Dennis Haysbert on ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’

The star of 24 and The Unit talks playing a cartoon ox and whether or not he'd actually run for president.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

You know Dennis Haysbert. He was the face of the American presidency on the hit TV series 24, and as Sergeant Major Jonas Blane in The Unit. He played Pedro Cerrano in the hit comedy Major League. And now he’s appearing in Kung Fu Panda 2, or at least his voice is, when it hits DVD and Blu-Ray and December 13th. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to CraveOnline’s own Witney Seibold about his voice-acting career


CraveOnline: I just wanted to say first off that I'm a big fan of both '24' and 'Far from Heaven.'

Dennis Haysbert: Oh thank you very much. Those are two of my favorites.


I've looked over your career, and I've seen you've done a lot of cartoon voices in the past. Here is something I've always wanted to know about voice acting: Do you look forward to saying silly, cartoony lines of dialogue, or is it something you dread?

It's animation. I don't dread anything. I probably wouldn't do it if I didn't really enjoy it. Which I really, really do. Was there something you heard that was wrong? I don't even recall doing anything weird.


Well, I saw in a Green Lantern cartoon you played a character named “Kilowog,” where you get to fly around in space and say funny lines of fantasy dialogue, and perhaps some strange imaginary words. I was wondering how screen actors may feel about that sort of thing.

Oh gosh! It's fantasy! It's creative. It's putting yourself into a different space. It's really tapping into your creative and imaginary vibe. An actor who doesn't have imagination, well… I personally relish that. It's a lot of fun. It's animation, so you can do things that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to do. Wish it. Y'know, really go over the top. Really let it go and have fun. And that's what I like.


It sounds like it would be fun to me.

Oh it is fun. Absolutely.


For 'Kung Fu Panda 2,” you played an Ox. Did you get to see the character drawings beforehand, or did you do your voice acting first?

They did show me the drawings of it, and they incorporated visuals of what I wanted to do. He's really, like that old saying, strong as an ox. And there it is [laughs]. It really was a lot of fun. That's where the imagination comes in. I imagine specifics. Like I have hooves instead of hands, and horns. And everything else. A lot of the character is based on how you move. There's a camera in the corner of the room, and it's recording everything you're doing at the podium. Sometimes you have to get into the character. To figure out how the character moves. And generally, the filmmakers are capturing your movements. Then they incorporate that into the animation. And it's really fun to be this animated creature. It takes on your persona.


Did you have several voices you went through to audition?

No. I came in and did the voice I thought would come out of Ox. And aside from a few tweaks here and there, they loved what I was doing. I just had a ball. The only thing I had to worry about was losing my voice. A lotta hot water and lemon.


I know you best from '24,' and I've heard this happens to you often: Do people still ask you, Dennis Haysbert, to run for president?

[Sigh] Y'know, they do. They wanted someone nicer. But now… We have a more polite president. I always end up telling them that I'm really happy that you feel that way, but the right guy's in the office. Who knows? If I was in office, they might turn on me. That's just the nature of the office.


You've played a president, you've played Nelson Mandela, you've played cops, you've played a soldier. Are you drawn to authority roles, or have you been typecast?

Well, don't forget about the romantic roles. I'm a lover.


Oh for sure.

I like to think I'm multi-faceted. Actually, my favorite roles are roles like in Far from Heaven. Y'know. Soft people. Loving people. I wish I could get some more. I would love to do another version of A Warm December [a 1974 film directed by and starring Sidney Poitier]. I love emotion. I love being in love. And showing that on screen. I think it's wonderful. It's something that we're just supposed to end up with.


I guess you already answered my next question about what sort of roles you like to play, but it sounds like you're drawn to the lovers.

Well, I would love a combination of action/adventure and…love. And stories told with heart. I would like people to be invigorated as well as moved. People to see the movie and see that. I love to play, y'know, well-rounded characters.


I like that positivity.

There's no other way to be! I'm just trying to make it happen, y'know? Find the money. Find the scripts. All that stuff. What I have to do.


Your role in 'Far from Heaven' fit the bill. Do you think you'll work with Todd Haynes again?

I hope so. I love Todd. There's no director out there more sensitive. He shares a lot. I hope I have the opportunity to make a movie with him again.


Me too. I was looking up some information online about you to prepare for this interview, and I hope it's correct. I understand you're a car collector.

What? I love cars, but I don't think I qualify as a collector. I have three [laugh].


Eek. I guess that was incorrect.

Yeah, I don't think I qualify as a “collector.” Yeah. There's a lot of crap out there. 


What was the first record you bought with your own money?

First record… Hm… Goodness… I don't know what the first one was, 'cause that's waaay back there. But I know what my favorite one was. That was Weather Report. The album was “Black Market.” Yeah, definitely Weather Report. I think the other one was Chicago. That's Chicago the group, not “Chicago” the play. Chicago “Transit Authority.”