'Angel Has Fallen' Star Lance Reddick on 'John Wick,' 'Lost' Disappointment and Nearly Losing 'The Wire'
Lance Reddick is an actor’s actor who thrives in situations where his back is against the wall. Some of his biggest breaks happened with virtually no time to prepare or adjust. In 2013, Reddick was offered a role in a Lionsgate actioner called John Wick. Despite being a familiar revenge tale, Reddick was immediately intrigued by the world and the rare opportunity to play a “genteel” character rather than another authority figure. Everything was right on paper until he learned he’d have to develop an African accent in one week’s time.
"I said, ‘Wow, I don’t know about that,' " Reddick tells The Hollywood Reporter. "When I showed up on set, they weren’t necessarily expecting it, so once I did it, they were pleased. I tried a South African accent, and it didn’t work. Then, I tried a Kenyan accent, and it felt better.”
Heat Vision breakdown
Reddick is no stranger to preparing for roles on the fly, though. For his audition to play Baltimore Police Lieutenant Cedric Daniels on HBO's The Wire, the role Reddick is most known for, he had just minutes to prepare a key monologue.
"I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’ but at that point, I was just like, ‘Fuck it, whatever.’ I went out, looked at it, and I came in and just did it. It went how it went," says Reddick. "I checked in with my agent a week and a half later, and he said, ‘They passed on you for Daniels."
As fate would have it, a few weeks later he'd get a call saying he'd actually landed the part, which was just one of several he auditioned for during an extended process.
While The Wire was often regarded as “that great show that nobody watches,” Reddick’s peers were fully aware of the work he was doing as Lt. Daniels before audiences caught up to the show on home video and streaming platforms years later. Lost co-creator (and Wire fan) Damon Lindelof initially wanted Reddick for the role of Mr. Eko in season two, but The Wire prevented him from even auditioning. Eventually, on Lost season four, he was cast as Matthew Abaddon, who was supposed to become a major character in season five, until he was cast on Fox’s Fringe by Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams.
“If I think about it too much, I’ll get pissed off,” Reddick laments. “When I was cast on Fringe, I was told that I’d be able to continue recurring on Lost. And then, the very first episode that I did on Lost in the middle of Fringe season one — they killed me. So, that was annoying. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great episode … But, it was like, ‘What the fuck, guys?’”
In a recent conversation with THR, Reddick reflects on his time with Morgan Freeman on Angel Has Fallen, training for John Wick and his history with Godzilla.
There’s a YouTube video entitled “Lt. Daniels Catchphrase,” and it’s a supercut of you, as Cedric Daniels, responding to someone by just walking out of the room. Has this video ever been shared with you?
(Laughs.) I don’t think I’ve seen that, no.
In Angel Has Fallen, you play David Gentry, the director of the Secret Service. Did you have to do much preparation since you’ve played plenty of high-ranking law enforcement agents already?
I never want to take any role for granted. I talked to a couple of high-ranking Secret Service agents, and I actually started reading a couple books. I also watched some documentaries because I wanted to get a sense of what the psychology is. So, I don’t know that I’d say it was deep preparation, but I definitely did some prep about the world before we started shooting.
Do you show up to a set like this with your performance set in stone, or do you hold off on any major choices until you can account for all the on-set variables?
The short answer is both. I would never say that my performance is set in stone, but I come with a pretty strong idea of what I want to do. I also come open with choices. One of the things that I like to do is put my scenes on tape, and I tend to like to go over them over and over again. When I say put them on tape, I will do all the voices of all the other people, so I can just work on timing and listening. So, I’m never thinking about my lines; I’m always just listening. What that does is it opens me up to somebody giving me something different than I imagined. I can respond to the energy because I’m just listening as the character. I’m not worried about it necessarily throwing me. What’s hard for me is when the lines keep changing a lot, right up to shooting. That’s when it gets challenging.
Do you still audition at this point in your career?
I audition so rarely now. Whenever I do audition now, or the past several years, I almost never get it. The few times I have auditioned over the past three or four years, it’s for things that probably should’ve been offered to me. They should know what I can do at this point. (Laughs.)
You and Morgan Freeman have two of the most impressive voices in show business. Did you guys get the chance to shoot the breeze at all during your downtime?
