Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Harry Lennix (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Bentonville Film Festival) in The Five Heartbeats (Screenshot: YouTube) and The Blacklist (Photo: Zach Dilgard/NBC)

Harry Lennix has Superman anecdotes involving Henry Cavill and Gene Hackman

Harry Lennix (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Bentonville Film Festival) in The Five Heartbeats (Screenshot: YouTube) and The Blacklist (Photo: Zach Dilgard/NBC)

Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them about.

The actor: Harry Lennix didn’t immediately plan to take his love of acting and turn it into a full-time career—he spent time in the seminary as well as in the classroom as a teacher—but after a number of acclaimed theater performances turned into an on-camera career, there was no turning back. Having amassed a back catalog that includes sci-fi (Dollhouse and the Matrix sequels), Shakespeare (Titus), superhero movies (Man Of Steel), and even a little bit of comedy (Little Britain USA), Lennix has been spending the majority of his time in recent years in prime time, starring as FBI Agent Harold Cooper in NBC’s The Blacklist, which returns for its seventh season on October 4.

The Blacklist (2013–present)—“Harold Cooper” 

The A.V. Club: How did you find your way into the series in the first place? Did they come looking for you specifically?

Harry Lennix: Oh, no. I’m on The Blacklist. I’m not on the A-list. [Laughs.] But it came about pretty interestingly, because—and this is the truth—when the opportunity came about, I had decided that I was going to quit acting. It was just a different landscape, so I thought about making a serious change, and I told my manager Emily, “I’m done.” And she said, “Well, if I could get you a role, would you consider doing it?” And I said, “Okay. One last time, Emily!” And I swear, the next day I got a call. I’d just gotten back to Los Angeles, having driven a $600 car that I’d bought for my brother across the country, but I went and met [series creator] Jon Bokenkamp, and I just did, like, half a page for the reading, but that night they told me that I was going to be going to New York! It was completely random. I don’t think they had anybody in mind at all, but they gave me a chance at it, and… it’s been great! I think we’ve got a great season on tap. And Harold Cooper gets to take the spotlight. There’s an episode coming up in late October that focuses on him. So there’s that for fans to look forward to.

AVC: Your character has endured a fair amount over the run of the show thus far.

HL: Well, that’s true, although I think you could say that about just about everyone in the cast! [Laughs.] Everybody is always in danger on the show. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of our show: You never really know who’s safe, if anybody ever really is… and I’m not sure if they are. But it’s been seven years of closing loops and digging new holes and asking new questions. It’s been quite an extraordinary experience. It’s the longest job I’ve ever had.

AVC: So what’s James Spader really like?

HL: I don’t know. [Laughs.] He’s like Raymond Reddington. He’s mysterious! But he’s a deeply talented actor and a consummate professional, and he sets a tone that’s serious but fun. And he’s great to work with, although it’s like going head to head with a chess pro or a tennis expert. He can play at any level, which makes it really great to work with him.

AVC: You said Harold takes the spotlight later this season. Prior to this season, was there any particular episode or story arc of Cooper’s that you were particularly fond of?

HL: Well, you know, I really liked last season with going up to the president to make sure that Reddington doesn’t get executed. I don’t know what higher stakes there could be than that: life or death, toe-to-toe with the president. So I really liked that, acting with Benito [Martinez], and with Jennifer [Ferrin], who played Anna McMahon. I think also the pilot episode, where we get to meet these people. We set a tone that we’ve somehow managed to maintain. That’s very difficult to do after six years, to essentially be the same show and deliver that in a consistent way... That’s difficult, and I have to applaud the showrunners here, that they’ve managed to pull it off every week.

Jack And Mike (1986)—“Fraternity Brother”

AVC: It looks like your first actual on-camera appearance was in an episode of ABC’s Jack And Mike.

HL: That’s exactly correct. Very good! That’s a good scoop right there. [Laughs.] Nice people on that show.

AVC: So having been working in the theater, did you actually have an interest in stepping in front of the camera?

HL: I think I did. You know, I was interested in this life, as it were, from about the age of 15, so I knew that I would have to do something with this. Whatever my profession might end up being, I knew that I was not going to be able to stop acting. So I was bitten, and I knew I was going to be doing this, but I didn’t know what route it would take. For example, I was in the seminary at that time, studying for the priesthood. I was pretty serious about it. I taught school for several years in the Chicago public school system as my day job. I could’ve done that. Or I probably could’ve been a lawyer or something. But I knew that any of those would’ve involved a certain amount of performance, so at the end of the day, I was just, like, “Well, I guess that’s what I am: a performer.” [Laughs.]

