On Easter Sunday, April 12, two actors will confront Jesus in gospel musicals: Alice Cooper, 72, as Herod in an encore presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (NBC, 7 p.m. ET, 9:30 p.m. PT) and Harry Lennix, 55 (The Blacklist, Billions, The Matrix Reloaded), as Pontius Pilate in Revival! (online at eastersunday2020.org, available starting 8 a.m. PT, with a special church tie-in screening 6 p.m. ET). Cooper shared his thoughts about playing Herod with AARP upon its 2018 premiere, while Lennix is releasing his gospel musical Revival! to a national, stuck-at-home audience for the first time, online.
What is ‘Revival!’ about?
Harry Lennix: Kind of a combination of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Wiz, with Mali Music as Jesus, Chaka Khan, 65, as Herodias, Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams as Mary Magdalene, and me as Pontius Pilate. Mali Music wrote most of the songs — he got Grammy nominations in gospel, urban contemporary and traditional R&B.
Alice, you're probably the number one Christian rock star. Is it weird to play Herod, who hates Jesus?
Alice Cooper: I'm going to be persecuting Jesus Christ, whom I worship. I actually prayed about it, and I realized it was absolutely no problem. It does really glorify Christ. And I have the funniest song in the whole show ["King Herod's Song"]. I play that character very arrogantly and with some authority. Herod is so cynical, trying to embarrass Jesus. I always play the bad guy. The whole idea of this Alice Cooper character was that rock needed a villain.
Who else is in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert'?
Alice Cooper: John Legend plays Jesus, and Sara Bareilles is Mary Magdalene.
Is social-isolation time a good time to celebrate Easter at home?
Harry Lennix: Most people won't be going to churches. We're going to bring the church to the people. Jesus is somebody that understands self-isolation, he isolated himself for 40 days in the wilderness.
Do you recommend Alice Cooper's show?
Harry Lennix: I got such a kick out of that! I played Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar in college. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett's The Bible [on Amazon and Vudu] is fantastic, too. We're all making these inspiring stories entertainment. In this time people are looking for something without necessarily having to accept the doctrine or dogma. These stories lasted because they're great stories.
How is ‘Revival!’ influenced by the ‘Matrix’ movies you were in?
Harry Lennix: As in the Matrix, there are two realities going on. We start with a stage play in the present, then I — Pontius Pilate — travel back through time to Jesus’ day. It's hyper-real, surreal, like the Matrix. It's also about Jesus’ dual nature [in time and eternal].
Alice, you're a preacher's kid — but weren't you the chief of sinners in the 1970s? At the Rainbow nightclub in L.A., there's a plaque honoring you as a leader of “The Hollywood Vampires."
Alice Cooper: Yeah, that was just a bunch of guys who got drunk every night: John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Bernie Taupin, Mickey Dolenz [of the Monkees]. The people who owned the bar started calling us the Hollywood Vampires because they only saw us at night.
Can anything good come out of the current crisis?
Harry Lennix: I don't mean to get overly religious here, but you know, Aquinas talks about how God allows evil things to happen because only he can bring good from that. I'm using this as a way to take the time that we're always claiming not to have enough of to do good. We're giving 10 percent of the proceeds of the show back to 70 or so church organization partners, including Rev. Edgar Boyd's African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black Christian church in the country.
Do you have to be Christian to watch a musical about Jesus?
Harry Lennix: You can take it or leave it alone as a sermon. For people who are unchurched, if you love gospel music, or just great music, it's not just a sermon. Everybody will be entertained by it.