He was cast as David Palmer, president of the most powerful country in the world on the smash TV hit, 24; and, his commanding baritone voice can be heard daily in nationally televised commercials for ALLSTATE Insurance.
On inauguration weekend, Bay Area (San Mateo) native Dennis Haysbert (Wreck-It-Ralph, Breach, Jarhead) costars alongside a band of celebrated colleagues in the new crime drama, LUV, touted as rapper/actor/advocate Common’s first dramatic lead.
My conversation with Dennis Haysbert follows–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: LUV is an intriguing story with a fresh approach. Yes, we’ve seen the perils of poor decisions, miss-steps and predictable outcomes of drugs and the like. It all takes place in a 24-hour-period; certainly you have experience in with story-telling model. Share your analysis of this film.
Haysbert: Yes, as well miss-steps with relatives. Well from my perspective, Mr. Fish, my character’s perspective, he always treated Vincent (Common) like a son, at the very least, a younger brother that he brought up in the business. When my business gets popped, Vincent took the rap and went to jail for it. He’s released early, which leads me to wonder what he has done or said to get out so early. So I think he’s betrayed me. Thus, I send him out on a fool’s errand and I wait to see the results of that.
Talk2SV: You talk about what your character’s feelings are about betrayal yet so much of the story centers on trust; he trust that obviously Mr. Fish and Vincent once had until your perception of his betrayal blew up in Vincent’s face as well as in your character’s.
Haysbert: Yes, exactly. Mr. Fish is trying to figure out just how much damage has been done and Vincent’s not talking. Then he comes to me for a loan to start his own business, all the while saying how innocent he is; there is a lot of miss-trust. You can go back to The Godfather (movies) for that same example. Actually, while doing this scene, I was reminded of a line in The Godfather that Michael Corleone says, “This is not personal, it’s business …,” so as soon as it becomes personal, then there’s a problem.
Talk2SV: That’s a great parallel; I think that this film is full of parallels. There are several resonant themes throughout; we’ve talked about two of them. But I also enjoy the platform of strong male personalities –in conflicted and restricted settings– having to work out their problems. What was the tenor of the set when everyone came together, particularly at the dinner table scene when he all of the problems hit the fan?
Haysbert: That was a lot like chess match to me. Just seeing what these parties were working with. I think my character showed a lot of finesse and skill in getting out of the predicament he was in. It’s still not clear whether or not I sent Vincent to his doom, even though he’s being shot at in an attempt to kill him.
Talk2SV: What back story did you give your character?
Haysbert: Well that’s supposed to be a secret until opening day (laughter). But I’ll tell you in broad strokes. I consider my character to be a Fortune 500 executive with street knowledge. I mean, you see a lot of black men in businesses now as executives, but when you think about Baltimore (the setting of the story) and some of your impoverished areas in the country, my character didn’t have a formal education, but he was a basketball player so he must have gone to college and was able to use that aspect of education to do what he does, to be his own boss, to run the streets and so forth. One has to have a kind of flare for the streets and you have to want that kind of life.
Talk2SV: As an established and successful talent, what inspired you to work with first-time filmmaker Sheldon Candis?
Haysbert: You know, as far as I’m concerned with movies, everything starts with a script. If the script flows, it makes sense and has a clear march towards a clear conclusion; I am in hook, line and sinker. Sheldon’s personality is such that it was very welcoming. If he wasn’t the kind of person that he is I probably would have thought more about taking on a role like this. You have to have somebody that is confident in what they’re doing in order to do a movie of this magnitude –and– to do it for as little money as they had. I was very impressed with that.
Talk2SV: Given the quality of your voice and your entire packaging, we’ve heard you in animated films and seen you on stage. Are you using your voice talent in particular in other areas?
Haysbert: Currently, I am narrating documentaries. I just completed three documentaries that are due in the coming months.
Talk2SV: What do you want your career footnote to reflect?
Haysbert: I want to continually perform strong leading roles that challenge me; that thoroughly entertains the audience and provides the opportunity to learn something.
Talk2SV: In summary, LUV posits a familiar tale in the hands of this cast of wonderful black male actors, lending to the film’s authenticity.
Haysbert: Thank you. I was ecstatic to be involved with these gentlemen and let me close by also saying Michael Rainey was incredible. He’s a fine young actor and I think he’s got a bright, bright future.