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1988)—“Levee”

AVC: The turning point for your theater career seems to have been playing Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

HL: That’s right. In Chicago. That was at the Pegasus Theater. I knew August Wilson and considered him a great friend, so to speak. He was a genius of the American stage and literature.

AVC: Did you meet him as a result of being in the play?

HL: Yes, he came to see a production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. I think ours was the second one. It had been on Broadway, but no one in Chicago was really familiar with it, so he came to see it because he knew it would capture some attention, and he saw a performance or two of mine. And then I worked with him when he wrote King Hedley II. He was there in the room quite a bit. He was crafting the play. It was not yet on Broadway, but it was heading there, so we worked directly together. And then it was my understanding that based on that time, he considered me to play the role of Harmond Wilks in his last play, Radio Golf, which I went to Broadway with. He was a great ally, and it was a tremendous honor to be able to work with somebody with a theater named after them on Broadway! [Laughs.] But his contribution to the American theater is undeniable. He was a great, great man.

The Five Heartbeats (1991)—“Dresser” 
The Parent ‘Hood (1996)—“Sergeant Rutledge”

AVC: Your first film role of note was playing Dresser in The Five Heartbeats.

HL: Yep, that’s true again. Very good. I got that in 1990, I think. It was my first feature I’d done where the character I played was of some substance. I’d played little things in movies before that, little bit parts, but at that time I was really honing my chops on the stage. I was a constant theatrical performer during those earlier years. Like, from ’86 until about ’95, I’d say.

AVC: You mentioned in an interview with Ebony that The Five Heartbeats was your introduction into “the Black Hollywood circle.”

HL: Yeah, that’s true, it was. I was pretty young—I think I’d just turned 25—so I was kind of a punk out there in the wilds of Hollywood. It was my first real time out there, so I was just getting to know it. So, yeah, that was my introduction!

AVC: You and Robert Townsend apparently got along pretty well. You re-teamed a few years later and turned up on an episode of his series, The Parent ‘Hood. 

HL: I did! Yeah, and he also actually hired me to direct a stage production of The Five Heartbeats. We had some attention, some Broadway houses were interested, but we had issues with the rights to the music, I think. But, yeah, we did that in a church out in Los Angeles—the Church Of God And Christ—and it was a huge success. Even today, I think The Five Heartbeats would make a great stage musical.

Dollhouse (2009-2010)—“Boyd Langton”

HL: In 2008, I went to the Kennedy Center and we did all of August Wilson’s plays in repertory, and it was great. So I was just coming off of that, and this thing came up. So I went in, and I met Joss Whedon, who seemed to be a nice guy. I had a cold at the time, but I read the thing, and I think I came back and read with Eliza [Dushku], because she was there. They were pretty late in the process. And then when I found out that I got that, that was interesting.

I wasn’t familiar with Joss’s work. In fact, the whole world of sci-fi was something that I’d kind of danced around. I mean, I guess you’d consider The Matrix sci-fi, but that was the only sci-fi I’d done. I didn’t know there was a whole universe of people out there who followed these things. [Laughs.] But it had a cult following, and it was really cool to be on it. It was really interesting to think about. The whole idea was very interesting. Who is a program? What is humanity? All these ideas about artificial intelligence and philosophical things like epistemology. These things are very interesting to me, and I think you can look at it like that, but you can also spin a very interesting yarn. The whole process was very interesting. It was two years, and I really enjoyed it.

AVC: How was it for you with all of the various changes that were going on? It certainly evolved—or devolved, depending on your point of view—over the course of those two seasons.

HL: I wasn’t in the writers’ room or involved in the creative process of it, but I think the way it evolved, as you say, was good. It was organic. They introduced new characters, they followed different paths, they let other people be programmed. We had some very talented young people on that show. Dichen Lachman was very good, as were Enver [Gjokaj] and Fran Kranz. Tahmoh Penikett was great. We had an interesting group of handsome and talented people, so I enjoyed watching them get to show off their skill.

That’s always fun in the creative process, when you’ve established a type and you also get to play outside of that type. Somebody that I love looking at while they’re doing that… Of course, there’s Alec Guinness, and then there’s Peter Sellers, but I think Eddie Murphy is an amazing chameleon. He’s got a type, but he can play against it believably. So they got a chance to do that on Dollhouse… and I did not. [Laughs.] But to hold the middle while they were doing that, it was a great exercise for me and very interesting. And it did turn out, of course, that my consciousness was wiped at the end of that. So I got to play nothing. Now that was interesting! But, look, I had a blast. You have to find things outside of the actual work to enjoy, too. Otherwise, why do it? And I found plenty. You’ve got to have fun, right?

