Chicago’s Harry Lennix busy with ‘The Blacklist,’ ‘Batman v Superman’

SHARE Chicago’s Harry Lennix busy with ‘The Blacklist,’ ‘Batman v Superman’

The old phrase “The hardest working man in Hollywood” is probably overused and over-exaggerated, but when it comes to Chicago native and Northwestern University alum Harry Lennix, it likely is more appropriate than for many other actors. Along with starring in the NBC hit drama series, “The Blacklist” with James Spader (airing at 9 p.m. Mondays, WMAQ-Channel 5), Lennix also is currently filming the much-anticipated “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jesse Eisenberg and Holly Hunter, presently scheduled for release March 25, 2016.

While he was in Chicago over the weekend, I got the chance to catch up with the veteran star, who shared his thoughts about both of his current high-profile projects — plus his ideas for filling a void in what show business is currently offering the public. In addition, Lennix revealed that while he has had a career many actors would covet — dating back to his acclaimed performances on stage at the Goodman Theatre and elsewhere — he had begun to lose a bit of his mojo for acting.

“To be honest, in recent years, I had kind of lost the love of acting that I had when I was younger. But that was before ‘Batman v Superman’ and ‘The Blacklist’ came along.

Suddenly, I find that I now have a second wind, if you will. I got a shot in the arm of adrenaline, artistically speaking. James Spader is one of the reasons for that,” said Lennix Saturday.

In describing Spader, who has captivated audiences with his deliciously devious role of Raymond “Red” Reddington on “The Blacklist,” Lennix compared working with him with an actor’s version of “playing the infield with Joe DiMaggio. … He is the consummate professional who has an encyclopedic knowledge of acting style and range. It’s really cool simply to see him do his thing,” added Lennix. “He approaches the role with great relish and skill. He has a brilliant mind, that is perfectly matched to the character he plays.”

For Lennix, his role as Harold Cooper, the head of the FBI, is “an ideal thing for an actor — to have a steady job on a well-received show. It’s pretty close to hitting the lottery. There are not a lot of people in our business who have that. … I certainly don’t take it for granted.”

Lennix also agreed that some of the best writing today is on television, but when it comes to “The Blacklist,” he’s very happy that “we prove that cable TV isn’t the only place to have fun on television. You don’t have to pay an extra 20 bucks to enjoy ‘The Blacklist.’ I love that!”

As for playing the FBI chief, Lennix laughed loudly when I asked if he thinks he could be an effective leader of that iconic federal agency in real life. “I also have a pretty high place in ‘Batman v Superman, so theoretically — in that alternative universe that is acting — I’m in a pretty powerful position. In THAT world, yes, I could be pretty good director of the FBI, no problem!”

As our conversation turned to “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Lennix called it “Disney World for actors. It is it’s own universe. They have everything a creative person could want, from Zack Snyder the director, to the actors to the writers, including Chris Terrio, who won the Oscar for ‘Argo,’ who did this script and I think it’s brilliant. Plus just to be part of something that is going to be out there for the first time — combining these two iconic characters in a certain way, Batman and Superman together — I think it’s pretty heady stuff.”

Addressing the controversy over the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Lennix leapt to his defense.

“He’s too smart to let an opportunity like that to go by. … I don’t think there’s any question he was underestimated, in some ways, as an actor — until people saw ‘Gone Girl.’ The kind of response he’s getting for that, for playing that kind of nuanced role as an actor who’s playing a not-all-that-smart guy, is where his craft as an actor, a filmmaker and a skilled technician all came together and is out there now on display.

“When it comes to Batman, I think he’s going to be well-served by the role, and he will serve it well too.”

Turning to his other current and future plans, Lennix said he is one guy “who can’t stay idle. In Hollywood, you can’t wait for people to call you. I’m always calling a lot of people. You have to be pro-active.”

On that note, Lennix and fellow actor and Chicago native Steve Harris have formed their own production company, called Exponent Media Group. Lennix said that they think they will be able to fill a niche that largely has been diminished in recent years. “You have the highly-endowed, big budget productions and then there are many, smaller, micro-budget independent films, so the middle-class of films, so to speak, have fallen away. I actually want to take over some of that space — that middle range of films — in the independent world.”

Lennix’s team already has three films that they’ve done so far and are in the process of putting together a package of more movies to make in the next few years.

One already completed movie, is “Mr. Sophistication,” in which Lennix starred as Ron Waters, a Richard Pryor-type comedian, which had what Lennix called “a soft release, but now we are going to be releasing digitally, as soon as next week.”

Also in the can, and already seen at film festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival last year, is “H4,” a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” set in contemporary Los Angeles. Lennix not only is proud of the film, “which is the first all-Black Shakespeare film ever done to my knowledge,” but also fits in with the actor and filmmaker’s desire to “continue to approach the works of Shakespeare, but from an American point of view.”

The third Exponent Media film has Lennix “perhaps the most excited about” is “Revival,” a gospel musical used to tell a narrative of the the life, mission and message of Jesus Christ.

Lennix pointed to that trio of films as examples of the kinds of motion pictures he wants to make that “can deliver inspirational content to the public.”

When it was noted he plays Pontius Pilate in “Revival,” Lennix laughed again. “I have to tell you, that role was NOT my first choice. … Yes, those darker, sinister roles often are more interesting to play, but I have to tell you, Jesus Christ is a pretty interesting guy too!”


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