know. That’s become the beauty of the show, that no one knows who’s going to die when. I really think it really does extend to Kiefer now, as well. I mean, we really don’t know how much more this man can take. So, I don’t know. Pretty long-winded answer for I don’t know, but that’s it.

Q. How significant for you is it for you that they decided to choose an African-American for a President in this series?
A:
I think it’s significant on a number of levels. One, it gives me a sustained job. [laughs] Two, I really believe that it’s changing the way people think around the world. Especially in light of all the things that are happening. Specifically 9/11. It has become important to everyone in the world that it’s not a matter of what colour a person’s skin is. What matters is how much integrity that person has, how much dignity that person has.
I think it’s going to work out a great deal for our country this year. Not so much in the colour of the candidates that are out there right now, but in their points of view.
I would love to be able to guarantee that Bush won’t be in there next year. Hopefully, that’ll come to pass, and hopefully we’ll have someone in there that has the people’s interests at heart. And I hope that’s true for all the countries that you represent.
I don’t know whether you’re happy with your leaders or not. I hope the show is changing the way the people think in your country as well. I just got back from South America, where we have, what, 60 per cent of the audience there? Rio de Janeiro. I was really happy to see how I was received on the streets. It’s been a blessing. It really has. I hope I’ve answered your question. I’m in a long-winded mood today.

Q. About two years ago you said you wished Colin Powell had run for President. How do you feel about that now, and how did you feel about Colin Powell being part of the Bush administration?
A:
I have mixed feelings about that. I still feel the same way about Colin Powell, I think he’s making the best of a very bad situation. I believe he’s a man right now who has to do what he’s told. And that’s always tough.
I think that has a lot to do with his recent illnesses, if you can relate to that. I’m a very metaphysical person. I think that certain things that you do in life, if they’re not really agreeing with you, it’s going to manifest itself in some way. And that’s the way I think it’s gone for Colin Powell.
I could be wrong. I just have so much respect for this man. And I’ve lost so much respect for this administration, the way they’ve handled things. But you know, I would still like to see Colin Powell run. I think things would be a whole lot different.

Q. After three years, do you think the show has to evolve? Because now it’s in a place where the audience needs a little bit more?
A:
Well, I wish I could tell you that it’s going to change. I know it will. I know how the writers think. And they still surprise me. I feel fairly certain that this format - well, not the format so much - but the characters, will change a great deal. Like I said before, I think even Kiefer’s at risk. This is just conjecture, of course. I know I’m at risk. I didn’t even know I was coming back to the third season until a month before we started shooting. So they had me dead and almost buried.

Q. Normally a character prepares his role before shooting begins. And I’m pretty sure that Bush, didn’t, like you, do that for a couple of days. So how did you prepare?
A:
Well, in the first season, if you recall, I was a senator running for president. And the second year, when they told me I was going to be president, I started looking at the people that I most admired. Mostly, started looking within myself. What would Dennis do, if he were President? You know? I think I’m an innately idealistic person. So I probably wouldn’t survive too long if I was the real President. [laughs].
I’d probably be more like Howard Dean before he had his little outburst. Even after that outburst, I still admire the man. I think right now he’s set the bar very high for the Democratic candidates that are still in the running. They’ve all adopted his platform. The way I prepared for the role, is that I collected my heroes, took the best parts of them, took the best parts of myself and applied it to the job.

Q. Talking about the nearly dead and buried thing. I remember that your near-death experience was going to change President Palmer substantially, and maybe make him darker, or maybe less direct in his approach to his job. You’ve been offered a lot of dark paths this year and you haven’t taken then. Can you talk about where you think that’s going to go?
A:
The dark paths, well, I think I did one really bad thing, in bringing Sherry back

Q. Could you talk at all about the changes in industry then, generally.
A.
No. I really can’t, without divulging things that are coming up. Or not coming up. He doesn’t trust very many people. The biggest change is that he has his brother as his Chief of Staff. I know a lot of people are questioning this, saying, "Okay, what’s the brother going to do?"
Who knows? We still have six episodes to shoot, and you still have a few episodes to see before that. So you have to make up your mind as to what’s going on with him. But as to anything darker, I can say that David Palmer is always going to have his integrity. He’s always going to have that dignity.
I don’t think I’ll ever do anything that will make you think that it was a mistake to put him in office. If you’re looking for that kind of darkness, I don’t think that’s going to ever appear. At least, it wouldn’t be my first choice. I want to keep this man the way people see him. As a kind of a model as to what politicians should be.

