Whenever audiences see Lance Reddick, they think they’re watching reruns of The Wire. That’s because the 53-year-old actor and Baltimore native made his mark as Lt. Cedric Daniels, the tough cop and commander who didn’t take shit from the massive piles that were widely available. Otherwise, viewers might think they’re catching a random episode of Fringe, a science fiction police procedural (that felt like The X-Files for millennials) in which Reddick played special agent Phillip Broyles.
These days, Reddick can be seen making appearances in everything from online comedy sketches to one-off roles on popular television shows, though he spends most of his time on the Amazon drama Bosch. The popular cop show, which is about to debut its second season, features Titus Welliver in the title role and Reddick as Deputy Chief Irvin Irving — in other words, another cop. As Reddick explained to us, however, he doesn’t mind because The Wire alum Eric Overmyer is in charge. That, and he gets to go toe-to-toe with Welliver.
You and Welliver have two of the most soothing voices on television today.
Titus’ voice is obvious. It’s just so deep and resonant, and he uses it so well. For me, you almost forget about it because it’s just a part of me and the character. People bring it up, but I don’t think of my voice that way because I don’t actually think it’s that deep. At least not as deep as Titus’ voice. But I guess there’s just something about it that people like.
Bosch and Irving seem less adversarial towards one another this time around.
I wouldn’t say they were adversaries in the first season, necessarily. They have different priorities and world views that often come into conflict with one another, but that’s not unlike real life in a police department. It’s interesting. I was talking to a homicide detective once, and I asked her if she would ever do command. You know what she said? “I don’t want to be command. I don’t want to be a kiss-ass.” It’s just that… During the first season of The Wire, we were filming a big raid and its aftermath, and it was my first time being in the field. So, I asked Ed Burns what I should do during the scene. Being the veteran homicide detective and street guy, Ed said, “You’re a commander, so just walk around like you don’t know what you’re doing.” Then I thought I should ask somebody else.
[Laughs.] Right, but with Bosch, Irving is cut from a different cloth altogether. He knows what he’s doing.
And with the second season, you’ll see a side of Irving you probably never thought you’d ever see.
Definitely. You get to do things with Irving this time around that you hadn’t done before, especially in some of the second season’s most emotional scenes. Was that something you were looking forward to?
Well, I did look forward to the emotional enjoyment of it, but yes and no. And when I say yes and no, I mean that I love the opportunity. But especially during certain scenes… that shit is hard. [Laughs.] One of the things that was kind of… It took a lot of preparation because I don’t often get opportunities to do that. You’ve got to practice getting into that state day after day. It’s not something you look forward to doing, because it’s painful and physically uncomfortable to be that upset, but you have to be able to do it on cue. To wire all those associations into your nervous system so that when you walk on set and see what’s there, you just see it and everything triggers. Being able to do that kind of stuff is great, and actors love that, so it was great for me to have the opportunity to do that.
Between The Wire, Fringe and appearances on similar shows, you’ve played a lot of cops. How do you feel about Irving now that Bosch‘s second season is coming out? Was his status as a police chief a deterrent at first?
Absolutely. The first time I saw the offer was in an email, and when I read it, I flew off the handle. I told them “no more cops,” and all I saw was an offer to play a police chief as a recurring role on the show. There was nothing about Eric Overmyer, and I didn’t know who Michael Connelly was, to be honest. I didn’t know the books. And the funny thing about it is, I went to my phone to call my agent and there was a message from her. When I listened to the message, she said, “Lance, you’re getting an offer. Don’t freak out because I need to talk to you about it first.” [Laughs.] I called her and she said it was from Eric, and that it was supposed to be a recurring character in the first season. (At the time, I was in the process of trying to develop my own show, a comedy I’d been trying to do for a couple of years, so I was hesitant.) Eric’s note wasn’t in the original email, so she forwarded me that. She also explained to me who Connelly was and his synergy with Amazon, where his books series sold pretty well. Then she told me Titus was playing Bosch, which made me stop and think.
