'Matrix' star Harry Lennix on how studying to be a priest improved his acting


Harry Lennix is a veteran actor of film, television and stage with a career spanning almost four decades, but his path to the profession was far from traditional.

The 57-year-old told Fox News Digital that he originally felt called to become a Catholic priest in the Dominican order. However, his plans took a turn when he began acting in plays while studying to join the clergy at Chicago’s Quigley Preparatory Seminary South.

“It was during that time, while I was pretty seriously interested in becoming a priest, that I really got exposed to the possibilities of a career in acting,” he told Fox News Digital. 

He continued, “I was told that I was good at it, and I was encouraged to pursue it, even by the priest at the time. Father Robert Bridge is the one who took me to my first professional play and started really encouraging me that I had a future at this.”

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Lennix also admitted that he was not initially motivated to participate in school plays because of an interest in acting.

“I have to confess that my interest first peaked by seeing a bunch of pretty girls,” he recalled with a laugh. “I was at an all-boys high school.”

“So the girls would only come up there when there was cheerleading or something like that,” the “Justice League” and “Man of Steel” star added. “Then I started seeing these girls when it wasn’t cheerleading season. And it turned out that they were there to audition for the play. So I thought to myself, why not audition for the play?”

After graduating from Quigley South, Lennix went on to major in theater at Northwestern University and launched his acting career in the late 1980s.

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However, he credits his years of theological studies with preparing him for his ultimate career, pointing to the similarities between exegeting scripture and acting out a dramatic script. 

“I think the realm of exegesis or hermeneutics or examining text, sometimes sacred texts in the case of the Bible, of course, it’s not that dissimilar from the way that the Bible is written. Shakespeare, for example, has a lot in common, a lot of consonance. The ability to take a piece of literature and to traumatize it, to bring it to life, to bring the word off the page, so to speak.”

He continued, “And it’s something that both people of the cloth, men and women of the cloth, and actors are able to do. I think we’re trained for it. And yeah, I think that there’s a great deal of intersectionality about exegeting a dramatic text and the sacred one.”

Harry Lennix originally planned to become a priest before pursuing a career in acting. Lennix's latest project sees him starring as Coach Russell Banks in the new Pure Flix faith-based sports drama "Nothing Is Impossible."

Harry Lennix originally planned to become a priest before pursuing a career in acting. Lennix’s latest project sees him starring as Coach Russell Banks in the new Pure Flix faith-based sports drama “Nothing Is Impossible.”
(Pure Flix)

Over the course of his career, Lennix has displayed his versatility as an actor in projects across multiple genres. He first rose to prominence for his portrayal of bass singer Terrence “Dresser” Williams in the Robert Townsend’s 1991 musical drama “The Five Heartbeats”.

Some of his best-known roles include Boyd Langton in the FOX science-fiction series “Dollhouse,” Commander Jason Lock in the “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” and Harold Cooper on the crime thriller “The Blacklist.”

Lennix’s latest project sees him starring as Coach Russell Banks in the new Pure Flix faith-based sports drama “Nothing Is Impossible.” The film follows middle-aged high-school janitor Scott Beck (David. A.R. White) who is given a second chance to win the heart of a former flame and achieve his dreams of playing in the NBA. 

Lennix told Fox News Digital that he was grateful for the chance to take part in a film with an inspiring message about the transformative power of faith.

“It’s important to me as a man of faith to make my contribution in that manner.”

—  

“My faith means the world to me,” he said. “It means more than the world, as a matter of fact. And these opportunities aren’t every day.” 

He continued, “But it was the opportunity today that I got to propagate a nice message, a good message, words that are the lessons and principles that we learn from scripture. It’s important to me as a man of faith to make my contribution in that manner.”

Lennix went on to say that he believes that many of society’s ills today are due to a dwindling faith in God and the secularization of culture. “In today’s world, people seem to be running from their faith. I can’t remember what the statistics are, but something like 20% fewer people now believe or profess a belief in God that they did say even 20 years ago, a generation ago,” he said.

