Hisham Tawfiq appears in NBC’s The Blacklist, currently in its 5th Season. As Dembe Zuma, he is the quiet protector of Raymond Reddington (James Spader). He is the criminal’s shadow, never far from him, fully ready to protect his mentor, savior and boss at any moment. Dembe is a man of few words, yet his silence, body language and gentle soul can speak volumes. I think we’d all love a Dembe by our side.
A quick look at Hisham’s credits, and you’ll soon realize he’s no newcomer to the screen, having been working steadily in front of the camera for 16 years. With guest starring roles on Law and Order: Criminal Intent and SVU, 30 Rock and Ironside, and many TV movies and shorts, he’s done a lot. But it’s The Blacklist that has made him a household name.
His personal life is one of service to his fellow man. As a marine, and then as a New York City fire fighter, he’s seen the best and worst that life has to offer. He recently retired from the NYFD when he was made a series regular on The Blacklist. Hisham shared his thoughts with us on The Blacklist, other projects, and his latest movie, Jinn.
Q1) Did you have any idea when you first took the part of Dembe that he’d grow this much, and be such an important part of Reddington’s world?
I had no clue! I was hired to do one episode.
Q2) Coming from the Marines and the FDNY, what made you interested in acting?
I had a passion for the arts at a very early age. It started with performing karate moves, then African-Dance and then Theater.
Q3) How was it working on the movie Jinn, compared to The Blacklist?
Jinn was a passion project. I’ve dreamed about playing an Imam and telling stories from the point of view of African American Muslims in the USA. It was a dream come true.
Q4) Any plans for working on more projects like Jinn during The Blacklist’s hiatus?
I would love too! I am keeping my eyes and ears open for projects that tell stories about the Muslim experience.
Q5) Will we ever get to see Dembe’s daughter and granddaughter again? It was lovely seeing that side of him.
I hope so.
Q6) How much of Hisham is in Dembe? Are they similar?
Similar in a lot of ways.
Q7) Was it hard at first, not getting many lines (in The Blacklist), from an acting standpoint?
It is very hard and is something I still struggle with, but I just try to learn as much as I can and look for the message for me in this role.
Q8) Do you ever see yourself moving from in front of the camera to behind it, and perhaps writing or directing?
Absolutely. I’ve already started writing and am working on a documentary film about my life.
Q9) In the scenes where Red and Dembe are having fun, watching tv, or finding sailboats in comics, are those as fun to film as they are for us to watch?
Yes, and James always takes the games very serious which makes it even funnier on set.
Q10) Is there anything you’d like to see Dembe get to do on the show that we haven’t seen from him before?
I would like to see him with his family more, and also some interaction with an Imam or going to Jummah, etc.
Q11) And one I have to ask – does Dembe know whose bones are in the suitcase?
Dembe knows but Hisham has no clue.
Thank you, Hisham, for taking the time to answer our questions.
Hisham Tawfiq can be seen Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC’s The Blacklist.
Photos courtesy NBC, NY Daily News.