President David Palmer's loyal constituency need not give up all hope. Dennis Haysbert, who played 24's popular POTUS, is back in a big way as Jonas Blane, the leader of a supercovert missions team on CBS' The Unit (premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET). How does it feel to be championing democracy in a more hands-on manner than he did on 24? TVGuide.com spoke to Haysbert about that, his dissatisfaction with Palmer's death and more.
TVGuide.com: I'm very excited to take this phone call. I feel like I'm in a locker room after winning the World Series.
Dennis Haysbert: [Laughs] I appreciate that.
TVGuide.com: Having been in the biz some 25 years, did you find that doing 24 opened new doors for you and changed people's perceptions?
Haysbert: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There was actually an interesting article in Variety about what I was doing with Allstate, that because of my character on 24, I've become probably one of [Chuckles] the most trusted individuals out there right now.
TVGuide.com: That's got to be an interesting feeling for a person.
Haysbert: It's a great feeling.
TVGuide.com: Before The Unit, what sort of scripts were you seeing but not necessarily nibbling at?
Haysbert: I wasn't looking at anything at the time. I had just finished the last six episodes of 24 I came back at the end of the fourth season and about halfway through that, I got The Unit. I started to work on The Unit when I was still finishing up 24. I transitioned really quickly.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any hesitation about doing another "federal agents save the day" type of series?
Haysbert: No. Actually, I had been looking forward to doing that. In the third season of 24, I started looking to do something with action. I wanted to get out of that suit and....
TVGuide.com: Go from being a figurehead to a warrior?
Haysbert: Yeah. I still liken David Palmer to a warrior. But I wanted a really strict warrior. A gun-toting warrior.
TVGuide.com: You definitely got one. Why The Unit? What cinched it for you?
Haysbert: These characters, instead of the "paper patriots" that we've been hearing about when you look at this administration, you know that none of these guys has done any military work at all are true patriots, and that's what I wanted to play. They don't do it for the money, they do it because they love their country. Also, it's not all [anti-]terrorism. [The pilot] deals with terrorism, but in subsequent episodes we deal with a myriad of subjects and missions.
TVGuide.com: Do future episodes sustain the pilot's level of intensity, the bigness of it?
Haysbert: To tell you the truth, it gets better. It gets better. There's an episode where we protect an ambassador, but we have another agenda as well, and there's not a shot fired. These guys are like ninjas the closest thing to James Bond you can get.
TVGuide.com: It's like the video game Splinter Cell for which you have done voice work which is more about stealth than shoot-'em-up.
Haysbert: Yes. It's get in/get out, without being seen.
TVGuide.com: I like The Unit's balance of men doing manly things while the women back home deal with their own dramas.
Haysbert: I really love that. And you're going to see how interestingly that plays out.
TVGuide.com: You've hit the TV-wife jackpot again, with Regina Taylor.
Haysbert: She is an extremely talented lady. Extremely talented.
TVGuide.com: You've said in recent interviews that you're disappointed that 24 killed off Palmer.
TVGuide.com: Did you think that you could juggle that and The Unit to a degree?
Haysbert: No, I just didn't think that this man, being as loved as he was... I tell you, I walk down the street and people tell me how much they hated that he was killed. I think it sends a really bad message. If I had to make the decision over again, I would have told them to make it a CNN report that they were going to kill him. There was no need to kill him, except as a stunt for the beginning of the season.
TVGuide.com: What should we make of the rumors: wishful thinking that Palmer isn't really dead?
Haysbert: You know what, I see it this way: There are people who will deny, there are people who will accept, and then there are people who are just outraged. The people who just can't accept it have this wishful thought that he's not dead. And [the powers that be at 24] can do it. It's within the realm of possibility for them to all of a sudden just say, "Hey, no, this guy's not dead."
TVGuide.com: Do you think it would be preposterous to "resurrect" Palmer? Would it be a "jump the shark" moment?
Haysbert: Um, I think... [Laughs] I tell you, I don't know. Right now, as far as I'm concerned, unless Jack Bauer had a dream...
TVGuide.com: Palmer steps out of a shower and is greeted by Victoria Principal.
Haysbert: Yeah. [Laughs] Thank you for that! I'd accept that!
TVGuide.com: Are you the heir apparent to voice-over king James Earl Jones?
Haysbert: You know what, I hope so. That would be the best compliment I can get because I really love James Earl Jones. My biggest wish for him is that he makes as much money and does as much work as he can and as he wants to, retires to a Caribbean island, and then says "Give this [job] to Dennis." [Laughs] That would be my dream of dreams.
TVGuide.com: They should have you pop up and interrupt him in the middle of a Verizon commercial.
Haysbert: Yes. Like a tag-team match, just clap hands as he walks off. [Laughs]