The Blacklist interview: Hisham Tawfiq on Dembe’s journey, final season 5 episodes

The Blacklist logo any seasonThe final episodes of The Blacklist season 5 are airing on NBC Wednesday nights and as we enter the home stretch things are only going to become all the more complex and interesting. Even though Ian Garvey is dead, the duffel bag of bones is still out there and that leads to questions aplenty about how to retrieve it and how this secret could destroy Raymond Reddington and his entire world.

Someone who has been there for the entirety of this story, and voiced his opinions many times over on the subject, is Dembe Zuma. He’s tried to explain to Reddington the importance of cluing Liz Keen in to the truth, but at times, Reddington hasn’t listened. Dembe does still remain by his side and that’s good given just how intense the home stretch of this season is about to become.

In our new interview below the man behind Dembe in Hisham Tawfiq shares some of his thoughts on his character’s journey, the relationship between Dembe and Reddington, and how the final episodes of this season compare to some others in past years.

CarterMatt – What have you enjoyed the most about Dembe’s journey so far this season?

Hisham Tawfiq – I know one of the highlights I have really enjoyed about Dembe’s journey was Red trusting and letting go of his fear of me operating blindly. When I say that, I’m talking about when I went undercover for [‘The Kilgannon Corporation’]. That was one glimpse of it, but I think throughout the whole season there has been a sort of understanding that if Red is going to rebuild this empire, there are going to be times where we have to separate to take care of different jobs in order to get to the end goal. That’s one of the things that I liked this season.

Is there still concern on his part regarding Reddington’s concentration on the duffel bag?

Yeah, absolutely. In the rebuilding phase it wasn’t dire. It was more light and funny. There were all sorts of characters coming in and it was fun. Then, it got to a point where it became more desperate and it started to get darker. With that, Red started to get a little bit more reckless. That just opened him and myself up for more attacks, which in turn led to Dembe trying to remind Red of the ultimate goal. We want to try to get there as safe as possible, even if we are dealing with violence and dangerous people.

Some of my favorite scenes with you and James Spader is when there is this conflict that the two of you get to play off of. Is there any tension still between Dembe and Reddington over Red’s decision to keep the secret from Liz?

The tension is always there and still there, but I think with these final episodes there are going to be a lot of things that happen to put that tension in the rear-view mirror for a while because of the immediate things that we have to deal with.

Where is the action going to pick up now moving into the next new episode?

The last episode ended with Garvey going down and with Garvey going down we’re still on the look out for the duffel bag. If anything, it’s become more desperate. With [Garvey] being dead, it’s a little bit scary trying to figure out where it is and whose hands it is in. In the next episode, that’s going to be tackled and we dive into some really deep waters.

With Garvey out of the picture, has Dembe’s role or mindset changed at all?

I don’t think his mindset has changed. I think Dembe’s on board with getting this bag. He tells Red ‘we have to get this bag by any means necessary, but we also have to be aware of the cost.’ I think we’re going to see in these upcoming episodes that there is going to be a cost in going all-out to recover this bag. Even though Dembe has always been about the truth and revealing the truth, he’s not able to do that yet. With that, he has to support him in recovering this bag, but it comes with a heavy, heavy cost.

How would you compare this final stretch of episodes to what we’ve seen in past seasons leading up to finales? The Mr. Kaplan arc last arc, for example, was really great.

I would think out of all the seasons, Mr. Kaplan’s death was, to me, one of the biggest oh-my-god moments. But, then that was followed up with Tom dying and that was another one of those moments. I would have to pat the writers and creators on the back because when I read the last episode [for this season], it shook me to my core as far as the direction they’re going in now. The finale is going to really shake up the ground that we’re standing on.

Did this season end in a way in which you expected?

Not at all. I can’t really say much (laughs), but the way it ended is going to catch everybody off-guard almost in the same was as Mr. Kaplan, but with a whole different twist to it.

I know there’s not an official renewal yet, but do you have a sense as to where Dembe’s story could go from here?

Some of the conversations I’ve had with creators halfway through the season were tackled. That was just about the mindset of Dembe being faithful and loyal to Red, but also beating himself up about neglecting his family. It was revealed that he has a daughter and that she has a daughter. One of the conversations I had with the creators was that I’d love to explore the conflict that Dembe has — he pledges his allegiance to Red, but also has an allegiance to his family. How does Dembe rest with that and how does he solve it? Those are some of the things I would love to see explored.

Finally, how are you feeling about the future of The Blacklist right now? Are you hopeful there will be more?

It’s interesting because I left saying ‘okay, I’ll see you next season’ even though we don’t have official word. It’s almost putting your head in the sand and not really addressing the elephant in the room. I think everybody’s doing the same thing.

Thanks to Hisham for his time. (Photo: NBC)

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