Little Britain USA (2008)—“The American President”

HL: [Immediately starts chuckling.] My buddy [David] Schimmer, who I know from Northwestern as well, he directed those. So he called me up, and it was fun. I got to act with Paul Rudd, and then, of course, the two stars: David Walliams and Matt Lucas. They were great, as was David. Again, it was a chance to have fun! I look at certain things now that get critical acclaim, and they’re so ponderous and so serious. And I get that, and that’s cool, but I think it’s still important to find the joy of it. That’s one of the things about Spader’s Reddington. He has joy in playing that part. I’m looking at these trailers for Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, a character who’s extremely and deeply disturbed, but the actor playing him is having great fun and finding great joy in creating this clown. It’s an amazing thing. The circus aspect of acting is something I never want to lose sight of.

Titus Andronicus (1994) / Titus (1999)—“Aaron”

AVC: You were the only cast member to have carried over from Julie Taymor’s 1994 production of Titus at St. Clements Church in New York.

HL: Very true, yep. Good work again. [Laughs.] I was the only actor to go from the stage version—which was great fun—in ’94. By the way, someone else who was originally in that cast was Rainn Wilson. But he had something else that took off, so he was replaced by my friend Bruce Turk. That was a sort of tumultuous time in my personal life. I was going to be either going back to Chicago or heading out to Los Angeles—but working with Julie Taymor was a revelation to me. She remains my idol. If I could say, “I wish I could direct like that,” she’d be the person I’d say that about… and I’ve worked with a lot of talented people.

Julie had a way of making visible ideas that she held, that she could find a mode of theater, of expression, of style, of genre, and she would know how to put these in some cases extremely obsolete or arcane Shakespearean ideas. Shakespeare is modern English, but it doesn’t always come across that way. But if you can present it in the right way... And she has this unique ability, I think, to create these visceral, beautiful images that perfectly explain the language that you’re hearing. And I’ve learned from that. I was studying her as much as a director as I was as an actor. But as an actor, I just sort of did what she said. [Laughs.] If she’d said, “Go and stand on your head in the corner for half an hour,” I would’ve done it, because I knew that there was a reason for it in her aesthetic. And that, for me, was a great learning experience. And then, of course, to do the film… When you’re working with geniuses like Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Angus Macfadyen, and Alan Cumming in Rome... That’s outrageous! [Laughs.] And an extraordinary experience. Who gets to do Shakespeare—and a part that they’ve done already!—with Anthony Hopkins in Rome? Again, I never lose sight of the joy, or the appreciation and the gratitude for the opportunity. I knew that if I was ready and prepared, then it would be a great experience. And it was. I learned a whole lot on that one.

The Package (1989)—“Johnny’s Field Soldier”

AVC: You mentioned how the roles you did before The Five Heartbeats weren’t terribly substantial, but this one warrants asking about, if only to see if you have a Gene Hackman story.

HL: So Gene Hackman… You know, he’s from Danville, Illinois, and so, interestingly enough, are Dick Van Dyke and Jerry Van Dyke. They’re all from this little town. But we were in this scene that was supposed to be really emotional. We had lost one of our soldiers early in the film, and they needed somebody to express emotion, so they picked me. So the director, Andy Davis, said, “Okay, Harry, do this right now. Cry!” And, you know, that was kind of an alarming circumstance, so they rolled… and I didn’t cry!

So Gene Hackman said, “Cut the camera!” And I remember he went up to Andy Davis—he’s a friend of mine, he’s from Chicago, a good guy—and he said, “Goddammit, you want this kid to cry and you don’t give him any kind of preparation?! Give the kid a couple of minutes! Give him some time! Come on!” So Andy said, “Oh, okay, yeah, sure, no problem!” [Laughs.] So we waited, and I thought of something sad, and then we rolled the camera, and this time a good result happened, and I was cool. Andy came over and said, “That’s good, man. That’s good.”

Well, then later when we were at lunch, I said, “Mr. Hackman, I just wanted to say thank you very much.” He said, “Oh, no. You were good, kid!” And then I said, “I’ve always wanted to do this: ‘Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.’” And he said, “What is that? Is that from Superman?” [Laughs.]