Then I called Eric, who told me they needed a really great actor for the role and asked me to consider it. He offered to put me in touch with Michael so that I could talk to them both about the character and what I might want to do with him. I spoke to Michael and he pretty much said the same thing, though he told me that the plan was for Irving to be a recurring character in the first season and become a regular during the second season. That’s when a big story line would kick off for him. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that it’s just a recurring role and I still have a year to develop my own thing. So, we shot the pilot in November 2013, then Amazon picked it up in April. It was interesting because I was in another pilot as a recurring role, which I’d been told might also become a season regular. I was like, “Oh man, I’ve got a decision to make.” Because I didn’t know if I wanted to be locked in playing another police commander for six years or so. So, I took the gamble on Eric. People make promises in this business all the time, even ones with good intentions, and then nothing happens. They succumb to network pressures and marketing and all that. But I gambled on Eric and it worked out.
How quickly did things happen after you made your decision?
Once I’d really signed on, I met with the writers and talked about how we wanted to develop the character with my ideas and their ideas. Then I set up a meeting with Bernard C. Parks, the former Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, and he was very gracious with his time. We talked about what it was like for him to be a black police chief in Los Angeles, which was very valuable for me in terms of my research for the character. Not so much what he said, but how he was.
Did you model Irving on Parks at all?
A little bit. One of the things that struck me about Parks is that he rarely stutters when he speaks. His grasp of memory and facts is astounding. He’s also really big. I mean, the guy’s in his early 70s and he’s still… I’m a pretty big guy, but he’s taller than I am. He’s a big, imposing man, but he has charm for days. And how quick his mind is… I would ask him a question, and he would tell me a story. That would lead to another question and another story. There wasn’t anything canned in his responses, but he rarely had to stop and try to remember. Things were just at his finger tips. Just the way he talked about figuring out how to negotiate the politics of command was just really cool, so that helped me a lot. Though I don’t want to say that I’m doing him, because I’m not. Meeting him and listening to him really informed the way that I approached the personality.
It made more of an impression than anything.
Yes. Plus, more than any of the other characters I’ve ever played, Irving is written as a politician. I feel like The Wire‘s Cedric Daniels tried to be, but he was really a cop at heart, and Fringe‘s Phillip Broyles is more of a soldier, but I feel like Irving is a politician. No matter how great he might have been as a cop, he’s a political animal.
As a matter of fact, we shot it last week. My last day was the day of the Bosch premiere. I had to finish, run home, take a shower and run back to the premiere. That was a lot of fun.
Is comedy something you want to do more of?
The thing is, I’ve always wanted to be the best character actor there is. It’s too cliche to mention Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis, but they’re my idols. But there’s also Billy Bob Thornton and Dustin Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Kathy Bates — those are the people whose careers I model my own on. I’ve done a lot of comedy on stage and I love doing comedy. I’d like to think I’m pretty funny, and it’s really fun to do. The character I play in Corporate is kind of a maniac, so that was fun. However much I’m in it, I think that’s going to be a good show.
What was it like working with Bates on American Horror Story: Coven?
I remember when I worked with Bates, I thought I was going to go to the bathroom in my pants. I was so scared to meet her because I hold her in such high regard. She was as wonderful as she was terrifying. She really is a genius, and it’s a weird thing to say, but I’ve never seen anybody’s instrument vibrate like that whenever she acted. I could see this brilliant, transformational theatre actor controlling all this power for this character on camera.
For the big scene that I had with her, we had to cut the night short and finish it the next night. They worked for hours with her on the scene before it was my turn to come in, and people were walking by, shaking their heads and saying, “Oh fuck.” I couldn’t see what was going on then, but I wanted to, so I went to the monitors. Then when I saw what she was able to do, I was like, “Fuck!” [Laughs.]
Yes! It’s funny, because “Toys R Me” was written for me. When they originally asked Chad Kultgen, who wrote and directed it, to make something for them, he said, “I only do it if you can get Lance Reddick to do this role.” And the thing about the Key & Peele sketch that’s interesting is that I almost said no. I didn’t really watch the show, so I didn’t know what a big deal it was. I got the script and it only had four lines. I didn’t want to do just four lines. They said they’d write me two more lines, and I still said no. Then I spoke to my agent and she said, “Oh Lance, you have to do this. You don’t understand. You have to do this.” So, I did it, and everybody was so freakin’ good because we were all ad-libbing with each other. A lot of it was stuff that wasn’t on the page, so I assumed it wasn’t going to make it in, but when I watched it, I realized they’d included a lot of that improvisation. All our reactions to other people’s stuff that I never thought would be in there. That was cool.
The second season of Bosch premieres Friday, March 11 on Amazon. Until then, here’s a preview…