With Titus Welliver on Bosch
Acting with Authority
Actor Lance Reddick no longer worries about being typecast.
Lance Reddick is an actor's character actor.
"Traditionally, in Hollywood, I feel like the term 'character actor' meant a certain type of look," says Reddick, "But to me a character actor means someone who likes to transform into different characters, someone who isn't always playing themselves."
The veteran of stage, film, and television has made a name for himself playing (mostly) authority figures, such as Cedric Daniels on HBO's The Wire, and Phillip Broyles on Fox's Fringe. Reddick has also been featured on television's Lost, American Horror Story: Coven, and in feature films like John Wick and White House Down, as well as in a myriad of guest spots.
Reddick currently stars as Irvin Irving on Bosch, Amazon Prime Video's longest running one-hour series.
"I almost said no to the role," says Reddick, who was reluctant to play another command ranking cop. "I didn't know the [Bosch] books," he confesses, "I didn't know what a huge deal [author] Michael Connelly was."
Bosch executive producer Eric Overmyer, who had worked with Reddick on The Wire, encouraged him to take the role.
"I talked to Eric Overmyer, and I talked to Michael [Connelly], and I decided I wanted to do it," says Reddick.
To find the essence of Irvin Irving, Reddick looked past the surface similarities of some of his previous roles, such as Daniels or Broyles.
"It was tough, especially because I love being different," says Reddick. "Rather than try to make a similar character different, I tried to approach it as 'who is Irving?' I started from scratch."
Reddick's research led him to a lengthy meeting with former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, whose career trajectory (although not necessarily his personality) Connelly in part used as a model for Irving.
"[Parks] was very gracious and spoke to me for two hours about his career and the LAPD, and that helped tremendously," says Reddick.
Incidentally, Parks was not the first real-life cop to give Reddick acting advice, nor was Bosch his first time working with Titus Welliver, who stars in the title role.
"Titus and I met 20 years ago on a cop show called Falcone," says Reddick. "We didn't know each other well, but we liked each other and respected each other's work."
While shooting Falcone, Reddick learned he had been cast as an undercover detective on HBO's Oz. Falcone was based on the Donnie Brasco story, and Joe Pistone, the FBI agent who infiltrated the mafia, was one of the producers. Reddick got first-hand advice on how to play an undercover cop from the real-life Donnie Brasco.
For Bosch, Reddick had to immerse himself in Los Angeles' own corrupt stew of crime, punishment, and politics.
"I feel like my conversation with Parks helped me the most," says Reddick, "But after reading the books I was kind of amazed, because so much of it happens in Harry's head. In order to make that as cinematic as they've made it is such an accomplishment."
Like The Wire, Bosch is a show about a city as much as the characters who inhabit it. The setting becomes a character itself. And like The Wire writer David Simon, who was a Baltimore police reporter, Michael Connelly worked for years as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, providing an insight that helps give the show its realism.
"Michael was adamant that if they were going to do the show, he was going to have to come with it," says Reddick, "And it would have to be shot in L.A."
While The Wire's Daniels, and Bosch's Irving are both products of their environments, Reddick sees key differences in their internal makeup.
"Daniels' downfall is that, while he's good at the game of politics, when push comes to shove he cares more about the integrity of the work than the politics," says Reddick, "Irving is a politician through and through; he loves the games of power. That doesn't mean he doesn't care about good police work, because he does, but at the end of the day he's a brilliant politician."
In the Bosch books, Irving is almost over-the-top in his antagonism. When it came time to bring that character to life, Connelly told Reddick he wanted to humanize Irving, and Reddick brings an appealing nuance to the character. "But it's not just me," Reddick is quick to point out, "they write him very well."
Having played many cops and authority figures, Reddick is no longer concerned with the threat of being typecast. "With Fringe I started feeling that way," he says, "but then I started doing other things, I started doing more comedy."
Reddick has been featured in multiple comedy shows and one-off sketches, including Toys R Me, Nice Try IHOP, Key & Peele, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He currently stars as the cartoonish evil corporate boss Christian DeVille on Comedy Central's Corporate, which has been renewed for a second season.
As with Irvin Irving on Bosch, Reddick almost turned down Corporate.
"I didn't want to play another asshole boss in a suit," he says, adding, "Not realizing how different this asshole boss was going to be from everything else I'd done. But Corporate is just written so well. Mostly I'm not ad-libbing anything, those are the words that they wrote. They give me such crazy stuff to do on Corporate, I have to know those words inside and out so that I can play around with them, almost like I'm doing Shakespeare."
When it comes to comedy, the Yale School of Drama alumnus believes it is still ultimately about finding the character.
"I love comedy," says Reddick, "Technically it's the same [as drama]. I did a lot of it in drama school. You know, in school you're not a comedic actor or a dramatic actor, you're just doing plays."
This foundation has helped Reddick navigate the world of comedy, such as his guest appearance in the Key & Peele Gay Wedding Advice sketch.
"With that I realized, once we got going, basically surrounded by stand-up comedians and sketch comedians, that everyone was ad-libbing — so I realized all I could do was be the character," says Reddick, "I can't compete ab-libbing with these guys; I just have to be the character."
One particularly memorable appearance was Reddick's spot on the Dadaist talk show parody The Eric Andre Show, on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. It is often unclear to the viewer whether guests on Andre's show are in on the joke, but Reddick came prepared.
"It was planned, but improvised," says Reddick, who at one point slammed his fist on the host's desk. "I didn't know I was going to do that," confesses Reddick, "I put a hole in it, and that's why I said, 'You need a new desk.'"
As long as there are well-written characters, Reddick is equally at home in drama or comedy; stage, film, or television.
"I love doing it all," he says, "Television is getting so sophisticated that when I go to do a film, as far as the process, I don't feel a difference. In the United States at least, complex, sophisticated storytelling that is particularly character driven for adults, you're seeing a lot more of that on television than on film in the last 10 years. Now, theater is a different thing."
Reddick recently did a stage reading of a play he hopes to do next year, and is interested in another large ensemble piece, a welcome return to theater. He also has roles in the upcoming feature films The Domestics, Little Woods, and Angel Has Fallen.
Season four of Bosch premieres April 13, and the series has already been picked up for a fifth.
"I don't know what's safe to tell you," says Reddick about the upcoming season, which is based on Connelly's novel Angels Flight, as well as further developing already established storylines. "I'm really excited about it. A lot is happening and it's going to be great."
With a resume of memorable portrayals of diverse characters, Reddick is the kind of actor most people on the street recognize, although often fans of one particular show may not have seen the others.
"You never know where people are going to know you from. I had a woman come up to me in the gym a couple years ago and she said 'Are you that guy from the Key & Peele skit?'," he says with a laugh.
There is not one particular role or character for which Reddick wishes to be known, but rather for his work as a whole.
"The work is still the work," he says, "I'd like to be known for great acting."