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Hisham Tawfiq Reveals How He Really Feels About Red and Dembe's Relationship
"I'm just humbled about the journey. Getting to be a part of this historic show," Tawfiq tells NBC Insider.
Throughout the 10 nail-biting seasons of The Blacklist, we've seen many dedicated agents team up with Raymond Reddington (James Spader) to take down his infamous list of Blacklisters. But when operations went belly-up, Dembe Zuma (Hisham Tawfiq) never failed to have Red's back.
Dembe has been a fan favorite since his first introduction in The Blacklist premiere as Red's stoic personal driver and bodyguard. But we quickly learned that Dembe was much more than a chauffeur. He was adopted by Red as a young child after being rescued from a child trafficking ring. Red raised Dembe and later included him in his criminal syndicate.
Dembe remained loyal to Red his entire life, and in many ways, he completed Red. While Red is keen on a lavish monologue, Dembe is a man of limited words. When Red was raging and maniacal, Dembe knew to remain calculated and on guard. Red is known to be ruthless to many, but his love for Dembe is an Achilles heel.
By the series finale of The Blacklist, many aspects of Dembe and Red's relationship have changed. Still, we saw just how far Dembe and Red were willing to go to protect each other, and it led to some intense moments between the beloved characters. Red was on the run from the feds while Dembe was tasked with arresting him. Dembe was shot during the pursuit, leading Red to provide a life-saving blood transfusion that may have contributed to his tragic death.
While Dembe recovered in the hospital, fans were awe-stricken as the typically tight-lipped man delivered one of the most heartwrenching monologues in all of The Blacklist. He reflected on his many adventures with Red and how much he admired his fearlessness toward death, despite being surrounded by it constantly. He then explained the core lesson of his time with Red was learning to "rage against" death, by enjoying life's simplest pleasures.
"You'd never imagine this is how it would end," Dembe told Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) in the tear-jerking scene. "But our time with him, our time together, it was never about how it ended. It was about the adventure. About life. About Raymond constantly reminding us, showing us, imploring us to rage."
NBC Insider chatted with Tawfiq a few weeks ago about the legacy The Blacklist leaves behind amid the emotional crescendo that was the explosive series finale. Read on to hear from Tawfiq about bidding farewell to such an iconic character.
Looking back on The Blacklist with Hisham Tawfiq
NBC Insider: Over 200 episodes later, how does it feel to say goodbye to The Blacklist?
Hisham Tawfiq: For me, it's, you know, it's a sad time, but it's also a grateful time. So I go back and forth between both. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude, and I'm just humbled about the journey, getting to be a part of this historic show.
Who is your all-time favorite Blacklister the Task Force has put away?
I loved working with [Season 3's] Mr. Solomon. We never got a chance to wrap that up. But, he was one of the ones I enjoyed interacting with him in the show. I also loved the Anslo Garrick character in Season 1.
What would you say is one of your favorite memories from the show?
Some that stand out is just the conversations that Dembe had with his Imam on the show. Other moments are just traveling and seeing how wide the fan base is. I got a chance to go to Ghana in 2019. Just seeing how much love the people of Ghana had for the show. There's been moments where the whole cast was together on the set... Moments like that stand out to me. They were great.
How do you feel Dembe's relationship with Red has changed since the start of The Blacklist?
For Red and Dembe, I don't know. I think that relationship, it never really changed. The amount of time that they spent with each other changed. But at the end of the day, we both knew in times of emergency, that we both could pick up the phone and call on each other, even though it might involve some hesitancy or embarrassment. At the end of the day, we were bonded for life. So there was this constant ebb and flow. I think the biggest change is Dembe joining the Task Force. This is a unit that I hardly had any interaction with. [Laughs]
Any time I was with Red and the Task Force, it was almost like I didn't even speak to anyone there. And I think as time went on, I had more interaction with Harry Cooper out of anyone on the Task Force. And there was a tremendous amount of respect I think that we both had for each other. And I think out of that the Task Force, with Harry being the head of it, the rest of the Task Force kind of reluctantly fell in place. And at the same time grew to respect, and not only fear Dembe, but [accept him].
In one word, how would you describe the ending of The Blacklist?