A little bit. It was tough because I was afraid of Morgan. (Laughs.) Whenever we’d be alone, at least at the beginning, he would try to be nice to me, but I’d be tongue-tied. I went through the same thing with Denzel Washington 20 years ago when I did The Siege, although it was worse then. Denzel actually got annoyed with me. He kept trying to be nice to me, and I would just clam up. He’d be like, “What’s wrong with this guy?” But, with Morgan, eventually we did [shoot the breeze].
I also shot a scene with Morgan where he’s in his hospital room. He gives me an order, and I hesitate because I disagree with his judgement. I was taking a dramatic pause, and then I was going to give the line. Morgan, feeling the space, ad-libbed, “Now, David!” I was like, “Holy shit! Morgan Freeman said now — I better go!” And he said, “When Morgan Freeman says go, man, you jump and you do that shit.” So, that was cool. (Laughs.)
I’ve talked to a lot of actors, and I’m always surprised by the fact that most of them say they get very little performance direction. Is that true of your experience, and do you prefer directors who stay out of your way?
Unless there’s something very specific that they’re looking for, I do prefer directors that stay out of the way because, generally, I arrive knowing what I’m doing. If I’ve got some questions, I start with my questions. There’s nothing worse than a middling director who doesn’t know what they’re doing because that will mess with your performance. I’ve gotten direction from great directors, and when I say great directors, I’m talking specifically about understanding acting. There’s a visual sense, there’s a storytelling sense and then there’s understanding the performance and what we do as actors. That was one of the things that I really enjoyed about working with [Angel director] Ric Roman Waugh.
Shifting gears, can you tell me about the first time you heard the name John Wick?
Back in 2013, I got a call from my agent or manager: “There’s this role in this movie, and they’d like to know if you’d be interested.” So, I read it, and granted, I think I got the script a week before I shot. It was quick. (Laughs.) I found out later from the screenwriter, Derek Kolstad, that he wrote that role with me in mind; we’re friends now. I read the script, and first of all — I’m gonna say this and have to explain it — I was surprised by how good it was. By that, I mean: the trope of the mild-mannered guy who’s wronged and then goes on a revenge spree, revealing that he’s the baddest cat in the universe. We’ve seen that over and over again, but I’ve never seen it written this way before. The world was just so interesting to me, and the character of Charon really spoke to me. Since The Wire, I’ve played so many authority figures that talk a lot, and to play the quintessential gentleman's gentleman that’s rather taciturn was really intriguing to me, especially in this particular world.
How did Charon’s accent come to be?
It actually said “with an African accent” in the script. And then I said, “Wow, when does this shoot?” They said, “Next week,” and I said, “Wow, I don’t know about that.” Then, they said, “Well, you don’t have to do an African accent,” and I said, “Wait, wait, wait — I think I like that idea.” When I showed up on set, they weren’t necessarily expecting it, so once I did it, they were pleased. I tried a South African accent, and it didn’t work. Then I tried a Kenyan accent, and it felt better.
John Wick co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have both said that they expected very little from the first John Wick movie. They both thought they were headed right back to second unit gigs. In terms of quality, were you more optimistic about what you saw in your time on set?
I didn’t have any frame of reference because, at that point, that was just the beginning of me really having a film career. Up until then, 90 percent of my career had been on television. First of all, I didn’t hear that about the film, but also, I didn’t go in with any expectations. I just knew that I loved the script and I loved the role. I left it at that. The casting wasn’t starfucking casting — excuse me. It was filled with a lot of great character actors, who are just great actors. Not that there weren’t stars in it, but still, even then, they’re all great character actors who came from theater. So I was intrigued by that. And then, quite frankly, all my stuff was shot in a day. So, I came in a couple days early, got fitted, went to set and literally shot all my scenes all day long. In the first movie, all my stuff is behind the desk, so I didn’t interact with anybody else except for Keanu and Adrianne Palicki. We really hit it off on set. So, I was working in a bit of a vacuum without any expectations, and I was shocked when it turned into what it turned into.
For Charon to be entrusted as the concierge of an assassin hotel, it seems only natural that he’d have a particular skill set that he could resort to if push came to shove. Was that something you imagined as of the first movie?