The film follows middle-aged high-school janitor Scott Beck (David. A.R. White) who is given a second chance at achieving his dreams in love and life.

The film follows middle-aged high-school janitor Scott Beck (David. A.R. White) who is given a second chance at achieving his dreams in love and life.
(Courtesy of Pure Flix)

“I think that we have started to rely on what some philosophers, modern commentators, call “scientism,” believing that we can figure out, that the world is just a material place and that “there’s no real sort of supernatural power, no intention, no guiding hand.”

He continued, “And I think that that has played quite a big role in the way things are around us now. A sense of chaos, of despair, of cynicism, of skepticism, I think is reflected in what we pay attention to. I think that we’ve become a scattered and inattentive nation, self-obsessed, sort of built into our entire world style, the entire ecosystems of our personality are behind a screen now.”

“And as that has deteriorated, I think that the quality of our lives is also gone. And I think that is what has happened when you start to rely on the secular and stop to believe that there is something up there, someone up there who has an intention and purpose for us.”

Nadia Bjorlin, Steven Bauer, Harry Lennix in "Nothing Is Impossible."

Nadia Bjorlin, Steven Bauer, Harry Lennix in “Nothing Is Impossible.”
(Courtesy of Pure Flix)

In April, Lennix made waves when he penned an op-ed for Variety in which he weighed in on the infamous incident in which Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony. 

As a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Lennix stated that Smith should give back his best actor Oscar to restore dignity to the awards. He also criticized Smith’s reference to a higher power in his acceptance speech, which he said was “galling.” While he said that he stands by his opinion, he told Fox News Digital that he was “not surprised” that Smith hasn’t returned the award. 

“My intent was that I wanted it to be helpful advice or constructive criticism. But that said, perhaps it was not received that way,” Lennix said. 

“If they want me, I’m all there.”

— Harry Lennix on reprising his role in a potential fifth installment of ‘The Matrix’

Earlier this month, Apple announced that it had given Smith’s historical action thriller “Emancipation” a December release date, which would qualify the film for the 2023 awards season. As Smith’s performance has been generating early awards buzz, the actor could be in the running for another Oscars statuette.

Lennix told Fox News Digital that he did not begrudge Smith another awards run and said that it could present him with an opportunity, echoing the theme of “Nothing Is Impossible.”

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 “I wish him well. God bless him. I hope that he gets whatever reward or award that’s coming from this,” he said.

“And maybe he could use it to clarify that situation, to make it better,” Lennix added. “Maybe it’ll work out to his benefit. That’s really what this movie ‘Nothing Is Impossible’ is about. We don’t always know what the long term story is.”

In addition to starring in “Nothing Is Impossible,” “The Blacklist” star has several other projects in the works. 

Lennix stars in "The Blacklist," which recently filmed its 200th episode.

Lennix stars in “The Blacklist,” which recently filmed its 200th episode.
(Photo by: Scott Gries/NBC via Getty Images)

He was recently awarded a $26 million grant from the state of Illinois to build the Lillian Marcie Center for the Performing Arts, a theater and museum on Chicago’s South Side. 

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Lennix also has a number of scripts in development. One project that he said that he is particularly excited about is titled “Godless.”

“It’s a fascinating story, very topical story in the wake of what went down with the whole Roe vs. Wade decision recently, where the bishop of a diocese has a confrontation with a Catholic governor, the first female [Catholic] governor, and her faith comes up,” he said.

“You see a lot of times people ask Catholic legislators, presidents and so forth, what are they going to do about this issue?”

He continued, “Our faith in the Catholic church very much condemns abortion. It’s a moral issue. It’s a matter of dogma. So it’s a very interesting play about this encounter.”

Lennix told Fox News Digital that he would also be on board to reprise his role in a potential fifth installment of “The Matrix” franchise.

“Absolutely,” he said, adding “You know, my character didn’t die at the end of “The Matrix.”

He continued, “So there’s a chance, you know? If they want me, I’m all there.”

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