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“Far From Heaven” Interview: Dennis Haysbert

Dennis Haysbert is an actor who chooses his projects carefully–and wisely.

Haysbert’s recent efforts have certainly paid off. He most recently co-starred with Julianne Moore in the critically acclaimed independent film Far From Heaven, an homage to 1950s director Douglas Sirk about a housewife who comes to grips with life-altering events that earned Moore an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Haysbert also co-stars as President David Palmer in the Fox hit show 24, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe as best supporting actor in a drama series.

We caught up with Haysbert in New York, where he is campaigning to educate people on the prevention of heart disease, to ask him about making Far From Heaven and 24.

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How do you feel about the awards season hoopla?

Dennis Haysbert: I’m all for it if it helps out the film or television show. It’s always about the work and anything that promotes the work so people will go out and see it, that’s great. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it felt great [to get nominated] but it’s just one of those things you just can’t think very much about or you’ll drive yourself crazy. But if called, I will serve!

Are you surprised about how well Far From Heaven has done?

In all modesty, I’m not really surprised. I’m very happy by all the attention it’s received. I think its one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. But that’s kind of my thing. If I weren’t an actor, I’d either be a teacher or a critic. And love it because I just love watching movies. We knew we had a good film, but we didn’t know just how good.

What was the feeling on the set?

Great. At the time that there wasn’t very much going on in New York, as far as filming, so we had all these incredible people as our crew. We had the crème de la crème…in the actors as well. Dennis Quaid, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, Julianne Moore and myself–we all took a cut in pay to do this and the film’s quality is in evidence.

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What was it about the movie that drew you in?

The script, of course and Todd Haynes, his vision. He was so clear about what he wanted to do. I also loved my character, loved what he was about. I loved his connection to nature, to art–his connection to people in general. He is a man of the world. He doesn’t see himself as a color, or anything else but just a man. He is just going about his life. I would have called this man my friend.

It’s interesting Todd Haynes would base this film on the work of 1950s director Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life). The ambiance of the movie–a superficial veneer with things brewing underneath–seems otherworldly.

This is true. If aliens were to come down to Earth in 1957, they’d see a Donna Reed, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver kind of world. But then you just turn it on its back and see this seedy underside.

Yet, your character, Raymond, represents what is real. He seems to be more of a modern time.

Right, this ’50s world isn’t built for him. He definitely has a feeling of being out of his time, as if he was simply observing life on this planet.

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And how was it working with Julianne, definitely an “It” girl of the moment?

She’s worked very hard to become the “It” girl at this point. And she very much is. She is a delight to work with. And I’m not just saying this to be politically correct. I think she is just a lovely lady. We had a connection for sure, good chemistry off-camera as well. We would always talk with each other. We’d meet up at the makeup trailer and talk.

Your relationship with her on-screen was certainly more cerebral than anything else.

What I liked is our characters start out as just friends. Raymond is very respectful of Cathy’s marriage, just basically wants to help her. And I do. She sees through me how to live life truthfully.

Is it more freeing working on indies than on big-budget movies?

I love working on both. When you work on big commercial movies, of course there’s more money involved and you can still do some good work. But with an independent, you get films that are really close to the writers’ and directors’ heart. Somehow it becomes a little deeper. A little more meat and not as much flash.


Moving on from a critically acclaimed movie to a critically acclaimed television show, 24 is about as unique as a primetime show can get.

Yeah, I’m very impressed with the show. Every time I read a script, I’m impressed. We are blessed with incredible writers and cast. We have a great time.

Have you ever sat down with Martin Sheen (who plays President Bartlet on NBC’s The West Wing) and talked about what it’s like playing the president?

We’ve spoken on occasion, but no, unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk about it with Martin. But I’d like to think we are both in alternate universes where he is the president of his and I’m the president of mine. And our characters definitely see eye to eye on things. I was asked once who my three favorite people were or who I tried to emulate when playing [President David Palmer], and I think two of the people I picked were two Martin picked as well. He and I both picked Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I also chose Colin Powell. So I think politically, Martin and I are in line.

So is playing the president fun?

It’s fun, but I certainly emphasize with the president. I would not want the job for real.

If you would like more information regarding Haysbert’s work with Centrum® on the prevention of heart disease, visit www.mindyourheart.com.

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