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From "The Wire" to "John Wick," we trusted Lance Reddick as a voice of authority, empathy and comedy

Salon 3/22/2023 Alison Stine & Melanie McFarland

Lance ReddickLarry Busacca/Getty Images © Provided by Salon Lance ReddickLarry Busacca/Getty Images

Lance Reddick is the type of actor whose work is impossible to ignore, but easy to take for granted. A performer best known for playing law enforcement officials and other authority figures, Reddick is instantly recognizable in the many films and TV shows in which he appeared. His onscreen contributions were always memorable, if not the reason to watch a scene.

This is why his sudden death on Friday, March 17 was met with such an outpouring of appreciation from co-stars and fans accustomed to seeing him show up in just about any story, anywhere, and make it sing. Salon culture writer Alison Stine and TV critic Melanie McFarland share an admiration for Reddick's versatility and flexibility, and his way of, as Stine explains, taking imposing figures and infusing them with unexpected empathy and a feeling that he was on everyone's side. 

To commemorate Reddick, they engaged in a conversation about what they appreciated most about him and his generously varied body of work.  

Melanie McFarland: When the news of Lance Reddick's death broke last Friday, it took me a minute to believe it. His loss was not simply unexpected, it was gutting. He was only 60, for one thing – active, vibrant, and enjoying a thriving career. It didn't make sense.

I wasn't alone in that feeling of shock, and the fact that the public had such a reaction is indicative of how profound a mark Reddick made on popular culture.

In addition to his knockout work in the ensemble of "The Wire," a giant among TV touchstones, and his grounding performance in "Fringe," Reddick was beloved across the film, TV, and gaming worlds as a distinguished character actor.

He's also one of the rare performers who is greater than that simple designation. There is no reason for "Resident Evil" to have been made into a serious series except to showcase Reddick's anchoring performance — rather, performances, actually, since he played clones versions of himself.

Alison, as a fellow avid genre fan, how did you react to hearing that Reddick was gone?

Resident Evil © Provided by Salon Resident Evil Lance Reddick as Albert in "Resident Evil" (Netflix)

"Losing a performer like Reddick feels like losing a beloved teacher," says Alison Stine.

Alison Stine: I immediately thought of his eyes looking over glasses, peering at someone—maybe from behind a desk. In so many roles, he had this look that was both disapproving and bemused, like a librarian who was secretly glad you enjoyed the library so much even though you were being too loud. Losing a performer like Reddick feels like losing a beloved teacher. I mean, who is going to balk at official procedures not being followed while inwardly supporting official procedures not being followed now? 

Do you have roles that you automatically associate with him?

MM: My top two are probably the same ones most people would name, the first being Cedric Daniels, his principled commanding officer on "The Wire." Reddick wore Daniels' honor on the outside and energized every line with determination and integrity. That Daniels appears in more episodes than any other character requires little explanation. He's the face of the Baltimore Police Department's best intentions and a mirror to its flaws.

Neither does the fact that this role became one of many where he played law enforcement figures, including on Amazon's "Bosch" and, of course, in guest star turns on broadcast procedurals like "Law & Order," "CSI: Miami" and "Numb3rs." That voice of his vibrated with authority, didn't it? 

But he put it to more empathetic use in his turn as Charon in the "John Wick" franchise, which may be my second favorite role of his. Reddick is the salty sweetener in that franchise, an oasis of pure humanity and empathy in a series of flicks that mainly revolve around the title character's unstoppable drive and his creativity in dealing pain and death to his adversaries.

As Charon, the hotel manager of the supposedly neutral (but not so much!) New York branch of The Continental, Reddick speaks plainly but not softly, and he infuses the simplest statements with significance and care. When John left his new dog with Charon we could all breathe a little easier for that pooch. 

And when Charon defended The Continental with nothing but a shotgun against bulletproof super-soldiers in "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum" ... well, that was nerve-racking and hilarious, but Charon did just fine!

I suspect that you and I share a few favorites on the sci-fi side of his filmography, including his unsettling appearances as Matthew Abaddon on "Lost." Am I right?

AS: Definitely. Nobody could inhabit a character described as "mysterious" like Reddick. I remember how much weight he brought to one of his first "Lost" lines, the simple sentence: "Are you fine?"

