A pres­i­dent’s plea: don’t shoot me

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PLAY­ING the first AfricanAmer­i­can US pres­i­dent in es­pi­onage drama 24, Den­nis Hays­bert never doubted he would at some point have a real-life equiv­a­lent.

‘‘Dur­ing 24, peo­ple would ask me if I ever thought I’d see a black pres­i­dent in my life­time, and I’d say, ‘Yeah, in 2012’. They said, ‘Re­ally?’ And I said, ‘Yeah! And if my per­for­mance does any­thing at all to open the minds and eyes of the pub­lic to the pos­si­bil­ity, some­one’s go­ing to walk through that door . . . but it can’t be just any­one’. It had to be some­one as bril­liant, as fo­cused and down to earth as a David Palmer (pres­i­dent).’’

Hays­bert couldn’t be hap­pier that his pre­dic­tion came true ear­lier than ex­pected, in the form of Barack Obama. The Unit, M Chan­nel 7, Wed­nes­day, 9.30pm Mil­i­tary drama Du­ra­tion: 1 hour But he be­lieves his time as a fic­tional African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent ended on a sour note.

Hays­bert spent five sea­sons on 24, in­clud­ing two as pres­i­dent, and hit the roof when he dis­cov­ered writ­ers had or­dered his char­ac­ter’s as­sas­si­na­tion. Hays­bert felt this sent a tragic mes­sage to the au­di­ence.

‘‘I said ‘no’ (to as­sas­si­na­tion) for about three months,’’ Hays­bert re­calls.

‘‘I was shoot­ing the last six episodes of sea­son four, and dur­ing the third episode, they called me up dur­ing lunch break and said, ‘Hey, we’re go­ing to kill your char­ac­ter off next sea­son’. I reared back a lit­tle bit and said, ‘Well, good luck with that. I won’t be shoot­ing it’.

‘‘They pushed it for­ward and pushed it for­ward. I said, ‘Look, we had JFK, we had Bobby Kennedy, we had Martin Luther King, we had Malcolm X. We had four beloved leaders, peo­ple who if they were alive to­day, it would be a to­tally dif­fer­ent world. Why is it that you want to kill off this beloved char­ac­ter?’ ’’

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Howard Gor­don fi­nally con­vinced Hays­bert to re­lent.

‘‘They won an Emmy based on that episode. But if I could do it all over again, I’d dig in and say, ‘Change the story’,’’ he says.

Hays­bert’s on­line bi­og­ra­phy says he’s best known to TV audiences as Palmer on 24, but fans of The Unit might beg to dif­fer.

The ac­tor is into his fourth sea­son of the mil­i­tary drama, in which he plays Jonas Blane, the leader of a covert team of Spe­cial Forces op­er­a­tives.

Cre­ated by play­wright David Mamet, who of­ten writes the show’s scripts, The Unit goes be­yond action-drama by show­ing the lives of the sol­diers’ wives.

Hays­bert says though the press has been largely un­ap­pre­cia­tive of The Unit, the show does have its fans.

‘‘I think the mil­i­tary re­ally likes it. Peo­ple out­side the mil­i­tary re­ally love it be­cause of the au­then­tic­ity and the action and the char­ac­ters,’’ he says.

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