Q. Has the role inspired you to seek politics yourself?
A.
Only if it motivates or inspires your kid - in my country, in your country, in any of your countries - to run for office and to put the people first. That’s as far as I want to go, politically. I’m an actor, and I love what I do. And I can’t wait for the next thing.

Q. Most people distrust politicians.
A:
Yeah, well, you know what? My hat goes off to them. I think you’re speaking specifically of Arnold? Arnold’s always wanted to do it. He’s always wanted to run for office, for as long as I’ve been watching his movies and enjoying them. He’s always mentioned that he wanted to be a part of politics. And I think that’s great.
I mean, he married into one of the most influential and powerful political families in the United States. So I thought it was pretty clear where he was headed. But for me, politics, no. Maybe. I never say never. But something really special has to come up, for me to throw my hat in the ring. Whichever ring that might be.

Q. You mentioned Sherry before…
A.
Mm-hmm.

Q. This fantastic character. Didn’t President Palmer need the First Lady? It’s very unusual for a President without one.
A:
Well, I’d like a First Lady, yes. Definitely. Do I think he needs one in order to be President and to be an effective president? Not necessarily. I think he was very happy with Ann, and I think he was distressed and disheartened that she couldn’t handle it.

Q. He doesn’t seem to have much luck with the women…
A:
No, he really is kind of a tough luck President, you know. I kind of like that, it engenders a little sympathy for him.

Q. If President Palmer was elected in real time, today, what do you think he would do with the situation in the Middle East?
A: [laughs]
Well, it’s a pretty big mess right now, over there. I don’t have any advisors or anybody telling me what I could or what I couldn’t do. What’s feasible and what’s not. But I would get the soldiers out of there as soon as possible.

Q. On a more flippant note, after what happened to President Palmer at the end of season two, have you been more careful with the way you shake hands with fans?
A:
With fans? I’ll put it to you this way, any fan that can come up with the chemical that was introduced to David Palmer will probably end up killing themselves. So, I don’t worry about that too much, you know.

Q. In what ways have the roles for black characters changed?
A:
The more things change, the more they stay the same. And, yes, they have changed. I choose roles where it’s clear that they’ve changed. Sadly, a lot of them still stay the same. There are still a lot of stereotypes out there. I think that extends to all races, and to women as well. But it’s getting better. It’s getting better. I’d like to see it get much better. Time will tell.

Q. By playing the President, I wanted to know how your life changed on the daily basis. Did it change regarding your behaviour, or the way you speak to people?
A:
No, not really. I mean, I’ve always been…

Q. Do you feel any sense of responsibility, for example, now?
A:
Well, the success of it has given me a little bit more responsibility. I’m a little bit more careful about how I answer political questions. Especially when I’m on foreign soil. People ask me some pretty provocative questions about the country, which I have to abstain from. I don’t like to bash my country when I’m on foreign soil. Or bash the President, even though he is [laughs] bashable.
Those things I just try to stay away from. I just try to impress upon everyone that it is an entertainment. I am not the President. I’m an actor playing a President, and it’s a role that I relish. I visualised playing roles like this all my career. I just don’t want to do the same old things.
I don’t want to be the drug dealer, or the dirty cop, or the rapist. Those kinds of characters, even though those characters serve a purpose. It’s all part of entertainment, but it has always been my goal, and my wish, to play roles that, even if they don’t entertain you thoroughly, at least, after you turn off the set or you walk out of the theatre, you will have learned something. And that’s still my mantra.

