‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ Actor Harry Lennix on Playing Martian Manhunter and the Joss Whedon Scandal

You said elsewhere that you would love for there to be a Martian Manhunter movie. on that on that front? Have you heard anything at all from Warner Bros.
I'd heard through the fans of the DCEU that there were a couple of members of the Justice League that were not represented in the movie, and vaguely that one of those people was Martian Manhunter, J'onn J'onzz. Not much at all. I didn't know much about him at all. I only knew that there was such a character.
So Zack didn't give you any indication before he dropped that news?
After a massive grassroots campaign to #ReleasetheSnyderCut, however, WarnerMedia announced last May that Snyder was reconstructing his version of the movie into a four-hour epic. That shoot, of course, never materialized: Snyder left "Justice League" in the spring of 2017 and was replaced by Joss Whedon, and much of Snyder's vision for the film — including Martian Manhunter — was cut out. Over the summer, Lennix finally was able to shoot his side of Martian Manhunter's introduction, using motion capture to embody J'onn's massive green frame.
the fan-favorite DC superhero — and eventual Justice League member — known as the Martian Manhunter. In the comics, J'onn is the last surviving member of his species; his abilities to change his appearance (normally, he's green, bald, and has red eyes) have allowed him to live as a human on Earth. It wasn't until Oct. 2019, however, that Lennix learned Snyder's real intention was to reveal in 2017's "Justice League" that Swanwick was actually J'onn J'onzz, a.k.a.
"I was able to shoot all of it except for the Harry Lennix side," Snyder wrote. In a series of social media posts, Snyder revealed storyboards for a scene between Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that ended with Martha transforming into J'onn — and then into Swanwick. "Was my intention to do that in LA."
Lennix is a busy guy: He's currently shooting the eighth season of NBC's "The Blacklist," and in December, he announced plans to create the the Lillian Marcie Center and African American Museum of the Performing Arts in the South Side of Chicago. He's worked for over 30 years as an actor — he's set to voice a role in Snyder's upcoming animated Netflix series "Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas" — including two seasons on Whedon's 2009-2010 Fox TV series "Dollhouse."
In Snyder's follow-up, 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," Lennix returned as Swanwick, who'd been promoted to Secretary of Defense. When Harry Lennix first signed up to appear in Zack Snyder's 2013 Superman film "Man of Steel," he thought he was playing General Swanwick, the U.S. military's primary point of contact with Henry Cavill's Kryptonian superhero.
I think I asked Zack the question, "Am I going to shrink back here?" Because I'm a general, I've obviously faced danger. And I think to some extent, that is what has sort of started the speculation [about Martian Manhunter], that Swanwick didn't shrink away after Superman rather nonchalantly takes his handcuffs off and walks up to the window. This is now getting on to about nine years ago that we shot that scene. Yes, that's true.
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There's a moment in "Man of Steel" where Swanwick asks Superman why he won't reveal his identity as an alien that now feels very pointed in a way that obviously you hadn't intended.
No. The next call that I had from Zack was, "Hey, when can you come in and shoot?" So that was great. That's how I knew about it. I found out that it was a possibility, or at least that Martian Manhunter was going to be in it, when he revealed through the storyboard that Martha Kent is coming by visiting Lois, and then after she leaves, she reveals herself to be, in fact, Calvin Swanwick, or the Martian Manhunter.
So I don't know if somebody knew about it outside of Zack before that. There are a lot of people who intuited it somehow, like fans bouncing that idea around. I don't think there was any sort of advanced word. But I did not know until I saw that storyboard. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what I found out.
I know that Ray has it in himself to be better because of this, to be stronger, to have survived it. I just hope everybody can move on with their lives, to be honest with you. And I also hope that Joss can, too, that he can survive it, be the writer and creator that that he is and we can all be better because of it. As a former seminarian, and as somebody who has made mistakes, I've been on either side of that equation. I know I can be. I think there's some of that going on, that this is generational in some way. So that said, I hope whatever it was that happened, that people could move on, and — outside of some unforgivable thing — that people can forgive, not just each other, but forgive themselves. To say, "Look, I may have made this mistake in the past, now I know better, and I'm going to do better." This was a different time. What was tolerable, five years ago, a year ago, is no longer, and we have to adapt to that. Directors sometimes are insensitive to the needs or the feelings of actors, and sometimes actors are needy, and sometimes they are oversensitive.