Absolutely. I thought about that when I was preparing the character, and then Chad as much as said it when I got on set. He said that you always want to get the sense that as genteel as Charon is — I don’t know if he used the word "genteel," but that’s the word I’m using — if something went down, he could reach under the counter and grab a shotgun. He even said "shotgun," which is Charon’s weapon of choice three movies later.
You and Charon really got the chance to flourish in John Wick 3. Since Chad choreographs and rehearses months ahead of principal photography, did you prepare with everyone at 87Eleven? Did you also partake in Simi Valley weapons training?
I did the Simi Valley weapons training. I trained with the 87Eleven guys, but I didn’t have extensive training for months and months that Keanu and Halle [Berry] had. In terms of the stunt stuff, my stuff happened in New York when I went to start shooting. On my days off, I would have stunt rehearsal, and quite frankly, my sequence in the movie was originally twice as long.
Charon was quite aggravated when he returned to the weapons vault after his first recommended weapon didn’t pierce the armor of the High Table’s soldiers. Was that direction on the page, or was it a performance choice of yours?
I don’t remember any stage direction specifying my psychology, but it just made sense to me. In a situation like that, you’re either going to be completely panicked or you’re going to be really pissed off. Given that he’s a warrior, I chose the second one.
If Winston (Ian McShane) actually wanted to kill John, he wouldn’t have shot his bulletproof jacket, right?
(Laughs.) It’s tricky to answer that question. This is just my opinion: No, he would’ve shot him in the head.
Charon didn’t know Winston was going to do that; I was shocked that he did that. Obviously, Lance the actor knew it because I read the script, but I wasn’t trying to play it like “this is the plan and we’re gonna shoot him …” Even the way he did it, he still falls off a building. Reasonably, he’s going to be dead, but there’s always a chance that he’d survive.
I have a few Lost questions that have been on my mind for years.
I hope I remember!
Co-showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have publicly stated that they wanted to cast you as a character named Mr. Eko in season two, but you weren’t available due to The Wire. The role ultimately went to your Oz co-star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Did you actually audition for Mr. Eko?
I found out about that when I saw it in the trades after I was cast as Abaddon. I never heard anything about that. Honestly, maybe my agent mentioned it to me once, but I’d like to think I’d remember something like that, only because of how hot Lost was at the time.
In season four, you were cast as the enigmatic Matthew Abaddon, who spawned countless fan theories overnight. Unfortunately, you only ended up shooting four episodes. Did Fringe ultimately cut your time short?
It did. If I think about it too much, I’ll get pissed off. When I was cast on Fringe, I was told that I’d be able to continue recurring on Lost. And then, the very first episode that I did on Lost in the middle of Fringe season one — they killed me. So, that was annoying. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great episode. I had the coolest stuff to do on that episode, and it was a great death. But, it was like, “What the fuck, guys?”
When Abaddon was introduced, the writers set up a rather alluring backstory for him a la John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). It seems apparent that there was a much bigger plan for your character. Also, when your Fringe casting was announced, I specifically remember Lost and Fringe co-creator J.J. Abrams saying that it wouldn’t be a problem for you to keep shooting Lost whenever they needed you.
It was a problem for somebody. (Laughs.) To be perfectly frank, before I was cast on Fringe, the intention was to have the character [Abaddon] become a series regular and major character in season five. And then being cast on Fringe just threw a wrench in it.
I enjoyed Fringe, but I’ve always wondered what could’ve been with Abaddon as originally planned.
Yeah, so do I, but I don’t worry about it too much, though.
I’ll worry about it for you.
For the uninitiated, can you tell The Wire audition story?
When I originally got the script for The Wire, it was for the role of Bunk [Moreland, played in the series by Wendell Pierce]. I remember reading the script and thinking that I’d never read a pilot like this before. To this day, it’s the only pilot I’ve ever read that I thought, ”I have to be on this show.” I didn’t even know what character I wanted to play because in the pilot script, the only character that’s obviously prominent is McNulty, and I knew that Bunk was his partner. So, I went in and I auditioned. I got put on tape with [casting director] Alexa Fogel, and she gave me a bunch of notes including to stop overacting. Apparently, it was good enough that I got a callback with the director, and he gave me some notes. Then, I got a callback with the director, David Simon and Ed Burns, the creators.
