Speaking with Harry Lennix

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
February 14, 2003

If you attended Perkins Bass Elementary School in Chicago, you may remember a substitute teacher named Mr. Lennix. That’s Harry Lennix to you.

After appearing on “E.R.” and “The Practice” on television and in films such as “Clockers” and “Mo’ Money,” the former South Sider who now resides in Los Angeles has co-starring roles in the upcoming sequels to “The Matrix.”

For now, fans may catch the Northwestern University alum in “The Guys,” which closes this weekend at Lakeshore Theatre.

“I haven’t seen the play or the film version [starring Sigourney Weaver] yet,” says Lennix. “I think it’s better that I go into it without a vision of someone else in the role.”

In the production, Lennix portrays a fire captain preparing the eulogies for the men he lost during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York. The role is quite a departure from his action-packed part in “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” which will be released later this year.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE LENNIX HAD TO SAY:

“Matrix” geek? I loved “The Matrix.” I saw it opening weekend before it got huge. I was shocked at how thrilling it was with all the special effects and how it was so intelligent.

Keanu Reeves’ intelligence: [Laughs.] I didn’t get a chance to work with Keanu a whole lot but he’s a very nice guy. Laurence Fishburne is great to work with, too, and it was a kick to get on screen with him.

Tell us a “Matrix” sequel secret: I wish I could but we had to sign these disclosure agreements. It was a painstaking, intricate shoot. Thank goodness everyone was extraordinarily capable. It was a magical time.

Favorite non-“Matrix” film: “City of God.” It’s brilliant–the best movie I’ve seen in many years.

Best advice I ever got: Anthony Hopkins said it a couple of times when we worked on “Titus.” He said, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

Last good book you read: I’m reading books about swimming. I almost had a near drowning experience in Mexico.

Best form of exercise: I need to hone my technique, so I’m taking swimming classes three times a week. It doesn’t feel too great to have 70-year-old ladies lapping me in the pool.

Speedos or trunks? Speedos are great but I don’t wear them. I used to wear baggy shorts and ended up pulling half of the pool with me in them. Now I wear Tyr, which aren’t baggy.

Cat or dog lover? I have to say dog or Hank will get angry. [My dog] is the best security system you could buy. But he can’t swim well, either. He loathes the pool.

Favorite music: I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music, like Dvorak. Mozart is my all-time favorite. My true love is jazz, and I’ve been listening to Earl Gardner and this new kid D.D. Jackson who sounds Afro-Cuban.

Favorite instrument: I play the piano a little bit.

Acting up on TV: Television is the most difficult medium for me. I’ve never been able to lick this monster.

Making movies: It’s all about the ability to concentrate in short intervals. It’s like running wind sprints.

Doing theater: Theater is like running the marathon. I feel the most comfortable here.

Why theater rules: I don’t have to watch any of my performances. I have a really difficult time looking at myself on screen ’cause I’m seeing all my mistakes and wishing I had done better.

Filming in Chicago: I came to Chicago one time for “ER” in the winter. They had to cut the trip short ’cause the cameras wouldn’t operate. They must’ve been L.A. cameras, ’cause I’ve shot in Chicago before and the cameras were fine.

The Pivens: Byrne Piven was one of my idols, so when Jeremy called and asked me to do this play, there was only one answer. If Joyce, Jeremy or Shira ask me to do something, the answer is always yes.

The last word on Chicago: Home.

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