You’re in good hands with actor Dennis Haysbert
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
Dennis Haysbert is in most of our homes nearly every day. On television, that is.
Known to millions as the face of Allstate Insurance, the 57-year-old actor is constantly reminding us that we are in good hands. His commanding voice and distinguished demeanor have made him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents, including starring roles in recent years on two of the most long-running series on television: the Fox hit “24” and the CBS favorite “The Unit.”
His film credits are vast, but the part that many still remember best is the role of Kenneth, in the 1995 film adaptation of “Waiting to Exhale.” In that movie, Haysbert played opposite Whitney Houston’s character, Savannah.
“Being on the ‘Waiting to Exhale’ set, with all of those beautiful and talented women, was wonderful,” Haysbert recalled, with genuine fondness, in a recent interview with Black Image. “It was incredible working opposite Whitney Houston during that time when she was at the top of her game. She has such as beautiful voice and is very down to earth. I remember everyone on the set … having wonderful conversations. It was fun.”
While a sequel to the film is reportedly in development, there has been no word thus far on which of the male characters may be written into the follow-up. No matter what happens, Haysbert says that he worked hard to embody, as Kenneth, the image of a loving father who ultimately could not leave his family for the love of a mistress. “That part of the story was missed by ‘Waiting to Exhale’ enthusiasts,” he says. “I was trying to convey, through my character, that I had to stay with my wife because of my child contrary to the stigma placed on some black men in real life.”
Today, Haysbert’s success has placed him in the enviable position of following his passion for finding the best scripts, and working alongside dream teams of collaborators and co-stars. That includes two soon-to-be-released dramas: “LUV,” in which he is part of an ensemble that includes Danny Glover and Common; and “The Details,” which also stars Kerry Washington and Tobey Maguire.
Originally from Northern California, Haysbert still lives a very active life outside of Hollywood. In 2000, he served as spokesperson for the Harlem Health Expo-Break the Silence, and now serves in similar roles for the National Leadership Commission on AIDS and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
“Examining the war against poverty in our country, we first have to look at the minds and hearts of the poor,” Haysbert says. “Starting with the mind — everyone is the master of their own destiny. By and large, I think most people don’t grasp this concept. Some wait for someone else to change their condition, and we must retrain our mindset to … go after what we want for ourselves. I work hard every day to have the accomplishments I have. I am not saying that everyone has to do things on such a level — but there are opportunities out there, depending on the choices you make. I understand that everyone needs support, and you should find someone to support you in your efforts to advance your life. It can be extremely difficult out here, and I am by no means at the pinnacle of my career. I have been blessed, and I am very proud of what I have accomplished – but I am not satisfied. I think that is the secret. You have little wins — but you keep building and never settle. As soon as you settle, that is when you start coming down. Constantly keep learning.”
The recent launch of his eponymous line of golf clothing came to pass after Haysbert noticed that people who were familiar with his work often didn’t know his name. With the establishment of his online store, www.dennishaysbert.tv, that aura of in-the-open anonymity is quickly fading into memory.
As for his most ubiquitous source of fame, Haysbert credits his portrayal of a president, on “24,” with his selection as the face and voice of one of America’s leading insurers. “Allstate was looking for a spokesman at the time I was seen playing the president of the United States,” he says. “They were looking for someone honest and trustworthy. I don’t think you get more trustworthy than the president of the United States.”
When talk turns to his real-life counterpart in the White House, Haysbert says that he is somewhat puzzled by the debate over President Obama’s job performance.
“I think President Obama has an extremely difficult job … that is very hard for outsiders to understand,” he says. “He has so many pressures – internationally, nationally and locally. Many are taking potshots at him, and I often tell people to settle down. If you really settle down and look at all that he has accomplished, you would be in awe. I can’t help but think that much of the ridicule targeted at President Obama is racially motivated. I am a very balanced person, and try to look at all sides of any situation; but every time I look at what is being said about the president, and how his accomplishments are downplayed, I have to say, ‘Wow!’ It can’t be anything else but racially motivated for people who want to circumvent what the country’s trying to do, just because of this particular president. This confuses me.”