By: Laura L. Thomas
As I sat down across Harry Lennix in the private dining room of NBC Universal Studios The Grill restaurant, I was immediately engaged by his presence. Not only because the striking actor, who plays Harold Cooper on NBC’s “The Blacklist”, stands at a towering 6’4”, but because his unguarded and open nature invites you in for a conversation, demanding you leave your inhibitions behind and immediately putting you at ease. As we settled into the space and exchanged small talk, three things instantly struck me about Harry Lennix: he is brilliant, he is passionate, and he is mesmerizing.
Before we opened on the topic of “The Blacklist”, which airs it’s milestone 100th episode tonight, Jan. 17, the Chicago-native warned the small group of us in attendance that he “had a lot to say”, a promise he certainly lived up to over the next nearly 90-minute conversation. He started by speaking to the biggest change the audience will see in Harold Cooper, his “Blacklist” character, in the weeks and episodes leading up to the anticipated 100th. “I think he (Cooper) has learned the nuances of law and order and it’s codependency on crime, and he has become more of a realist…the rose-colored glasses are off and I think he is willing, for a bigger cause, to bend some rules. And I like that about him,” Lennix stated. He then used the opportunity to draw a connection between the fictional law and order we see on television in shows like “The Blacklist” and a call-to-action needed in places like his hometown of Chicago and other hot-spots of crime around America. “You look at what happened in Los Angeles after the crack epidemic, there were a lot of murders in Los Angeles County…largely drug related. A few years ago (and I don’t know what the numbers are now), the largest cause of homicide in Los Angeles County was domestic disputes, so not gang, and that was a direct effort of community policing and the people giving people in the community power…holding town halls, people who were first responders in the neighborhood…people who were there in crisis mode on the ground. That worked. Why has it not been applied in my hometown, a place like Chicago?” Lennix, who has a personal stance on the matter, added “My friends are police officers. My friends are gangsters. My friends are hustlers on the streets. But there is a mutual respect that needs to be encouraged and developed…and I hope that ‘The Blackllist’ shows a possibility that crime and punishment and law and order have to coexist. I like the reality that the show suggests and I think it does exist in the real world,”. Lennix also touched on the way the show has always embraced the exposure of real-life modern-day criminals through advanced technology. “I think in a lot of ways we predict or at least expose, because of the nature of the show, how people go about scamming people or defrauding people, compromising security and safety both militarily and financially,”.
The conversation advanced to a myriad of topics, including his inspiration for the creation of his own production company, Exponent Media Group alongside Chicago associate Steve Harris, his former life as an elementary school music educator, and that time he almost quit acting to pursue a life as a theologian. However, when it came to getting the dish about what viewers could expect when they tuned in to the show’s 100th episode, the charismatic Lennix was a bit more tight-lipped. “I can tell you that in our 100th episode we have the honor of having the legendary Nathan Lane as our Blacklister…and that the whole season has been at least a little more conscientious of having a little more fun…in addition to the fact that the whole world is on the brink of disaster every episode,” Lennix remarked. It seems that while his character may be willing to embrace bending the rules, Lennix is remaining straight-laced, closing with “It’s a special episode, that’s the one thing I know for sure,”.
Be sure to catch Harry Lennix as Harold Cooper in “The Blacklist” Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC.