“I was so nervous the first time, but I continued to work at it.” This is how Harold Dennis described one of his first times professionally acting. Since working extensively since 1997, Dennis has been in over 100 projects, ranging from TV series, short films, and feature films.
Speaking on his twenty projects already lined up for 2015: “There’s so much – I’m excited for everything. I play a character named Odious Washington in a TV series called Clash of the Vampires (2015, Eric DeShazer), and I’m very excited for that one because I haven’t done anything like it before. Angle of Incidence (2015, Eric Neal) is another one – it’s a short film that has two prequels [Angle of Incidence: Portunus and Angle of Incidence: Cranae]. I was in one of the prequels [Cranae].” Dennis also mentioned his excitement for Fangs vs. Spurs (2015, Patrick Love), a horror film that features “cowboys versus vampires set in 1882, and it’s also starring Joe Estevez.”
Dennis’ story of becoming an actor goes back to the 2nd grade. “I found myself in a school play, and forgot all my lines,” he laughed. “I was very active throughout high school, as my mentor, Mr. John Watson, pushed me to be,” he continued. “Then I saw him in The Fugitive, (1993, Andrew Davis), and I was so surprised. And then I saw him in Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis) and Soul Food (1997, George Tillman Jr.) and thought, ‘How? I didn’t know anybody in movies.’ These weren’t extra parts either, he had lines and everything. That inspired me in a sense.”
In 1998 Dennis began an acting troupe with some friends. “We met every Saturday for a year, from February 1998 to February 1999.” Dennis also got a chance to participate in a Blues play in the summer of 1998, and chose to stay with them through 1999. Subsequently, this decision allowed Dennis to perform in 171 total shows. After being “so nervous the first time,” Dennis went on from that opportunity. Come January 2004, “I took classes with a scholarship at Ted Sarantos’ Studios in Oak Park. The first time I watched Ted direct someone [in 2003, about ten months before], I was auditing the class, and I had realized how much I needed his training! I’ve always had this energy to act, but I needed to learn how to direct it specifically. All of this desire, passion, and action have drawn the picture [for me]. We have to be our own marketers.”
Dennis is still working with Ted Sarantos now, and has also partaken in acting classes at different schools, including Green Shirt Studio in 2012, which taught him the Meisner technique of acting. “I was taking four classes a week at that time,” he said, “and that lasted for about three weeks. It was a bit much.”
In 2005, Dennis obtained the lead role in a film called Pieces of a Dream (2005, Skee Skinner). “That film gave me the confidence I needed. It was the first time I was paid a large sum for acting, put up in a hotel and everything. That was the moment I realized that this was a substantial career for me.”
With a blossoming career, Dennis pulls from iconic screen legends for his acting methods. “I take from something Morgan Freeman said: ‘I just read the script.’ I’ve been a student of acting for eighteen years and I’ve learned so many techniques along the way.” Dennis explained how actors have a job in helping move the story along and introduce changes, and that by doing this “they become part of the emotional movement of an audience. And I’m aware that it takes a toll on the audience.” He further explained that it feels like the job of a psychologist: “I instinctively know that every actor is going to play their part a certain way. I have a whole arsenal of secrets in the back of my head.” When I asked Dennis what actors he takes after, he answered how it really is a combination of several veteran actors. “I’ve never really thought about how I’d put this into words, but I look to have Denzel Washington’s suaveness, Forest Whitaker’s intensity, and Christopher Walken’s unpredictability. I saw Whitaker in Bird (1988, Clint Eastwood), and he really blew me away…he’s intense, but subtle about it.”
With such a number of sci-fi and fantasy projects coming up, Dennis keenly targets when searching a role. “I’m offered roles from people who see my stuff, actually. And I don’t care for any particular type of role. I like dramas because I like moving things along and being interesting, so I ask myself how to do that when I have a dramatic role.” Of the many secrets he has learned, Dennis said one of the most crucial ones is to see how surprised he is when watching himself, but not be discouraged. “I’m not one of those actors who cringe when he sees himself onscreen. I make it work.” As an example, Dennis told me how while on the set of a film called Before ‘I Do,’ (2015, Kimberly Conner) starring Omar Gooding and Jensen Atwood, he has a bit part of four lines. “In four lines, I had to have this maneuvering – I go from a normal state to rage just like that – and I’ve never had to do that in such a short amount of time!”
When it comes to the acting environment of Chicago, Dennis proudly calls it “home.” “Chicago is a commercial town…you can mine diamonds in your own backyard” he said. “I’ve taken advantage of everything, and since cameras are so easily obtained now, you can establish credit here and then go all around the world with the internet. It’s multi-level marketing, and I’ve always helped other actors. It’s an environment of ‘help me to help you, help me to help you…”
“In the end, I’d like to retire and have no regrets,” Dennis concluded. “If I do my job well in one film, it pays off because people begin to notice me.” Constantly moving and working (he participated in the production of three films already this year), Harold Dennis has already established quite a legacy through his perseverance here in Chicago, and has a promising future ahead of him. “Mr. Watson passed away in 2006. I was glad he saw me in 1999 in the play I was a part of. I got to see him a few months before he passed and I told him, ‘Thank you for showing me this wasn’t impossible.’”
The link below will bring you to Harold Dennis’ IMDb page which lists all of his previous and upcoming projects. Also provided is a link to the IMDb page of John M. Watson Sr., Dennis’ first mentor.
Harold Dennis’ IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1815557/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
John M. Watson Sr.’s IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0914485/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1