Chicago native Harry Lennix plays FBI honcho Harry Cooper in the new NBC action-thriller, “The Blacklist,” debuting at 9 p.m. Monday (WMAQ-Channel 5). The focus of the new program is on Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, who surrenders — and promises to help the agency bring down dangerous criminals and terrorists, but only will work through rookie FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
Lennix recently chatted with this column about the new series, his co-star James Spader and his Windy City hometown.
Q: You are offered many roles for films, the theater and television. What was it about “The Blacklist” that got you excited?
A: There is so much to love with this show. I was completely intrigued right from the first time I heard about the whole premise. I love stories that have a cat and mouse thing going on. The scripts are great and I think the audience will be captivated by all the mental games that come into play here. Unlike a lot of these crime dramas, I think this will appeal to both fans of action and those who are attracted by drama that is more intellectual.
Q: What do you like about playing your character, who coincidentally shares your first name.
A: A nice coincidence, isn’t it? I play Harry Cooper, he’s the assistant director of counter intelligence for the FBI. His job is to deal with terrorism, fighting to prevent it on American soil. The CIA deals with international terrorism. But the FBI deals with in domestically. The show will deal with a lot of issues that are ripped right from the headlines — very relevant, unfortunately, with so many things happening for real today. But these are important issues, facing us all.
Q: What’s It like working with James Spader?
A: He is one of the best actors working today. It’s a real delight. I you can tell he just loves playing Reddington. He’s such an evil genius, and James plays him beautifully. He’s like a master puppeteer — with so many secrets. There are even a few involving my character, to be revealed as the series unfolds.
Q: When you think of your Chicago hometown, what are some of the first things that come to mind?
A: There’s so much: Family, theater, great architecture, friends, the Goodman, more theater, wonderful restaurants. Chicago is just is the greatest true American city in my opinion.
Q: What else do we have to expect from you?
A: I’m very pleased with ‘Mr. Sophistication,’ it’s a film about a guy named Ron Waters, inspired by Richard Pryor, whose career has imploded, but he gets a second chance, and his onstage performances come to teach him some things about his real life. It was a great character to play.