Portraying Pontius Pilate in his new film, “Revival!,” is a case of deja vu for Chicago native Harry Lennix. “I had a bit of a head start,” said the actor, who also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay for the movie — a musical re-imagining of John the Apostle’s Gospel, having its world premiere at the DuSable Museum of African American History on Dec. 18.
“By the time I was a senior at Northwestern, I had tried out for a dozen musicals, but I usually was cast in serious dramas. The problem: I wanted to be a song-and-dance man, in the worst way,” said Lennix, calling from his Los Angeles home. “However, everyone at Northwestern kept telling me, ‘Harry, stick to Shakespeare!’ That is, until the final quarter of my senior year, when they finally let me be in a musical: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ as Pontius Pilate!”
Yet, reprising that role in “Revival!” turned out to be a fluke. “My friend Angus Macfadyen [“Braveheart,” the “Saw” films, “We Bought a Zoo”] was supposed to play the part, but a snowstorm kept him from getting to L.A. the weekend we shot those scenes. So, at the last minute, I stepped in for him.”
The inspiration for “Revival!” grew out of an Eastertime plan in 2013 for a new take on the classic Passion Play concept to be performed at Lennix’s California church. Teaming up with a fellow parishioner, producer Holly Davis Carter (“The Gospel,” “Preachers of L.A.”), Lennix explained their desire to produce something new eventually led to the production of “Revival.” Featuring original music, it mostly was written by gospel star Mali Music and showcases such performers as Chaka Khan, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Michelle Williams and T’Keyah Crystal Keymah. The film is directed by Danny Green (“Troubled Waters”) and Obba Babatunde (“Miss Evers’ Boys,” “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”).
Lennix explained the essence of his movie is to present “a tonic for our troubled times through the music and traditions of black worship. I hope people will take a lot of comfort from watching our film.”
While Lennix hopes to return to acting on a Chicago stage soon, he is directing an upcoming Brooklyn production of “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red” (which premiered at Congo Square Theatre here last year), as well as continuing to star in “The Blacklist” TV series.