Q. At the end of last season, when you didn’t know if you were coming back again, were you lobbying people, were you trying to persuade the writers that there was a way of bringing him back? Or were you just sitting back and waiting?
A:
Basically, I was sitting back and waiting to see what happened. I did say to them, "You really won’t kill this guy, will you? There are so many people that are going to be offended on so many levels, if you kill this guy."
They explained it to me, saying, "Dennis, we can’t worry about that. This is what this show is about. People that are good, they die.The audience can’t expect them to live or die." So you have to sit back and wait and see. I think that’s part of the appeal of the show.

Q. I assume you get movie offers coming in at the same time. Is that a problem, trying to balance 24 versus movies? And particularly if you don’t know whether you’re going to be killed off?
A:
No. Coincidentally, last summer, I did have to turn down two studio films, because they didn’t know whether they were bringing me back or not. They would have worked the films into the television schedule. I was not very happy about that. Actually, when I look back at it in retrospect, they were two movie roles I probably would have turned down anyway. Luckily.

Q. What about now, what about coming offers?
A:
I have some things in the offing. I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet. After doing a movie like Far From Heaven and doing a show like 24, you get a little picky. You want to keep moving up. Doing projects of quality. A lot of the projects out there have to answer to a lot.

Q. Do you think now TV actors are more respected than they were in the past?
A:
Oh, there’s definitely more respect. I think the writing in 24 is better than half the movies you see. I think there are still some really great movies out there, and really great movies that are yet to be made. So, there’s not that stigma of going between television and films anymore.
No, I think that line has been effectively obliterated, especially with the success of Angels In America. We're seeing Meryl Streep and Al Pacino doing HBO. I mean that was unheard of 10 or 15 years ago, but now the writing is so good, and the medium has grown so large, that people will want more product. And we’re getting it. I think it’s great.

Q. How did you get into acting in the first place?
A:
Well, let’s see. That’s a question that goes to one point and then goes back, and then goes forward again. I first got interested in acting when I was 13 or 14 while in junior high. I saw some of my friends and peers on stage, effectively chewing up the scenery and having a great deal of fun.
Then I got into it when I was in high school. I did a lot of the school plays, and it progressed further from there. I got to a certain point and I really started thinking about why I got into it. I thought back to when I was 10. I had never really said, "Well, this is what I want to do."
I liked movies, but there was nobody in my household that really could tell me what movies were good and what movies were bad, what actors were good and what actors were bad. I really had to make that determination on my own. The actors I fell in love with were the best for the time, so I knew I had aptitude for it. You know, Brando, Poitier, Montgomery Clift, Maximilian Schell, Sir Laurence Olivier…I also knew their differences.
I knew, on a base level, that Olivier was technical, and Brando was completely organic. Montgomery Clift used emotion so effectively. He could move me by reading the phone book. I just recently saw some of my favorite movies, The Young Lions, On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire.
All these movies I saw when I was 10, and I loved them. Who knew what I was looking at? I see that same thing in my son. He’ll see a certain movie and he’s like, "I really didn’t like that", but then he’ll look at another movie, say, "Wow."
I see him watching The Patriot all the time. He’s very interested in history. I'll see him on a civilization game, on one computer, and on another he’s watching the battle scenes in The Patriot. Those are the kinds of things that I grew up loving, and enjoying.
I think if anybody was watching me. or looking at my development in those days, they would have been able to pinpoint the time and say, "you know, he’s destined to be in entertainment".
And that’s where I went. That’s where I was the happiest. If I went anywhere else, it hurt. I mean, you imagine yourself doing anything other than what you’re doing now, and it probably hurts. I went through my stints of working in grocery stores and things like that to supplementing my income, so I could go to school and learn.
I said, "God, I hate this." But you know what? It was a means to an end. Once I started working, boy, I dropped everything. I didn’t care how much I was making. It hasn’t always been about the money. It’s always been about being comfortable and doing the work. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Related stories: Season 4 review

Season 3 review

Season 3 - Kiefer Sutherland interview

Season 2 - review

Season 1 - review

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