Dennis Haysbert Talks No Exit And His Favorite Movies – Exclusive Interview
Dennis Haysbert has a knack for playing characters who demand attention and respect. This was abundantly evident with arguably his most iconic role to date, that of President David Palmer on “24.” He embodied the kind of person who should hold that office, so it should come as no surprise that his death in Season 5 impacted legions of fans. As if playing President of the United States wasn’t enough, Haysbert also inhabited another high office — namely, God in Season 5 of “Lucifer.”
Haysbert brings that same kind of authority to his newest role in “No Exit.” He plays Ed, a man who’s been stranded in a visitor center along with Darby (Havana Rose Liu), who’s just trying to get to the hospital to see her mother. She’s wary of everybody when she discovers a terrible secret in one of their vans, and even though Ed seems like a nice enough guy, no one is beyond reproach.
Dennis Haysbert spoke in an exclusive interview with Looper about his newest movie. Throughout the conversation, he also talked at length about his favorite movies and the thing that separated filming “No Exit” from his other projects.
Dennis Haysbert's favorite movies
What are some of your favorite movies of all time?
Oh, that’s a nice question. Okay. I’m going to go way back … “The Third Man” [is] one of my favorites. “The Young Lions” is one of my favorites … Anything with Sidney Poitier. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” [and especially] “In The Heat Of The Night.” That was inspirational and also a little scary. Didn’t know what was going to happen to him after he slapped back Mr. Endicott, but it was something that I really enjoyed watching.
I love all the Clint Eastwood westerns — “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly,” “For A Few Dollars More,” the classics. “Bad Day At Black Rock,” “Spencer Tracy.” I’m sure if I had more time to think about it, I could think of probably two dozen more, but right now, those sit very high on my list.
Were there any movies or performances that inspired your character for “No Exit”?
Maybe a show, “Twilight Zone.” It was an inspiration for this. I can almost feel like when we’re all at the visitor center, the camera pulling back and pulling back and Rod Serling’s voice over it and turns out we’re all in a snow globe.
What drew you to sign on for “No Exit”?
The story of this young woman who, in 100 years, would never find herself in this situation … What happens to Darby actually saves her life. I mean, she was well on her way to oblivion and now she has something to fight for. That’s true for just about everybody in the cast, everybody in this movie. Everybody had some issue or two or three and then they had to deal with it. It’s like this phrase I always hear told to me, “The only way out is through.” You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s like a pin light. Well, the door behind you just closed, so you have no choice but to keep moving forward, and then that pin light becomes this big hole that you can walk through and you got to make it to that hole.
On shooting No Exit in sequence
No one is really who they seem in “No Exit.” Was there anything you did to maybe keep the audience guessing as to your character’s true intentions?
I think that me bringing up the part of the PTSD — I don’t know how much that came through, but Ed had some troubles, and he had some things he was dealing with which made him pass suspicion on him. At this point, Darby suspected everyone. I basically had to stay true to the story and true to the moments that I was in, because I knew that everything was going to keep escalating and escalating. The reason I say that is because everything that took place in the visitor center was shot in sequence, which is a rare, rare gift to have, especially in a movie like this, and which means that it read like a play. You could keep having and flowing and rising to that ultimate crescendo. It was a lot of fun to do that.
Did it require any adjustments to shoot in sequence, or was everyone pretty on it?
Everybody was pretty much on it at that point. We welcomed that. We didn’t know we were going to shoot in sequence until we got on stage and [director Damien Power] says, “Oh no, no. We’re going to shoot this straight through.” I said, “Really?” I said, “All right.” See, because that doesn’t occupy the mind so much trying to figure out what you did in scene one, as opposed to shooting scene 18 before you shot scene one. You didn’t have to worry about that. You knew that when you left work that day, [you would be] coming back the next day and picking up where you left off, which is incredibly fun and a gift.
What roles he'd like to play in the future
Is there an actor or a director you would love to work with on a future project?
Several. Denis Villeneuve. I’d love to work with Michael Mann again. Oh, God. I’m getting lost for names. I embrace the opportunity to work with any director that knows his s***. Anybody that’s got a passion for what they do, that are excited about what they do, and are knowledgeable about what they do. Jane Campion. I would love to work with her. I wish I could look at a list of directors. I think I would probably pick 40 of them.
What would be your dream role?
I’d have to think about — it depends on how it’s written … Two things — I’d love to play kind of a comedic superhero, and I’d like to play one that was really, really serious, where there’s some stakes involved. I’d love to do another romance movie. I’ve done two that I really love doing. I like movies [where] you have to rediscover family, [like a] good father-son, father-daughter movie, in the midst of upheaval in a family unit. I don’t know where these subjects are coming from, these things are popping into my mind. [I would love to] do some spy thrillers. I still love doing military movies, but yeah. It’s all close to the things I love to do.
“No Exit” becomes available to stream exclusively on Hulu February 25.