He might have starred in mega-blockbusters including The Matrix series and Batman V Superman, but Harry still remembers growing up on the South Side of Chicago, where he attended a high school seminary before becoming a public school music teacher.
“I’m the son of a guy from Louisiana who died before I was two. I was the youngest of four and my mom put us all through school. I had a great fascination with the Catholic church and mass and the rituals of it. In some way, the rites and the rituals got me in touch with the presentation and eventually acting and producing. I went to a high school seminary in ’79, and we were the first seminarians in America to be visited by a pope in Chicago. It was Pope John Paul II and it was a huge deal. I was really interested in activism and service. After graduating from Northwestern University, I became a teacher to keep the lights on and pay the rent – it kept me from becoming a waiter. I was also a professional actor and did a number of plays. I would rehearse at night after teaching school, so I would have 18 to 20 hour days. After getting work in movies in Chicago and Los Angeles, I took a leave of absence before coming back to teach school. After a long period of learning my craft and strengths and applying it in stages throughout the US, primarily in Chicago, I got a call from a former classmate asking what I was doing. I told her I was teaching and she said come to New York and I’ll be your representative, and I did.”
This ambitious actor, who started getting jobs in movies and tv shows, eventually landed a role in a movie called The Five Heartbeats. This film put Harry on the map in Hollywood – and convinced him to keep following his heart, which led to additional projects.
Harry, who has appeared in a long list of films, including Justice League: Throne of Atlantic, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Ray and Across the Universe, is now in the longest-running show he’s ever been in, The Blacklist. Lennix, who has been playing Assistant FBI Director Harold Cooper for seven years, is enjoying his longevity in the business. Harry also appears on Showtime’s popular show Billions.
“I really do love being a part of The Blacklist, it’s great when you can have fun at work, especially since I shoot ten months out of the year. I like challenging parts, whether it’s playing character parts or the lead. It’s like running a hundred-yard dash instead of a marathon, you just use different muscles. As long as the story is good, I’ll usually enjoy the part.”
Lennix is now building his own legacy in Chicago, where he just announced that he’s going to be developing a performing arts center on the South Side. The state- of-the-art facility will allow the community to enjoy high caliber live performances every night. According to Harry, patrons will be able to “see something culturally significant and artistically fulfilling and relevant that speaks to an experience that is underserved. I want to make Chicago the capital of black America, and the South Side is the epicenter of that. It’s long overdue, and I’m privileged and honored that I get to be a part of it. There’s no real central place for the arts in Chicago, or a center where multidisciplinary forms can be presented, and there’s certainly not that for black people in the whole country. Taron Patton who was at one point the executive director of Congo Square Theater, said let’s build a home and I said yes, we should do it.”
While you might be able to catch him on stage one day at his performance center which is slated to open within the next couple of years, Harry is currently focusing on this fulfilling stage of his life. After living in Los Angeles for a bit, Harry, who had lived in New York in the 90s, moved back seven years with his wife, Djena Nichole Graves, who is in private equity, and now considers Manhattan home. From listening to live jazz and eating by Lincoln Center or at Smoke in Harlem, Harry, who lives in Midtown West, near his favorite restaurant, Tuscany Steakhouse, has truly embraced the city lifestyle – he even roots for the Rangers!
“The best thing about filming The Blacklist is that we are able to travel to all five boroughs, as well as the Hudson River Valley and Tarrytown. New York in my opinion is the greatest city in the world.”
The always energetic Harry is also involved in other endeavors which hold deep meaning for him, including his production company called Black Faith Entertainment. “My real purpose with
this is to capture the religious experience of black people in an artistic form. I don’t think there’s anything like that or enough of it. People without spiritual artistic imagination are bound or doomed to some extent to always look outside of themselves for salvation. I have a film called Revival, a musical version of the Gospel of John that merges Broadway and cinema styles in a way that hasn’t been seen before. The movie is about to come out in December on Sony Revival streaming and features people of all colors.”
This successful self-starter who started getting into distribution about ten years ago, came out with his first movie called Trouble Waters starring Tatum O’Neal, Robert Patrick from Terminator and himself.
He is about to release H4, an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV shot in the streets of LA with an all-black cast which is the first black Shakespeare film about King Henry IV. “I’m putting to use what I’ve learned, but it needs to be made relevant for the benefit of everyone, not just black people. What proof do they have to show that Shakespeare is universal? My career is probably closer to winding down than to getting started, so I want to pass the ball on to provide opportunities for other people. I don’t have any intention of hanging up my spurs or anything, it’s just about this next generation.”
Lennix is also on the board of Reading Rescue, a professional development program and a one-on-one research-based literacy intervention geared towards struggling first graders. The program is currently in over a hundred schools throughout New York, especially in challenged neighborhoods. Harry is also the spokesman for The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Know the Numbers,” a campaign to raise awareness about how prostate cancer disproportionately affects African American men.
From his longstanding show to his work on building a legacy, Harry is at the height of his career and can’t wait to show you what he has coming up next!