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Who knows the truth about 'Blacklist's' Red? Dembe, perhaps?

Harlem-born actor Hisham Tawfiq, who plays Dembe, says his character "knows everything." 

"The Blacklist" actor Hisham Tawfiq previews what's to

"The Blacklist" actor Hisham Tawfiq previews what's to come for Dembe Zuma in season 6. Photo Credit: NBC / Virginia Sherwood

The shocking “Blacklist” revelation that Raymond Reddington is in fact an impostor who’s assumed the deceased Red's identity for years may not be so groundbreaking to those closest to him.

Harlem-born actor Hisham Tawfiq, who plays Reddington’s bodyguard/right-hand man, is convinced his Dembe Zuma knows all.

“It’s pretty clear through the five seasons that Dembe — and our writers may turn around and make me eat these words — but Dembe, I think, knows everything,” Tawfiq, 48, says.

But fans are torn. How could Dembe, the loyal light of hope in the darkness that is the city-set “Blacklist” know the truth behind who the criminal mastermind, played by James Spader, really is?

“If you look back at all of the seasons, Dembe has always said just tell the truth, which adds to the belief that he knows and if Red would just do that then it would take a lot of relief and stress off his shoulders but he refuses to do that,” he explains, admitting that the actors still don’t know the answers to all of fans’ cliffhanger questions.

Entering season 6, the man who fans believed to be Liz Keen’s (Megan Boone) father is incarcerated — his laundry list of transgressions catching up to him. This new prison backdrop will without fail alter the landscape of the NBC series, giving other characters the chance to step in where Red’s limitations now lie.

“Red usually operates being able to do and go wherever he wants at any time,” he says. “With him being locked up, it puts myself and other people in the task force in a position to do things they normally wouldn’t do.”

For Dembe, that includes doing whatever it takes to help free Red. One upcoming plot twist for his character, Tawfiq admits, even surprised him — though not much does after six years on the job.  

“What Dembe and Red do together, I think we’ve done it all ... But there is actually one thing [this season] that is kind of shocking, there is,” he teases, without slipping any details.

Excited about the prospect of taking on new (albeit illegal) experiences in “The Blacklist” world, Tawfiq recalls that it wasn’t long ago his character was expected to fade out of the script.

Dembe, the former freedom fighter from South Sudan, started as a series extra, not yet written in the script. Tawfiq was cast in the series, his breakout role, in 2013 with not one line to his name.

“It’s huge,” he says of his progression to supporting actor and eventually series regular, and now keeper of Red's deepest secret. “I think every actor, a lot of people are preparing for a moment that’ll change their career and the way it worked with me. It all just snowballed."

Tawfiq went to casting auditions in New York City as a “side passion,” while corrections officer, Marine, and firefighter padded out his resume. It wasn’t until 20 years with the New York Fire Department — two years into his gig on “The Blacklist” — that the New Yorker retired to pursue acting full time.

“Originally born in Harlem, oldest of five brothers, I never really looked at the arts as a career path that would sustain me financially,” he reflects. “But I never lost sight of my passion and my dream.”

He continues: “Mine started out as an improv and for one episode and it just continued to snowball until I turn around season 3 or 4 and I’m like, ‘wow, look how this rolled out.’ But it’s something I don’t take for granted. When I look back, it was a lesson learned about how every opportunity can be a big one.”

“The Blacklist” returns with a two-part premiere on Jan. 3 at 10 p.m. and Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. on NBC.


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