He was a completely charming guy. Just a regular guy. I was very honored to be working with him. I’ve always admired him. What a wonderful actor. You look at a movie like Scarecrow, with [Al] Pacino. That’s a scary performance. And The French Connection, when he gets hooked on heroin. He’s got great size, but he’s also got great subtlety. He reminds me a little bit of George C. Scott and a little bit of Burt Lancaster. In fact, he worked with Burt Lancaster in one of his first things, where they played parachutists! It was called The Gypsy Moths, I think. It’s a terrific, grand performance. He plays the hype man who goes into towns before they do their parachute jumps. You should see it sometime if you haven’t.

Those old-timers… Oh, I won’t even call them that. That’s rude. Those traditionalists, those traditional leading men in Hollywood, they were complete ball-breakers. It was interesting when I had a friend who was working on one of Burt Lancaster’s last movies, and he ran into Burt in the elevator, and Burt said, “Who are you?” And my friend said, “I’m a producer.” And Burt said, “Producers. I just had two of ‘em for breakfast!” [Laughs.] Oh, yeah, they use to cause all kinds of hell. They’d stop a scene and direct it themselves if they didn’t like the way it was going. You can’t really do that now, but there was a time when that was all but expected. If you were the star, if you were the driving force of the movie, you were expected to do it.

Diagnosis: Murder (1997–1998)—“Agent Ron Wagner” 

AVC: Since you mentioned Dick Van Dyke a minute ago, what was it like working with him on Diagnosis: Murder.

HL: Just a lovely man. I did three two-part episodes of that, so I got to hang out with him a little bit. What can I say? He’s a case in point for what I’m talking about with the joy and the pleasure of acting.

There was one scene we were filming where a bomb was about to be detonated in a park where kids play. Dick Van Dyke had some time on his hands while they set up the camera, and he was over playing with the kids. He was playing soccer with 4-year-olds. I was, like, “Man, look at this guy!” He was pretty good, too! He was active, he kept his mind sharp by doing crossword puzzles… And this is the legendary Dick Van Dyke, a great song-and-dance man. His brother was very talented, too, of course, but Dick’s just one of America’s greatest treasures, so being able to work with him... I mean, it was a CBS show, so it was all kind of family-friendly and make-believe-y, in the vein of ’70s stuff like Columbo, where the smart guy figures it all out like he’s Sherlock Holmes. But he was great in that role, and he was great to work with.

I just remember him playing with those kids in the park. And when he let me work on a crossword puzzle with him! [Laughs.] There are these times when you meet these people you’ve admired all your life—and I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show all the time, and the movies and TV movies he’d do—and you’ve looked up to them because they’re one of the reasons you do what you do, and you want to be like them, and you find out through these small moments that they’re just human. He’s kicking the soccer ball to this young kid who didn’t have any idea who he was. The kid’s father might not have known who he was! But there he was, just because he wanted to be.

Commander In Chief (2005–2006)—“Jim Gardner”

HL: Commander In Chief was an awesome experience, but it was an intense time. I was turning 40 at the time, so it was sort of a transitional time and age for me. And these iconic actors, like my dear friend Geena Davis, who’s literally a genius. And Donald Sutherland… You know, this man has been in legendary movies, married to legendary women… [Laughs.] So this was a great opportunity, and doing something that was political, and actually being at that time a fairly politically conscious guy. You know, I’m from Chicago. We’re very political. And it was a consequential series; you know, the first female president. At that time, Hillary Clinton was very seriously considering a run, and it would have been a way to sort of warm up the plate for her in a way. But I think that was one of the reasons that it didn’t last and didn’t go on. We were hot out of the gate, and then we had some early, typical first-season stumbles, but somehow we weren’t really able to recover from that, and not necessarily because of the show. I think most of that was the scheduling and the handling of it by the powers that be at the network, to be honest.

But it was a great show. I love playing the parts that—like I was talking about earlier—are against type, and playing a Republican was against my personal tendencies at the time. But I met at that time a very interesting Republican lieutenant governor named Michael Steele, and I thought he was a man of great integrity and dignity. And he was a Republican! So I was able to sort of do some research and find out that there are a lot of very good people who are in parties that are not mine. At this point, I think that we need way more than two parties that are flip sides of the same coin at this point. It’s a preposterous circumstance for a country of this size. But that said, there are good people in all walks of life, and I was able to sort of contribute something to that and to play a character that I don’t think had been seen walking the halls of power in that way on network television.