Obviously, there's one side of the story that we've heard. I don't know that Joss has made any comments. But I did not see it, and I would be curious as to what [Joss's] response to this has been. We get treated as a second-class citizens frequently. I am sorry that anybody had to experience what it was that was described. I didn't see that behavior, and at the same time, as an actor, my heart goes out to anybody that had to endure that kind of treatment. As you point out, I worked with Joss fairly closely for a couple of years there. I wasn't there during the time in question.
How much do you think that he's going to be in the movie?
And, he said, "No, in fact, you stand your ground, maybe even you move forward a little." Perhaps that's what got those wheels turning, that at least gave the suggestion that that might be a plausible reveal.
You worked with Joss on two seasons of "Dollhouse," so I wanted to ask if you had any thoughts on the matter? The reason there's a Snyder Cut is because Zack was replaced by Joss Whedon on the movie. As you know, Ray Fisher has alleged that Joss engaged in misconduct during the shoot.
After he dropped that news, did he call you to say, "Oh hey, by the way, I was gonna do this"?
I wonder what's going to happen. I am of the opinion that this is entirely fixable, and that really what needs to happen is a dialogue. I think that people have the right to present both sides of the case. I mean, the old standard in American jurisprudence is you have a right to face your accuser and to respond. That's certainly something I'm familiar with actors having to endure. Indeed, that's part of the process. People say "no" to us for any number of reasons, or tell us to lose weight or gain it or get taller or shorter or younger. I agree, 100%. That's just the nature of the business — it's a personal business. What I've been able to glean from the stories and the back and forth, such as it is — mostly the forth — is that nasty things were said, mean, insensitive things were said, that made certain people uncomfortable. In fact, it's not just a right, I think it's an obligation.
Joss hasn't commented, Ray hasn't gone public with almost any details about what he says happened on "Justice League," and WarnerMedia hasn't revealed what the company learned in its investigation. So figuring out how to move forward is complicated in the absence of detail.
Were you experiences with Joss purely professional? You're looking at this with more empathy than I would say many observers have in light of what Ray has alleged, and what actors on "Angel" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alleged about Joss on Wednesday.
Did you first learn that Zack Snyder wanted to make Swanwick become Martian Manhunter when he posted that storyboard of the character in Oct. 2019?
Yes. That kind of thing is not likely to happen to me, just cause I'm a big Black guy from the South Side of Chicago, that people are a little more circumspect in however they might think about treating me or talking to me. Not minimizing anybody's story, not minimizing the experiences others had in any way. I didn't see any of that kind of behavior that I'm hearing about. But I'm in a different place. And we must learn to move on. But I believe that we must learn to reconcile. Utterly professional. I think maybe we should give [Joss] another chance to respond, to see what his side of the story is.
But he likes to surprise me, and I think I'm not unique in that way. I've certainly done projects with him, such as "Army of the Dead," and I knew that was coming. No, he did not. From time to time, you know, Zack will text me things or email me things. But, you know, there was no time that I could have found out about it that would have been a happier time.
It may be to a plot point. I don't know what's going to be left on the floor, if any, but I didn't shoot an inordinate amount. But I don't think you'll start talking about that character more than, say, Superman. My work is not central, as it were, to the movie.
It's the first time Martian Manhunter will appear in a live-action feature (David Harewood plays the role in the CW series "Supergirl"), and with "Zack Snyder's Justice League" finally set for release on HBO Max on March 18, Variety reached out to Lennix to ask him about his unusual journey to the role.
I haven't heard anything moved that needle toward an actuality. Not one thing. But why not?!
So when Variety asked the 56-year-old to comment on the allegations by Ray Fisher that Whedon engaged in "abusive" and "unprofessional" behavior while working on "Justice League," Lennix had a few things to say.
We wouldn't be able to take this into a court, per se, not really. Whatever those salient points are, I think that everything that I have heard so far — and that's not everything — is recoverable. And so to the extent that it's recoverable, let's recover from it and keep moving. What I've learned over the years is that two people could be telling the absolute truth from their point of view, and disagree on what those salient points are.
How much did you know about the character of Martian Manhunter before this became a thing?

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