Appreciation: Big role or small, Lance Reddick elevated every scene he was in
It seems somehow absurd that Lance Reddick, who died Friday at 60, is gone. An impressively solid presence wherever he turned up, Reddick appeared invincible, immortal. That one of his last roles was Zeus in the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” just seems like typecasting.
A marvelously centered performer, he could elevate any scene without breaking a sweat. Reddick, whose voice was well-trained, resonant and easy on the ear, didn’t have to get loud to put the fear of God into a character or viewer; you could sense well enough the roiling currents beneath a placid surface. He made an art of the low boil and the stern stare. When asked, he could deploy a toothy smile fit to charm birds from the trees.
Best known for crime dramas (“The Wire,” “Bosch”), genre exercises (“Lost,” last year’s “Resident Evil” series) or combinations of the two (“Fringe”), Reddick also had guest shots on sitcoms (“Young Sheldon,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and alternative comedies (“Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories,” “Key & Peele,” “The Eric Andre Show” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!”) There was voice work in cartoons and video games. He appeared in Regina King’s historical drama “One Night in Miami…” and will be in an upcoming remake of “White Men Can’t Jump.” This is to say that any generalizations I make about his career are surely contradicted somewhere within it.
The face was familiar even if you couldn’t place the name; seeing him once, you were happy to see him again. Reddick was handsome, almost pretty, in an individual way. Tall, lean and subtly muscular with a body built for clothes, he made suits look good, and his parts tended to put him in them. Whatever he wore, he looked neat and dignified. (In “Oz,” where he played a police detective undercover in prison, was something of an exception. Then again, he was a character playing a character more disheveled than himself.)
Although we can dream of the series or movie that now will never be built around him, Reddick was at heart the definition of a supporting actor. As a figure who radiated authority, he was often cast as an authority figure. Often, as in “Fringe” or “The Wire” — not the only shows where he played a senior officer of the law — he’s called upon to act as a preserver of order, a guide to just what in the hell is going on. No one was better at making the unloading of expository detail sound like a poetry recital.
Even when he didn’t have a lot to do, Reddick made a big impression. He appeared in only four episodes of “Lost,” and yet his mysterious Matthew Abaddon is one the series’ most memorable characters; he is barely onscreen in the “John Wick” franchise, though he registers as among its stars. As the unflappable concierge of a hotel for assassins, Reddick’s Charon grounds the film’s violent nonsense with something like an air of morality.
Indeed, though he rarely played a capital-H Hero — most often he’s just a man devoted to a job, and doing it as well as possible — his characters will read as heroic. And even when they’re flawed — as who in “The Wire” is not? — they will strive to do the right thing.
To some unavoidable extent, his stature steered his career. Physiognomy is destiny, in show business even more than in normal life, and Reddick wasn’t built to play weakness. Perhaps the best reason to spend time with Netflix’s “Resident Evil” is that Reddick gets to play extreme variations on his multiply cloned character, demonstrating his range within even a single scene.
And there was more to him than fans might have suspected. Before graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Reddick earned a bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. His 2007 album, “Contemplations & Remembrances,” available on multiple streaming platforms, is not the wannabe pop/folk/soul pastiche common to moonlighting actors. It’s an original, personal and quite lovely work, with art-song melodies laid over jazz harmonies and Latin rhythms, sung in a higher, sweeter key than one might have expected.
It suggests that in another world, Reddick might have had a career performing or writing musical theater. But in the one we shared, he left us a lot.
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