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The Haysbert Principle

Vaulted into stardom by his role as President David Palmer on "24," Dennis Haysbert brings his trademark integrity to new role.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Haysbert, Nov/Dec 2006

(continued from page 2)

"We call [Foley] 'Never Not,'" says Haysbert, fondly. "It's short for 'Never Not Funny.' He's our resident prankster."

When pressed on whether he's ever taken Foley up on one of his bets or fallen for one of his pranks, Haysbert briefly arches one eyebrow in amusement. "No. I have a sense of humor but I'm, you know, not the straight man. The jokes don't work on me because I never buy into them. The thing is, he will pay you [and] he offers up a lot of money, but I know it's a trick, know it's a sucker bet."

Most anything can be feigned on a television production set, but there's no sign of anything other than unadulterated affection when Haysbert's name comes up among the cast and crew. Oh, sure, he's the lead actor in a show that keeps hundreds of people employed, and speaking well of the man could be beneficial to one's job security, but people just can't seem to stop wanting to touch the guy.

Max Martini and Demore Barnes, both regulars on "The Unit," try to explain the mystique that seems to follow Haysbert.

"In some respects, what you see on the show—the bonding, the trust in Dennis, the strategizing to make sure that an operation goes smoothly—is what we're like in real life," says Martini, who plays Mack Gerhardt on the show. "During the first season we were all so 'first-season nervous' about the success of the show that we used to have potlucks at each other's homes every Tuesday night when the show aired. We'd all watch the show, cheer each other on when there were on-screen scenes and eat dinner as a group."

Barnes, who plays Hector Williams on "The Unit," puts it a little differently. "Dennis brings leadership, egoless leadership, to the cast, and he's got a kindness and accessibility that you don't see very often. You know, it's so hard from an actor's perspective; it's so hard to get a pilot made, and then if you're lucky you get a contract for 13 episodes. If you make it [through] a single season, it's a gift, and then to have a hit show, to get picked up for additional seasons…Dennis never seems to doubt or lose his cool about this stuff. He's just calm, stable…you just kind of think that things are going to work out right if he's right there, part of it and in charge."

Therein, perhaps, lies the dichotomy that is Dennis Haysbert. That the man is smart, scary smart, is undeniable, but that intelligence is subtly amplified by his very cool, very controlled demeanor.

That same gravitas, combined with an innate ability to draw his fellow actors close to him, and the way he is deliberately sought out for hugs and included in their lives, their potlucks and even their pranks, makes him a fascinating man, a fascinating actor and, some have suggested, even a potentially fascinating real-life political candidate.

Haysbert admits that the topic came up a few times while he was playing President Palmer on the hit Fox drama "24," but claims that he has no interest, at least for now. "It's come up, half-kiddingly," says Haysbert. "Or maybe not."

After working consistently for nearly three decades on stage and in television and film, Haysbert finally garnered the kind of viewer recognition and fan base that some actors only dream of with his portrayal of Senator David Palmer, later President David Palmer, on "24."


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