“... You have to be willing to learn, which means you have to be willing to not be good at something for a while... that’s what it feels like a lot when I’m beginning the process of working on a new project... ”
By Eden Mor
By some odd coincidence, the last people heading out the doors of the 2014 Sundance film festival were Lance Reddick, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It was January, in the icy town of Park City Utah, where the world-famous festival is held annually.
Hoffman was in attendance promoting his new film God’s Pocket, John Slattery’s directorial debut.
“I ran into him as we were going down the stairs,” recalled Reddick. “And I said to him, I don’t know if you remember, but about eight years ago, you know, you saw me on the street and you said how much you enjoyed my work. And I just want you to know what that – how much that meant.” Hoffman regarded the actor kindly but quickly, overwhelmed, he squeezed his way out of the venue. A few short months later, Hoffman passed away.
Reddick did not know Hoffman personally. They were the same age though, and in some sense peers. But the interaction stuck with him, because above all else, Hoffman was a shining exemplar for the type of actor Reddick had always wanted to become. “A classic actor,” Reddick said.
Lance Reddick, best known for his roles in HBO’s The Wire, Amazon’s Bosch, and the movie franchise John Wick, isn’t one of those actors that books roles simply because they are famous. Or because they
know somebody in the industry. No, for Reddick, acting is a craft, an art form one must learn. And he
built much of his craft from the foundations of one of his favorite actors, Hoffman.
The Maryland-born actor originally pursued music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, but eventually found his way to the Yale School of Drama. The idea to head to prestigious acting school was in no way planned, but rather born of a conversation Reddick had with a painter he was modeling for early in his career. “He asked me about training. And I said, ‘well, you don’t need training as an actor, you learn as you go,’ which I knew was kind of crap,” Reddick said. Without a good director and a good script, Reddick came to realize his performances were inconsistent, explaining that he simply “didn’t have any technique.”
But as fate would have it, Reddick ended up at Yale, having received ample financial aid to attend a four year university course as a husband and father entering his 30s. At Yale, Reddick was thrust into the intense world of performance acting, much of which included Shakespeare, and even that didn’t phase him. “I had an affinity for Shakespeare ever
since I was a kid only because I was a fan of Star Trek,” Reddick told us. “And I loved Captain Kirk and I found out that he was a Shakespearean actor….and so I knew that I wanted to learn to do Shakespeare well.”
Interestingly enough, Lance wasn’t the only future star to grace the halls of Yale (besides Meryl Streep, of course). Paul Giamatti, known for his roles in 12 Years a Slave, Sideways and Billionaire, happened to be in Reddick’s class. Though the two have been friends ever since, Giamatti’s natural talent helped Reddick come to an important realization as a student. “So Paul was literally a star the first day of class… it was like he was just practicing being a star for two years. I realized that as talented as I may or may not be, I knew that talent wasn’t enough,” Reddick said.
And so Reddick set himself a goal – one that he doesn’t like to say out loud too much, but stands by to this day. “I want to be the best actor in the world,” he said, adding that every serious actor in some way, shape, or form entertains this goal. But what sets Reddick apart from others is the way he approached this aspiration. “It’s easy to say that, but you can’t accomplish something unless you can find some way to quantify it. Right? So I tried to break it down,” he explained.
The methodical actor he is, Reddick drew from his favorite performers, pinpointing the aspect of their craft in which they excelled. Marlon Brando, he explained, has a visceral, nearly animalistic approach to acting. Meryl Streep on the other hand, acts in an almost hyperreal way, having mastered the art of accents. Reddick also praised Daniel Day Lewis as one of his favorites, citing the actor’s ability to transform physically.
And so, Lance Reddick learned. And studied. And performed. He gave it everything he had, all while entering his 30s, with a wife and child to think of. But it’s clear that Reddick still values the learning process, unlike so many actors. And he definitely doesn’t take it for granted in light of his mainstream Hollywood success.
“It’s tricky, you know, and my son is really good at this. You have to be willing to learn, which means you have to be willing to not be good at something for a while. Keep at it, and to keep that. That’s what it feels like a lot when I’m beginning the process of working on something,”
Fast forward to present day. Reddick now has two kids, and his career is on the up. This year, he starred as a voice actor in the Netflix animated series Farzar, as well as the much anticipated Netflix series Resident Evil, inspired by the horror franchise of the same name. He reprised his role of Charon in the John Wick franchise, with the fourth installment expected to release sometime next year. Not to mention you can spot him in the new 20th Century Studios reboot of the 1992 classic, White Men Can’t Jump.
But from our conversation it was obvious that one project stood out to him above the others. That film is Shirley. It’s a biopic expected to release sometime this year, following Shirely Chisholm, America’s first black congresswoman, and her historic run for office in the 1972 U.S. presidential election. Deadline writes that the film will focus on “the
cost of accomplishment for Shirley,” and will draw on “exclusive and extensive conversations with Chisholm’s family and friends.” The project, which has landed in the hands of Netflix, is under the direction of Oscar-winner John Ridley, and is set to star an impressive cast alongside Reddick, including Regina King in the title role as well as Lucas Hedges, Terrence Howard, and W. Earl Brown.
In our interview, Reddick passionately walked us through Shirley Chisholm’s story. Throughout the process of making the movie, he made it a point to do his research and listen to Chisholm’s speeches. “It was so surreal, because I felt like listening to her speak, it could have been AOC or Bernie Sanders. It was wild. And also going back and watching interviews of her… I didn’t realize how incredibly charming and authentic she was,” Reddick said.
It feels necessary, almost fateful, for a film like Shirley to be released amidst the current political climate of the U.S., and the weight of that isn’t lost on Reddick. He was able to not only give to the film as an actor, but take ample insight away from it.
“You always tend to look at things through the lens that you have. So I tend to look at sexism through the lens of being a black man,” Reddick admitted. “And so I tend to look at feminism through the lens of white feminism. So, when somebody asked [Shirley] in this interview…’What was your greatest obstacle?’ She said, ‘men,’” insinuating that black politics was just as much of a boy’s club as white politics, explained Reddick. “I get chills just thinking about it.”
As socially aware and progressive as Hollywood has seemingly become, it’s still an industry steeped in racism. Reddick doesn’t shy away from this truth. “I still struggle with [racism]. Right? I mean, it’s still, it’s still an issue in my career, even now that my career is going pretty great,” the actor said.
From our limited time speaking to Reddick, we can tell he isn’t the type of actor to simply accept these harsh realities. He’d rather do something about it. And so as we wrapped up our interview, he gave us a sneak peak at the new direction his career was headed in: production.
“You know it’s, it’s interesting because right now I just want to do the kinds of stories that I want to see,” said Reddick. “And a lot of those stories are about people of color, particularly people of color and women, particularly historical.”
With some pretty significant box office roles under his belt, it’s clear as day that Reddick has only just begun his journey as an actor. Brimming with none other than passion, he explained he’s had a big project in the works for nearly two and a half years, but at this point, it’s still pretty hush-hush. “I don’t want to say much more than that,” he said, to our disppointment. So for fans of the actor, and for all of those beyond eager to see change in the industry, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Lance Reddick has in store. And from where we’re sitting, it’s looking pretty damn good.
Photographer is Kelly Balch,
Grooming by Blondie.
All shirts are John Varvatos