Oh, actually, I think they’d done 24 already, so you had Dennis [Haysbert], of course. But in terms of the guy behind the wheels of power that makes that presidency… That’s where the real decisions are made. They call the Chief Of Staff “the co-president,” actually, because he’s supposed to be deeply involved in the decision-making and making them happen. So it was cool. It was a good role, I had fun doing it, but I also learned a lot, and I think I grew from it, playing that kind of guy. I was kind of a leading man, but… not. [Laughs.]

Man Of Steel (2013) / Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)—“General Swanwick”

HL: That’s maybe one of my favorite stories. I was sort of hanging out, taking some classes at the UCLA extension, studying some things, really not working much. And I saw an announcement that they were going to be rebooting the Superman franchise, and I was, like, “Oh, man, that’d be a dream come true! That’s something I always wanted to do! That’d be awesome!” [Laughs.] So some months pass, and I can’t remember what I did in the meantime, but I ended up with nothing to do but wait.

And then I get a call from my agent: “Zack Snyder wants to talk to you. Can we set up a conversation? I think they want to offer you a part in this Superman thing.” I said, “What?!” They said, “Yeah, but they also want to see if you’d be willing to do some readings with potential Supermen.” And I was, like, “Hell, yeah, I want to do that!” [Laughs.] So I got on the phone with him, and he was just the nicest guy. I’d only met him once before that. I’d auditioned for Dawn Of The Dead, the one that put him on the map, so to speak. Great movie. So I talked to him, and he said, “Yeah, we’d like you to play this general. We’re not sure what role we’re going to offer you in this thing, but I like your voice. You’ve got a great speaking voice.” I said, “Okay, dude!”

So I go in viewing this as an elaborate screen test, and I’m expecting two or three Superman possibilities. But there’s just this one dude, and he’s built like a Sherman tank. And, of course, it’s Henry Cavill, and he’s in one of these little honey wagons with his shirt off, shaving his face. And I was, like, “That’s Superman right there!” I didn’t know who he was yet. But then he put on the suit, and I was, like, “Oh, man…” And they had this huge fan that was blowing the cape back, and it was the original suit from the Christopher Reeve films. I was just, like, “Damn, that’s Superman. They don’t have to look any further, ever!” [Laughs.]

So we did the scene. They set it all up, it was an eight-hour day or something, and we did the scene where I’m, like, “How do we trust you?” Some version of that. The writer was there, too. And then I did the reading of the script when they were doing the pre-visualizations, and I did the announcement at Comic-Con, of course, to say that they were going to be teaming Superman and Batman… again, apparently, because Zack loves my voice! [Laughs.] But it was a great moment. I love Zack Snyder. And I love Superman! Superman’s my favorite superhero.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003) / The Matrix Revolutions (2003)—“Lock”

HL: I remember we all went as a group to see The Matrix. I knew [Laurence] Fishburne a little bit from the industry. Nice guy, tremendous actor, and so forth. And I got completely smitten by this new technology and this new way of dealing with philosophy. This was an extraordinary breakthrough of a big-budget movie. To have done that well, and be that smart, and be that well-executed, to make that possible… To this day, I think we’re still seeing the consequences and impact of The Matrix in every film that’s followed. It was that revolutionary. And it had precedent before it, of course, like Terminator and other smart things. But it was special. And to have the opportunity to act in that… I went through a process of auditioning, I know several other actors who were up for that part, but as they were sort of winding down to who was going to play other parts, like Niobe in the case of Jada [Pinkett-Smith], they needed a certain chemistry, they needed to see who could stand up to Fishburne, and it kind of got whittled down. And I got drafted, so to speak. I don’t know what the internal things were with that, but I probably went to three auditions. And I would see people at the auditions like Roy Jones Jr., one of my favorite boxers. So I got to talk it up with him. Great guy.

But it was a very smooth process. And it was great being in Australia. I made so many friends there. To this day, I consider them like brothers. So it was a great time. It went on for about a year and a half, because we were doing two movies and a video game, so between Sydney, Australia and Oakland, it was a way of life there, and it was a great way of life, doing something that well thought of that has stood the test of time. And now they’re even going to be adding on to it, from what I hear, which is great. But they haven’t asked me yet, by the way.

Bob Roberts (1992)—“Franklin Dockett”

HL: That was after The Five Heartbeats, and I believe I’d moved to New York. I was living in a roach-infested, rat-infested apartment up in Harlem, before they gentrified all of that area. So this call comes in, and it’s for Bob Roberts. I’d auditioned for it while I was in Chicago, I happened to be there when they were doing auditions, so I got the part.

