A president’s plea: don’t shoot me
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.