As the singularly obsessive CEO of the largest company on the planet in Comedy Central’s “Corporate,” Christian Deville is one of the best roles that Lance Reddick has ever had. And even he still isn’t sure how the show made in onto TV in the first place.
“I was surprised that it got on the air. I was surprised some of this stuff got OK’d, really, because of the politics. Because it became clear very quickly to me that it was a show with a very strong point of view. It’s just really refreshing to be part of something that’s allowed to breathe and take on its own life,” Reddick told IndieWire.
“Corporate,” one of the year’s best TV surprises, follows two of the employees at Hampton Deville, an ever-growing multinational empire. Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman (the writers and creators of the series, along with director Pat Bishop) play Matt and Jake, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of sorts for their mega-conglomerate’s slow takeover of everything around them. As writers, they also had an idea from the outset as to how Christian Deville would help inform the company that he lends his name to.
“This big speech he gives when he first enters into the boardroom in the pilot helped us click into the idea that this character is kind of performative and likes to command a room. He drives the company in a fear-based way,” Ingrebretson said. “So I think when we wrote that scene we were like, ‘Oh, here are the possibilities of this character. This is what’s exciting about him, he’ll like grip the attention of everyone in like twist, throw ’em around a little bit.’ Hampton Deville is a company run in the way that a lot of companies are run, where it’s performance-based and if you’re underperforming, you’re out. So don’t fuck around.”
The show’s setting, distinct in its fluorescent-lit offices and wood-paneled boardroom interiors, combined with the aims of the boss lurking on the show’s edges make for an impressive showcase of Reddick’s on-screen presence. It’s something readily apparent when watching “Corporate,” but Reddick admits the show’s strange mixture of dark laughs and pointed commentary took a little while to get used to.
“To be perfectly frank, when I first read the pilot, I didn’t get it. It wasn’t until I saw the pilot, then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ For me, I did the kind of actor-y stuff and I tried to figure out, you know, I talked to, met with [the creators] a couple of times and talked about their ideas about the character,” Reddick said.
In addition to consulting with the show’s creative team, Reddick also turned to recent history and to real-life individuals who held similar positions of authority within the financial world.
“I tried to do some research about the psychology of CEOs. Reginald Johnson was a black billionaire in the ’70s and ’80s. Died very young at 50. But I read his autobiography, ‘Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?'” Reddick said. “And also, at the time, I was really fascinated by and was reading about psychopaths, just coincidentally.”
Reddick might be most familiar to audiences from his time on “The Wire,” “Fringe,” and “Lost,” where he’s occupied various ranks of on-screen authority. More recently, in the Amazon series “Bosch,” Reddick plays a police chief, proving he can turn the act of rolling up a car window into something iconic. But in “Corporate,” with the entire globe at Christian Deville’s fingertips, there’s something a little extra at his disposal.
“I’ve played a lot of commanding characters, people who are in charge of other people. In order to do that successfully, I think you have to enjoy that. But it’s a whole other thing, feeling like there’s part of you that really wants to run the world, you know what I mean?” Reddick said. “Part of what’s scary is when you watch yourself, so much of it feels absurd, but I mean, when you talk to people in corporate life, it’s like, ‘No, what’s scary about that shit is that it’s fucking real.'”
Part of that reality comes from a realization that while Christian might have a devious smile and be perfectly able to manipulate his various minions, there’s a way to watch the show in which he isn’t the villain. For Weisman, it comes back to the idea that there’s a system that keeps all Hampton Deville employees out of happiness’ reach.
“The thing that’s funny about it is that I think [Christian] does enjoy it the most. However, I don’t think he’s ever really that happy because I don’t think he can be. I think capitalism doesn’t let you,” Reddick said. “Like, I think Christian Deville’s idea of success is infinite growth, constantly. He’ll probably try to get cryogenically frozen so he can have a thousand more attempts at it.”
Someone with this much wealth and power could easily become an outsized figure who gobbles up the entire show around him. But to hear Reddick describe the great struggle between comedy and tragedy at the heart of both show and character, it’s clear that Christian is just as trapped as everyone else.
“I think it’s a distinction between happiness and pleasure. He’s like an addict, trying to sign the next deal,” Reddick said. “He’s constantly searching for that dopamine hit. But it’s through work and success. He thinks he’s happy because he’s constantly given these hits of pleasure from his addiction to acquiring things.”
So for Reddick, the focus is on snatching the reality from within this surreal universe that “Corporate” has translated to TV. He’s a ruthless boss who also can handle quieter moments — even sweet ones, like his solo in the Season 1 finale “Remember Day,” where he serenades the office holiday party. Christian Deville is capable of some monstrous decisions, but the actor playing him never loses sight of the human foundation he’s built on.
“As an actor, whenever you play a character, unless you’re playing the devil, no character thinks that they’re evil. Nobody thinks that they’re the bad guy. Everybody’s justified in their head,” Reddick said. “Even though he’s a borderline caricature sometimes, I don’t know that in terms of personality type, he’s that different from real CEOs of multinational corporations. There’s a certain personality type, there’s a certain level of megalomania. I don’t know that you necessarily see yourself as right all the time, but you think your vision is the right vision. It’s almost like it’s God-given in your mind.”
Season 2 of “Corporate” will be on its way in due time. (When it comes, both Ingebretson and Reddick described Christian’s part in the opening episode as “fucking crazy.”) Though Reddick won’t be in every episode this upcoming season, there’s still plenty of room to explore who this guy is and what brought him to the place he’s at.
“Lance is so incredible that we want to swing for the fences with him every time he’s on screen,” Ingebretson said. “We’re very particular about what we’re using him for and try to give him the juiciest stuff on the show to do. Basically because he can do it.”
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