IN CALIFORNIA, EVERYBODY thinks Seattle is all doom and gloom,” Dennis Haysbert, remarked in his warm rumble of a voice, walking into the Sorrento Hotel’s penthouse. He pulled at his shirt to indicate the July heat—the day before the hottest Seattle day in a hundred years. “Must be hard—people want to be depressed and they can’t be.”
That was the joke for the day. The man who led the country as the president on Fox’s 24 or, more recently, guided the top-secret military operations of The Unit on CBS, is friendly but composed. Asked why he thinks he makes such a convincing authority figure, he demurred with a smile and the claim that he’s most at ease playing romantic dramas. He did, in fact, create a strong character out of the gentle gardener opposite Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven. But you don’t get to be the face of Allstate Insurance Company commercials by playing romantic dramas with conviction. “I just signed another three-year deal with Allstate. If I wasn’t comfortable and happy with them, I couldn’t do it. I can honestly say I’ve never done anything for the money—as evidenced by how much I’ve been paid in the past.”
Okay, make that two jokes.
In town to shoot The Details, a dark comedy, he wouldn’t talk about, well, the details on record—he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise of how far the movie strays from its reported plot about a married couple dealing with a raccoon problem. “Just say I meet Tobey Maguire at a pickup game on a basketball court and we become friends,” he said. “If you ask 30 different people what this movie is about you’ll get 30 different answers, depending on where they’re at in their lives.”
The man should be in politics—he’s heard as much before. A contributor to Obama’s campaign, Haysbert chatted several times with the candidate (“He’s one of the brightest, most articulate men I’ve ever met.”) but knew enough to back away from showing too much public support lest the masses get distracted: “A lot of people considered me to be the first black president—which is ridiculous, but that’s the power of TV.”