In my favorite roles, he comes to mind in a suit and badge. Often he was behind a desk. Glowering behind it, of course, examining some paperwork, someone squirming in the hot seat before him. His role as Homeland Security Special Agent-in-Charge Broyles, head of the Fringe division in "Fringe," is a standout for me. This is who you want leading the resistance, someone who won't crack under pressure but his character had that secret kennel of obsession too, never as straight-laced as he first appeared. His character's marriage broke up because of it. Driven and passionate characters like Olivia (Anna Torv), Peter (Joshua Jackson), and Walter (John Noble) needed a foil like Broyles. But a foil who turned out to be friendly.

Lance Reddick; Fringe © Provided by Salon Lance Reddick; Fringe Actor Lance Reddick as 'Agent Phillip Broyles' on Season Five of FRINGE. (FOX Image Collection via Getty Images)

Did you know he did absurdist comedy? I didn't, until reading about it, after his death, but it actually makes a lot of sense. 

"Some of the best comedy comes from actors whose intensity is their signature, and Reddick proved that time and again," says Melanie McFarland.

MM: Oh absolutely! Some of the best comedy comes from actors whose intensity is their signature, and Reddick proved that time and again. My favorite may be his performances on "The Eric Andre Show" on Adult Swim where he defines going all in on a scene by punching a hole in the host's very flimsy desk, stalking offstage, then returning shirtless, wearing a "Star Trek: The Next Generation"–era Geordi La Forge visor and shackles, and rhythmically rattles while growling, "I wish I were LeVar Burton. I wish I were LeVar Burton!" before careening into a loony rant.

My second favorite is his guest-starring turn in the seventh season of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" episode "Frank's Brother," which may be the worst half hour of the entire series. 

I suspect Reddick may have had an inkling of how bad it was, and if that's the case, that only makes his performance shine brighter because he chewed moist crumb of his role. He plays a jazz club named Reggie who leaps into every scary Black man trope with each passing decade to prove a point about the utter backwardness of Danny DeVito's Frank. Reddick's genius is the only reason to watch "Frank's Brother," honestly.

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However, one of his most singular aspects was his voice, which announced itself with as much gravitas as his physical presence, which is a rare combo for most character actors. It permeates the video game characters he voices, especially Commander Zavala in the "Destiny" series. Salon Deputy Food Editor Ashlie D. Stevens gave a shout out to his work in the "Horizon Zero Dawn" franchise. "He really, really elevated the narrative," she said.

For me, it was hearing his voice as an ancient red dragon in "The Legend of Vox Machina" that made me love that cult favorite even more, because of course he'd play a dragon. Reddick could make his voice roil with all the heat and fury of the Earth's core without even blinking.

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Can you think of any other actor who elevates every single role, regardless of the medium, as Reddick did? I know there are a few, but not many.

AS: It's like he was a character actor and a leading man combined. Gary Oldman comes to mind, as someone who can just transform. Or maybe the late, great David Warner, who again had the leading man visage and presence but used it to subvert roles and our expectations. 

Physically, Reddick was imposing. He was so tall, towering over desks—and his voice was instantly recognizable. As we discussed, I can hear his voice in my head even now. It was sonorous, rich, and distinctive.

But then there's the episode in "Fringe" where Reddick's Agent Broyles took LSD. Not many actors could pull that off, or pull it off without making a mockery of the character or not staying true to who the character was. He played intense, intimating characters so often, but I think the trick is finding the levity inside the intensity. You can't be turned up to eleven all the time. There has to be a heart to every character and there has to be a funny bone. 

I thought I knew a lot of his roles, but I was truly blown away looking at them—and the scope and variety of them over the years—now. Was there any work or show that you were surprised to learn he was a part of?

MM: Nope. That's the amazing part about Reddick. No role was beyond him, there were truly no small parts in his repertoire. He was deserving of leading roles on par with those Oldman has played. He also glowed as a co-star. For viewers, the tragedy is in knowing we won't get to enjoy more of him beyond his posthumous releases. 

Still, it warms me to know that his final television role has him playing Zeus, head of the Greek pantheon, in the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians." His artistic divinity is understood. I only wish we'd have had the privilege to experience more of it. 

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