Dennis Haysbert Talks SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, Taking Over Michael Clarke Duncan’s Role, BACKSTROM, MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, and More

     August 20, 2014

Sin City Dennis Haysbert slice

Nearly a decade after the first film, co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have reunited to bring the visually stunning Sin City graphic novels back to the screen for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.  In a town where murderers reign and the desperate want vengeance, their paths cross at the famous Kadie’s Club Pecos, where Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) still dances while mourning the loss of her love, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis).  With Marv (Mickey Rourke) in the center of the carnage, a cocky young gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) takes on the villainous Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) is battles with the woman of his dreams and nightmares, Ava Lord (Eva Green).

During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Dennis Haysbert (who plays Manute, the mysterious, loyal and lethal bodyguard who has served many of Sin City’s most powerful figures) talked about why he wanted to be a part of this universe, how he came to take over this role from Michael Clarke Duncan (who played Manute in the first film), how quickly he took to the green screen process, how much wearing the chauffeur’s outfit from hell helped to inform his performance, his character’s motivations, what most impressed him about the way that Robert Rodriguez works, and how much he admired Eva Green’s work ethic and talent.  He also talked about what led him back to TV for Fox’s Backstrom, and the experience of working on Men, Women & Children with director Jason Reitman.  Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

Collider:  What’s the coolest thing about being a part of the Sin City universe?

sin-city-2-a-dame-to-kill-for-dennis-haysbertDENNIS HAYSBERT:  Being on set and seeing all that green screen, and how it activated my imagination, was amazing to me.  I fell into that world very easily, and it was incredible to be a part of.

How did you come to be a part of this?  Did Robert Rodriguez reach out to you about taking over this role?

HAYSBERT:  I knew that they were going to be reading actors for Manute, and I wanted to give it a shot.  I wanted a shot to do it, and they embraced that and said, “All right, come on in.  Let’s see what you’ve got.”  So, I went in, and the rest is history.  It felt good when I went into the office, and it just worked.

Obviously, the reason the role was available was tragic, and it’s never the reason that you want a role to be available.  Did taking on this role carry a weight to it because you wanted to do justice to what Michael Clarke Duncan established in the first film?

HAYSBERT:  I definitely wanted to pay homage to what he did and use his performance in the first one as a foundation.  But, I had to make it my own.  I couldn’t sit there and try to imitate Michael Clarke Duncan.  I think that would have been disastrous.  I had to make it my own.  I tried to take as many nuances that he had with the character and utilize them as best I could, while creating a character that was unique to me.  That’s going to happen, no matter what.  No matter what you set out to do and how you set out to do it, you ultimately have to be who you are, and who you are as that character.  So, I paid as much homage as I could to what Michael Clarke did, and had to rely on my own gifts to guide me through it.

Did it help a bit that this part of this character’s story was more of a prequel and didn’t really fall directly into the same timeline?

Sin City Dennis HaysbertHAYSBERT:  That’s true, it is a prequel.  There’s part of it when Manute has both eyes.  And the character was actually fleshed out a lot more, in this movie.  I got to show people who Manute is and why he is and how devout he is.  He is Ava’s protector and punisher.  It’s really quite an interesting dynamic.  I wanted to play to the truth of who Manute was in the first film, while it’s also a prequel and the originator [of the story].  It was an interesting dynamic to work with, definitely.  I haven’t seen the film yet, but the way it felt when I was doing it, it felt like it worked.  I can’t wait to see it!

Unless you’ve worked with Robert Rodriguez before, you haven’t really had a green screen experience quite like this one.  How did you find that process?

HAYSBERT:  I took to it very quickly.  I’m very imaginative anyway, and it just set off that part of my brain.  It made me focus in on the actors a lot more.  I didn’t have the distraction of looking at my surroundings.  Realizing that my surroundings were going to be built around me, the way that I performed, we helped the directors through the performance, to create the world that we were going to be seen in.  I was very fascinated with that.  When I saw the trailers, I said, “Oh, god, it didn’t look like that when we did it!,” but it felt like that.  They were fitting the world that we created in our minds around us, and it works.

