NEW YORK – Playing President David Palmer on the hit series 24 has given Dennis Haysbert a whole new outlook on the real-life Oval Office.
"I can understand why the presidents I've seen in my lifetime go into the White House with dark hair and all come out with white hair," Haysbert told The New York Post.
"They have to make decisions relatively quickly, dealing with hundreds of thousands of lives everyday. I'm beginning, to a certain extent, to understand what they go through."
As the show's second season rapidly cuts loose, President Palmer -- who, as Senator Palmer in the first season, narrowly escaped a terrorist assassination -- must find a nuclear bomb before it detonates in LA.
Haysbert realizes that he gets to leave the fictional Oval Office and go home at the end of the day." But when I'm doing it, I'm in the moment and, in that moment, I feel being torn."
A recent case in point: Making sure a news reporter wouldn't go on the air to expose the bomb threat and panic the nation.
"I had no other choice but to sequester him," says Haysbert, describing his character's actions. "I put him away. For a day."
"It's not even a day yet," Haysbert corrects himself, alluding to the series real-time format where one episode translates into a literal hour.
Haysbert hints that this sort of rule-bending behavior from his character is just the beginning.
"It's going to get funkier," he said. " There are going to be decisions I have to make that are going to get scrutinized. I think it will shake the foundation of how you think our government works."
His other burden includes the return of Sherry Palmer (played by Penny Johnson Jerald), his ultra-ambitious, scheming wife from the first season -- whom the president has since divorced.
The 48-year-old Haysbert could never have predicted that 24 would come back for a second season with the highly unlikely Hollywood outcome of having a black actor portraying a man who has successfully run a presidential race.
"He happens to be a black man, and I'm happy the show never plays on that, because it really doesn't matter," Haysbert says. "What matters is, this is the man that could be president. David Palmer, I would vote for."
That his character now holds the nation's highest office makes Haysbert very happy, he says, adding he can see Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Oval Office one day.
"What he represents to the country -- I can see him as president," Haysbert says. "The way the world is going, if that's our only problem -- the color of our president's skin -- then we've lost already."