Most of us have trouble handling one job. Then there's Hisham Tawfiq, the actor, firefighter and ex-Marine -- a guy who's good at dialog and at silences. He's in "The Blacklist," which has a strong season-opener Thursday (Oct. 1); here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
Life keeps giving
Hisham Tawfiq new duties.
He's fought fires,
fought soldiers, guarded prisoners. He's been on stage, offering big
bursts of dialog; he's been on TV, saying absolutely nothing.
That's where most
people first saw him – on “The Blacklist” as Dembe Zuma, Red's
silent bodyguard. “There were no lines,” he recalled. “It was
just being a presence.”
“Blacklist” has lines and emotions for everyone. As the third
season begins, Liz (framed for murders) and Red are on the run ...
and Dembe has a separate crisis.
But even in the
early days, Tawfiq said, he enjoyed the acting exercise of “working
with the silences.” And from the beginning, he said, James Spader
(who stars as Red) seemed interested.
“A lot of A-list
actors don't really have a conversation with you, but he always did,”
Tawfiq said. “We had a really interesting conversation, just about
It's definitely a
unique one: Even now, as a regular on a hit show, Tawfiq is a New
York firefighter. Before that, he was a soldier in Desert Storm and a
guard at Sing Sing.
Tawfiq, 39, grew up
in Harlem during its tough years. “In the '70s and '80s, hard times
had taken over,” he said. “It was almost like a zombie town.”
His dad – a Muslim
minister who had worked with Malcolm X – kept a close eye on the
five brothers. At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Tawfiq focused on football
and theater, at least for a while.
“When I was in
high school, my father passed away ... and I lost a little of my
focus,” he said. “I knew I had to get away from there.”
That led to the
Marines, the prison job and firefighting. By combining some of those,
he'll be eligibe for retirement in 2016; in the meantime, he juggles
jobs. “That's the beautiful thing about (being a firefighter); I
have the flexibility to work different shifts.”
his vacations and his days off, he's had an alternate life. He
studied with the Negro Ensemble Theatre, steeped in history; “Denzel
Washington came to our graduation.” He acted with the Arkansas
Repertory Theatre and subsequently married the daughter of one of the
“Little Rock Nine” who brought integration to Central High
He did big roles
onstage – including the lead in “A Raisin in the Sun” -- and
tiny ones on film. Then he was cast in the second “Blacklist”
episode; “it was only supposed to be for one episode.”
Instead, he's been
in virtually every episode ... eventually getting lines and a back
story. He juggled his schedule to keep busy. “When I do have a day
or two off, I feel like I should be doing something.”
Maybe he could just
be a silent presence somewhere. He has experience at that, you know.
9 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, with season-opener Oct. 1