Again, I was playing sort of a conservative Republican guy. But I didn’t really know that type of person, or at least I wasn’t aware of anyone I went to school with. But it was interesting, because it was, like, “Who would that person be in that world, where he’s probably looked at in a certain way and has these values that make it bearable to handle all of that with any sense of integrity?” And I don’t know that the man had a whole lot of integrity, frankly, but I played him as such. I looked at a guy who was on television at the time, and I think this is the takeaway from that experience.

The Anita Hill hearing was either currently happening or had just happened, and there was a guy on the panel named John Doggett who was interviewed by the Senate or whatever, and he was a character witness for [Clarence] Thomas. And he was so arrogant. [Laughs.] And so self-righteous. But he believed what he was saying. And I was fascinated by him. So I wanted to base him on that guy, and I also wanted to give an homage to an actor who I’d thought would be perfect to play that kind of part, a guy by the name of Franklin Fields, a tremendous actor, a subtle, nuanced, beautiful actor. So I created a hybrid of that name and turned it into Franklin Dockett. And that character was a collision of opposites, which is what I thought that a character like that would be in a situation like that.

The Artist’s Journey: Funk Blast (2000)—“The Guide”

HL: Are you kidding? [Laughs.] So that one was a direct result of Titus Andronicus, because it was produced by Jordy Patten, who was also a producer on that. And I don’t know how, but he suggested me for it. And it was “Catfish” Collins and Bootsy Collins, two great brothers from Cleveland who James Brown picked up on a tour, and they stayed with him; Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, David Sanborn, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, James Brown… Man, it was crazy! It was like a week that we shot this incredible fantasy, this funk dream on an acid trip, for like a week at Paramount. All my idols! I played funk music. My brother Larry taught me all about it, and I played trombone like Fred Wesley. And I got to hang out with Bootsy. Hanging out with Bootsy!

And yet they paid me! [Laughs.] It was outrageous! And the food was great, it was directed by my buddy Ray Giarratana, and… it was a wild thing! And they turned it into an exhibit at the Funk Museum in Seattle. It was, like, part of a ride. So you’d go and you’d get taken through tunnels and into magic worlds. It was really like being in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory… but instead of Willy Wonka, you’re with George Clinton. It was crazy! But it was one great week of my life, I tell you that.

Ray (2003)—“Joe Adams”

HL: Ray was a pretty great experience. We shot in Los Angeles and a little bit in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And I have family down there, so I stayed in this amazing haunted hotel called Le Pavillon, and I got to see my family a lot. And it was a great movie! But I got to meet the character I play, Joe Adams, the same day I met Ray Charles, who walked into the studio while we were there. Getting to know that music a little bit better, being an amateur musician myself, that was terrific. I was studying and watching. And there were times when I’d be sitting next to Jamie Foxx and not be able to tell the difference between Jamie and Ray Charles. He channeled him. So to be able to have a good time in a great place and make a really good movie that I’m very proud to have been associated with... That was really an extraordinary experience.

Billions (2016-2019)—“Frank Sacker”

HL: Oh, yeah! Billions is a great series. I wasn’t hip to it when I first got the call, because I’d been booked on The Blacklist. But I got a call from my agent, who said, “This show wants you on, and they’re a hot show.” I said, “Oh, man!” So I checked it out, and it’s a great show with great actors, and the character was interesting. And I sort of knew Condola Rashad, because her mother and I are friends—the great Phylicia Rashad—and I’d been hearing about her, because my friend Lydia Diamond had written a play that Condola was in on Broadway called Stick Fly that Alicia Keys had co-produced. So we had six degrees of separation. [Laughs.] And then there was the great Adriane Lenox, who also played Reven Wright on The Blacklist. So we were two transplants from The Blacklist, currently working on that show while we were doing this! It was great. It was like being in two places at the same time. Like an alternate universe!

I love that show, man. They’re so nice on that show. They do a cast reading every week. It’s like a family over there. And they’ve got great actors, people I’ve known for years, like Jeff DeMunn. And getting to work with Paul Giamatti and Condola… Oh, and Toby [Leonard Moore], who I knew from an episode of Dollhouse! You know, when you work in the industry long enough, it’s like playing a game of pick-up ball. where you know some of the players at every park. And that’s the joy of the game. It’s about the love of the game.

You may remember me from such features as Random Roles, or my oral histories of Battle of the Network Stars and Airplane!