Former '24' president loves new role as counterterrorist

Monday, December 11, 2006
In CBS' "The Unit," actor Dennis Haybert plays the leader of a covert team of Special Forces operatives. (MONTY BRINTON ~ CBS)

NEW YORK -- Dennis Haysbert makes no secret of the satisfaction he gets from his role on "The Unit."

As Jonas Blane, leader of a covert team of Special Forces operatives, he gets to play a man of fierce conviction and unyielding courage.

Also, a man of action.

With a flash of pride, Haysbert describes the scene from a recent episode where Blane and his "undercover wife," their cover blown, dodge bullets in a perilous escape from the villa of a corrupt Latin American official.

"I had to fashion a rappelling harness on myself and the actress at the edge of a cliff," he explained. "I didn't have to go down too far in the shot, but I had to know it would work -- and with someone else on my back. And I had to do it pretty fast. I was taught right there, minutes beforehand.

"The physical action I love. It keeps me in shape," said Haysbert, who, at 52, surely is. "But it's not just action for action's sake. I think it's something that's going to inspire."

Airing at 8 p.m. Tuesday on CBS, "The Unit" premiered last March as an unusual blend: a tough-guy drama reinforced with tough-enough wives, who tackle patriotic duties of their own on the home front.

"The Unit" draws on the experiences of writer-supervising producer Eric L. Haney, who served in the Army's secret counterterrorist Delta Force.

So the tales are not only gripping, they also have the ring of authenticity.

"Unlike most shows," Haysbert said, "there's a foundation of truth."

He's often played men of dignity, but it was on Fox's thriller "24" that Haysbert made an indelible impression on the public as the strong and heroic President David Palmer, the nation's first black chief executive.

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