Dennis Haysbert fondly recalls his journey down the long, winding road to stardom.
Whether you discovered Dennis Haysbert’s talent from his years playing President David Palmer on 24, his four seasons as Jonas Blane on The Unit or his ubiquitous commercials for Allstate, he’s best known for his signature deep, reassuring voice. For much of his career, though, the ?actor could’ve used some reassuring of his own, as he spent three decades struggling in obscurity. Now, the 58-year-old has hit his stride, balancing TV and film projects, including this month’s The Details, co-starring Elizabeth Banks and Tobey Maguire, and LUV, an independent drama. Here, Haysbert chats with American Way about on-screen breakouts and real-life breakthroughs.
American Way: You’re a fan of self-help books like The Power of Positive Thinking. Did that help you as a young struggling actor?
Dennis Haysbert: Yeah, but I’ve always been innately positive. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was born with a hole in my heart. I’d spend weeks in the hospital as a child. At a very young age, I had to be really positive. My life depended on it.
AW: I’ve read that losing your older brother to cancer when you were 22 had a major impact on your career.
DH: I was in a holding pattern after college, trying to figure out what I should do next. But I was more concerned with the health of my eldest brother, who had always been my mentor. On this one fateful day, he turned to me and asked, “What do you want to do?” I said I wanted to act. He said, “Can you do it here in northern California?” I said, “Well, eventually … ” He said, “Get out, because tomorrow is not promised.” That hit a chord, and the next morning he was gone.
AW: You worked a lot before your breakthrough on 24. When did you realize that playing David Palmer would launch your career?
DH: I never thought about it like, “This is it!” I thought it was “it” for right now, because nothing lasts forever. Great shows get canceled. Even M*A*S*H got canceled. But who knows what would’ve happened if 24 didn’t show up?
AW: What can you tell us about your new film, The Details?
DH: It’s one of those movies you can’t really encapsulate because there’s so much going on. It’s a story of love, lust, marriage, betrayal, friendship and raccoons. As tragic as it is, it’s extremely funny, and the role is unlike anything you’ve seen me in.