It was in that third audition for Bunk that David asked me to read Bubbles on the spot. So, I went out, looked at some sides, came back and cold read Bubbles. Then, I found out a week later that I was second choice for Bubbles. If the other guy didn’t take it, then I’d get the role. A week later, I found out that the other guy took it and obviously that was Andre Royo, who created a legendary character. Maybe two to three weeks later, I got a call to audition for Daniels, which is the role that I thought I was right for in the first place, but they wouldn’t see me for that role. So, then I go in to audition for Daniels and it was just to go on tape with Alexa Fogel again. I had two scenes, and I read them. Then, she said, “OK, now, let’s do the monologue,” and I said, “What monologue?” She said, “There should be a third scene,” and I said, “I didn’t get it.” So, she said, “Go outside, look at it for a few minutes and come in and we’ll do it.” I was like, “You gotta be kidding me,” but at that point, I was just like, “Fuck it, whatever.” I went out, looked at it, and I came in and just did it. It went how it went.
I checked in with my agent a week and a half later, and he said, “They passed on you for Daniels, but if it’ll make you feel any better, here are the names they’re still looking at for it …” I said, “It doesn’t make me feel better, but that’s fine.” And then I forgot about it. I don’t know how many weeks later, but I remember I was on the set of 100 Centre Street, the Sidney Lumet show that starred Bobby Cannavale. I was at lunch, and I was talking to one of the background actors. We were sitting together, and he made some comment about how hot I was from Oz. He said, “You need to handle your stuff because you’re going to hit it soon.” I was like, “Yeah, right. People say that stuff all the time. Right now, I’ve got two days on 100 Centre Street and I’m looking for my next job.” After I finished shooting, I was late because I was supposed to meet my wife at the time and our daughter at a high school because we were looking for a high school for her. Then, I got a page from my agent. So, I called him from a payphone and I said, “Steve, what’s up? I’m running late,” and he said, “The Wire — you got it.” I said, “Which role?” and he said, “Daniels.” I said, “Daniels?” and he said, “Yeah.” I was like, “Oh …” It was surreal. It may have happened one other time, but it was the first time where something happened in my life where I was hoping I wasn’t dreaming. Obviously, it changed my career and my life. I didn’t even know Daniels was the second lead until I got on set and saw my number on the call sheet. That was the first day of the pilot.
John Wick wasn’t the only 2014 cult hit you were in as Adam Wingard’s The Guest came out the month prior. You recently reunited with Adam, as well as Godzilla, in Godzilla vs. Kong. Can you talk about your reunion with both?
(Laughs.) I forgot about Godzilla (1998). That was an interesting experience because that’s when [casting director] April Webster became aware of me. She’s been a champion of mine ever since. More than anything else, she’s the reason I was cast as Broyles on Fringe, because they didn’t want to see me as Broyles at first. She was the casting director, and a New York associate was casting a whole bunch of small roles for Godzilla in 1997. So, basically, I just had to go in for a cattle call, and we had to cold read five or six different characters. I found out later that everybody else didn’t do something completely different with every character — and I did. So, I think for a little while they were considering giving me a bigger role. I ended up being a soldier on the [Manhattan] bridge; it was one line. It was directed by the second unit director [Peter Ramsey], so I didn’t meet [director] Roland Emmerich until 12 years later on White House Down. And I was cut from the movie, but I continued to get residual checks for years after that. (Laughs.) So, that was my experience on Godzilla (1998).
On Godzilla vs. Kong, it was a situation where Adam just called me up and asked me if I would do it. And I said yes.
Are you playing another military type?
I’m not allowed to say what he is, unfortunately, but he’s got some authority to him.
At the end of 2013, if someone told you that The Guest and John Wick would still be paying dividends in 2019-20, would you have walked out of the room like Cedric Daniels?
(Laughs.) No! But, I would’ve rolled my eyes, laughed and said, “We’ll see.” Nothing is sure in this business. People with lots of experience make predictions all the time and are routinely wrong. The funny thing about The Guest is I didn’t even understand what I was shooting when I shot it. This has never happened to me before or since. I completely misread the script, so I thought I was shooting a dramatic action film. So, when I saw it at Sundance and people were laughing, I said, “What the heck is going on? People hate this film! They shouldn’t be laughing.” And then, it got all these rave reviews, and I’m like, “This drama flopped. People think it’s a comedy.” I didn’t realize it was a dark comedy. So, the joke’s on me. (Laughs.)
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