When you have nothing but green screen and your fellow actors to work with, how much does the costume help inform what you’re doing, especially when it’s one that’s so visually striking? 

Sin City poster Dennis HaysbertHAYSBERT:  The costume definitely helped, especially the costume that I get to wear.  It’s the chauffeur’s outfit from hell, right down to the alligator shoes.  I was wearing these alligator shoes and this very interesting and haunting chauffeur’s outfit, but what really did it for me was the hat.  And then, when I eventually get my eye taken out, the gold eye really brought it home for me.

What most impressed you about the way that Robert Rodriguez works?

HAYSBERT:  The way that he works with Frank [Miller] is just really seamless and symbiotic.  There was no conflict, whatsoever.  He’s a very cool and calm and collected director.  I got the feeling, right away, that he knew what he wanted, and we would do it until we got it.  And generally, that didn’t take very long.  It was a very fast-moving, effective set.  And the crew is his crew, so everybody works seamlessly together.  There was no raising of voices, no yelling and no screaming.  It was just great.  It was a great place to collaborate.

When you’re playing a character that’s this tough-as-nails, in a world that’s this intense, how did you find your performance?  Did you look for ways to identify with him, or to justify his motivations?

HAYSBERT:  First of all, I never think of my characters as good or evil.  I play them as honestly as I can.  When you’re playing a good character, you have an idea that you’re playing the hero and the good guy.  Actually, I think you’re more stymied playing the good guy than you are the bad guy.  As the bad guy, you have no inhibitions.  Nothing stops you from doing what it is you feel you have to do.  You do it because it’s what’s required.  I have to protect my goddess, as best as I can.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m the good guy.  I’m doing my job.  That’s how I look at it.  I don’t look at it as good or evil.  I look at it and say, “I have a job to do.  I love this woman.  I love the people that I work with.  They take care of me.  I’m going to do whatever I can for them.”

What was it like to work with Eva Green?

sin-city-2-dame-to-fill-for-eva-greenHAYSBERT:  She is fabulous.  She’s a very intense, very beautiful lady to work with.  I had to use a lot of self-control, which was hard to do, at times.  But, you stay professional and you do what you have to do.  I was just taken aback at how comfortable she was, being naked on stage.  I really quite admire her work ethic and her talent.  She’s incredible.  She’s European, and Europeans have a different take [on nudity] than American actors do.  They’re not quite as hung up.

Are you currently shooting anything now, or do you know what you’re going to be shooting next?

HAYSBERT:  I’m shooting a TV series right now, in Vancouver, that’s called Backstrom.  I have a few more movies coming out this year, and I have a few movies coming up.  I’m happy to say that I’m a busy camper.

You’ve done 24 and The Unit, which were both very successful shows.  What drew you back to TV for Backstrom?

HAYSBERT:  The story is taken from Swedish book.  It’s about this politically incorrect cop, who happens to be a genius at it.  That’s the character of Backstrom.  My character didn’t exist in the book.  He’s the moral compass.  I play a detective named John Almond, who also happens to be a minister who has foster children.  There’s an interesting dynamic in there.  He’s a detective, he carries a gun and he may have to shoot people, but on Sundays, he gives you salvation.  He has a tender side, where he’s dealing with foster kids and trying to be a good dad to his own kids while he’s trying to keep the foster kids out of trouble.  I think it ultimately comes back to his day job, which is that of a detective.  If he can do something in his world that can help keep a child out of trouble and steer them on the right path, that’s less work that he’s going to have to do, in the future.

How was the experience of working with Jason Reitman on Men, Women & Children?

HAYSBERT:  It was fabulous.  All of the directors I work with have their own unique gifts.  My particular segment deals with online dating.  It’s a very interesting take on it, and a great observation of what goes on there.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens in theaters on August 22nd.

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