Lance Reddick Biography
Injury Led to Drama Study, Played Major Role in HBO Series, Selected works
Renowned for his depictions of hard-edged characters on the television crime dramas Oz and The Wire, Lance Reddick has earned a reputation as a versatile and gifted actor. From his Shakespearean stage performances to his depictions of gritty urban street characters in contemporary television and film, Reddick has brought depth and complexity to an impressive range of roles.
Injury Led to Drama
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Lance Reddick's year of birth is unknown. Reddick studied composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He then moved to the Boston area, where he worked at various odd jobs while hoping to establish a career as a pop singer. At one time, he held four different jobs: delivering newspapers, delivering pizza, waiting tables, and working as an artist's model. But he suffered a slipped disc in his back while unloading a particularly heavy shipment of the Wall Street Journal, and was forced to quit that job as well as his other work. Reexamining his career prospects, Reddick decided to apply to Yale University's graduate school of drama, where he trained as an actor.
From the beginning, Reddick was involved with reputable and daring productions. His first job in the theater was as an understudy for Angels in America, the acclaimed play about AIDS and the Reagan era which was produced on Broadway in 1993-1994 and won that year's Tony Award for best play. Reddick then took a role in Anne Meara's off-Broadway production, After-Play. He also appeared in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Henry V in New York City's Central Park.
By the late 1990s, Reddick had begun to land small parts on television series, including Swift Justice, The Nanny, and The West Wing. He appeared in several made-for-TV films as well, including What the Deaf Man Heard, Great Expectations, The Fixer, Witness to the Mob, and The Corner. In 2000 he joined the cast of Oz, the HBO dramatic series set in a fictional maximum-security prison. Reddick played the part of Detective John Basil, a cop who goes undercover at the prison as Jamaican drug dealer Desmond Mobay. Already a cult hit, Oz was in its fourth season when Reddick came aboard, but he had never actually watched an episode. "I knew it by reputation," he explained in an Internet chat on LiveWorld, "because it has a reputation of being one of the best shows on television."
Oz's unflinching—and often very violent—realism brought the series both controversy and critical respect. Reddick found it "a joy" to play Mobay, he explained to LiveWorld, "because I get to play a character that's so real." Indeed, when asked by a LiveWorld questioner what he most admired about Oz, the actor immediately cited the show's realism. "I don't just mean sex, drugs, and violence," he added. "I also mean the complexity of the characters, the complexity of their relationships with one another, how they constantly change—just as they do in real life." Playing Mobay, he went on, taught him to be a better screen actor because it allowed him for the first time to develop an intense character over an extended period of time.
Played Major Role in
Reddick also appeared in several episodes of the detective series Falcone and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In the former, he played Detective Willis Simms in three episodes; in the latter, he played the medical examiner in five episodes. His next major television role came in 2002 when he was cast as Lt. Cedric Daniels in the second season of the HBO series The Wire. Like Oz, The Wire was acclaimed for its realistic portraits of flawed characters—in this case, the residents of an impoverished Baltimore neighborhood and the police officers who try to keep its drug subculture in check. Daniels, a high-ranking officer with a law degree, has been demoted at the beginning of the season to a dead-end position in the evidence-control unit; the psychological complexity of his character's situation gave Reddick plenty of room to flex his acting skills.
Critics lauded The Wire for its boldness and uncompromising vision. Howard Rosenberg in the Los Angeles Times hailed it as a "genius series" that offered "provocative, achingly good, high-achieving television" notable for its "complex, densely written characters, first-class acting" and "seductive" storytelling. Every actor in the "intriguing" series, according to Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert, was "memorable."
Reddick continued television work with guest appearances in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2003) and Law & Order (2004). In 2003, he played Kwame Sekou in an episode of the Emmy-nominated series 100 Centre Street. Roles in bigger films followed as well. Reddick was cast as Arnie in the thriller Don't Say a Word, which starred Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, and Brittany Murphy. He also played Jay Raymond Jones in the made-for-TV movie biopic of the life and career of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Keep the Faith, Baby. In 2004, Reddick appeared as acclaimed writer James Baldwin in the feature film Brother to Brother, about a young man's introduction to the personalities and achievements of the writers and artists who contributed to the artistic blossoming during the 1902s and 1930s known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Busy with television and film roles, Reddick also continued working on the stage. As he said in LiveWorld, he enjoys the different challenges that each type of work presents. The theater, he said, is exciting because it provides immediate responses from the audience. Reddick also enjoys "how much you have to use your body to communicate" onstage. "It's scary, and at the same time thrilling every night, because you never know quite what's going to happen," he added. Among his memorable stage roles was his portrayal of Marcus Antonius in the Guthrie Theater production of Julius Caesar in Minneapolis in 1999. The production, which critic Peter Ritter described as faithful to the original but set in "a sort of Orwellian netherworld of shadowy cabals and midnight machinations," earned accolades for its acting. In particular, Ritter admired Reddick's performance, noting that the actor "summoned a wiry, red-eyed intensity for his famous 'friends, Romans, countrymen' funeral oration."
Indeed, Reddick enjoyed performing Shakespeare, for which he was trained in graduate school. He noted in LiveWorld that he sees a definite connection between programs such as Oz and Shakespeare's works, because in both cases the writing defines each character so well. As an actor who welcomes controversial roles that make audiences think, Reddick seems to be cultivating the skills that will nourish a long acting career.
What the Deaf Man Heard (TV movie), 1997.
The Fixer (TV movie), 1998.
Great Expectations (TV movie), 1998.
The Siege, 1998.
Witness to the Mob (TV movie), 1998.
The Corner (TV movie), 2000.
I Dreamed of Africa, 2000.
Don't Say a Word, 2001.
Keep the Faith, Baby (TV movie), 2002.
Brother to Brother, 2004.
After-Play, New York, NY, 1994.
Henry V, Theater in the Park, New York, NY, 199?.
Julius Caesar, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN, 1999.
Swift Justice, 1996.
The Nanny, 1997.
The West Wing, 1999.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, 2000-01.
The Wire, 2002.
100 Centre Street, 2002.
Law & Order, 2004.
Boston Globe, May 31, 2002, p. E14.
Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2002, p. E1.
Variety, November 17, 1997, p. 37.
"Chat With 'Oz"s Mobay," LiveWorld, www.liveworld.com (April 11, 2005).
"Lance Reddick: No Place Like Oz," E!Online, www.eonline.com (April 11, 2005).
"Roman Holiday," City Pages (Minneapolis and St. Paul), www.citypages.com (April 11, 2005).
—E. M. Shostak