When Lance Reddick unexpectedly died at the age of 60 on Friday morning, the world lost one of its most consistently excellent film and television stars. The fact that his passing came just days before he was set to return to the big screen in the highly anticipated “John Wick: Chapter 4” only added to the sense of tragedy. But while his acting career was cut short, Reddick left behind an incredible body of work that is always worth revisiting.
To many TV fans, Reddick will always be remembered Cedric Daniels from “The Wire.” In a career-defining performance, Reddick portrayed one of the few voices of principled morality on a show that relished every opportunity to reveal how corruptible everyone in Baltimore seemed to be. As a police officer rising through the ranks despite his steadfast refusal to advance his career through shady dealmaking, he served as a control group that made everyone else’s corruption all the more striking. As David Simon’s sprawling masterpiece shifted its focus to a different part of Baltimore with each season, Reddick was one of the constants that allowed it to anchor itself in an overarching narrative.
But Reddick’s filmography encompasses so much more than just “The Wire.” Over the course of his decade spanning career, Reddick alternated between film and television roles with ease, making a large impact on almost every project he appeared in. His post-“Wire” work saw Reddick appearing in everything from network procedurals and prestige cable dramas to niche independent films and massive blockbusters. From small-but-pivotal roles on “Oz” and “Lost” to his late-career success in “Corporate,” “Resident Evil,” and the “John Wick” franchise, Reddick brought his charm and famously meticulous work ethic to everything he touched. The actor was a consistently welcome presence on our screens up until his final days.
As Reddick’s Hollywood peers — and film and TV fans around the world — mourn his passing, we gathered the best roles from his 25-year career. This list isn’t all-encompassing, but it includes the performances that best capture Reddick’s essence as a performer.
With editorial contributions from Steve Greene and Sarah Shachat.
“The Wire” looked at the city of Baltimore through a famously wide lens. It covered everyone from cops and drug dealers to dock workers and journalists as David Simon changed perspectives each season to make a larger point about systemic corruption. But for all the (well deserved) praise that the show receives for its sprawling approach, it has remained in the zeitgeist for the same reason that any hit show does: our emotional investment in the main characters. Simon and his writers knew when to pivot, but they were also smart enough to center the show around a reliable core ensemble to keep us invested. Reddick’s Cedric Daniels was an essential piece of that core. His performance as a cop who was determined to do the right thing provided heartbreaking contrast to the show’s nefarious dealmakers. Reddick was the perfect actor to play Daniels, embodying the character with a keen awareness of how things actually work despite his unshakeable moral compass. His steadfast refusal to stoop to the level of his peers was offered as evidence that good people can be found in the darkest of places, while the end of his character arc illustrated the tragic idea that one good man is often powerless in the face of a system that has other plans. Reddick’s performance embodied the idea that evil is always going to make its way into our world — sometimes, all we can do is refuse to make ourselves a vessel for it. —CZ
Reddick was an actor who used his voice like an instrument. His most memorable lines, whether in service of being menacing or cracking wise, played out like solos you could transpose onto a page of sheet music. As Christian DeVille, the all-seeing CEO of an Amazon-esque superconglomerate, he got to pair that gift with the chance to break free from the straight man niche he seemed to perfect in his own way. “Corporate” gave him plenty of chances to pair that smooth baritone with an extra sneer or cackle (or in the case of one episode, a chance to sing a few bars of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” or play crooner at an office party). Reddick was someone who knew precisely how to turn up the dial to make his characters an enigma, but he was also right at home playing someone you could love to watch and love to hate in equal measure. On “Corporate,” like in all his times on screen, his mere presence was its own special effect. He could stare at you until you cowered and then smile to make you feel right at home. To have all of that come through, even in a character meant to be the cartoonish embodiment of evil, was comedic lightning in a bottle and Reddick at his most virtuosic. —SG
Ambiguity could be “Lost’s” worst nightmare sometimes, especially when it came to the forces that seemed to be on one side or the other of the cosmic struggle for control of the Island. But nobody sold it better than Lance Reddick as Matthew Abaddon. Who is Matthew Abaddon? He is the fear in the pit of your stomach that something is inevitable. Reddick has a calm knowingness about him, whether he’s showing up as a hospital orderly or an Oceanic Airlines lawyer to try and influence our castaways to be what the Island needs them to be. But he plays Abaddon as far more than a supernatural spook working for The Man in Black and/or Charles Widmore (again, lots of ambiguity around the shop in Seasons 4 and 5). It’s Reddick’s extreme and intuitive control over his voice and his gaze that makes Abaddon seem both compassionate and nefarious within the space of the same breath. He gives you the the premonition that good and evil ultimately end up in the same place and that he might be the one to take you there, too. Abaddon only appears in four episodes of the show but Reddick makes him one of the most memorable antagonists this side of The Smoke Monster. —SS
Keanu Reeves is the face of “John Wick,” but loyal fans of the series know that he’s far from the only reason it’s so beloved (this isn’t “Mission: Impossible!“) From the get-go, the Derek Kolstad-created franchise sucked viewers in with its unique mythology that centered around a shockingly civilized criminal underworld that convenes at an underground hotel. Colorful side characters like Ian McShane’s Winston and John Leguziamo’s Aurelio add plenty of much-needed texture to the revenge stories, and few are more valuable than Reddick’s Charon. His role as the The Continental’s concierge adds a chillingly calm presence that goes a long way towards establishing the series’ unique tone. It’s hard to think of many actors doing a better job of embodying a character who is clearly disturbed, but hides it just enough so that a bunch of assassins can convince themselves he’s normal. —CZ
“One Night in Miami”
Regina Hall’s directorial debut is a period piece that crackles with life, documenting a legendary night on the town between four famous friends that quickly gives way to the racial tensions that embroiled America in the 1960s. The film is ostensibly about Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcom X celebrating a major boxing victory together, but it’s ultimately an exploration of the unique pressures that came with being a Black celebrity who entertains white audiences despite not being welcome in virtually any other facet of society. The film explores why so many Black men in that position were drawn towards the Nation of Islam at that time, and Reddick helps drive the point home by appearing in a key supporting role as Brother Kareem, one of Malcom X’s bodyguards who also serves as a spiritual advisor who pushes him to reconnect with his faith. —CZ
After his memorable arc on “Lost,” Reddick continued to collaborate with J.J. Abrams on the prolific producer’s next series. “Fringe” took a familiar procedural format and injected it with a supernatural twist, telling a the story of a new FBI division that uses “fringe science” to solve occult mysteries. Reddick brought out his well-honed “distinguished cop” persona to play Phillip Broyles, a homeland security agent who oversees the division. Reddick’s ability to pivot to a more traditional network drama after the success of “The Wire” is just another example of the versatility that made him such a fixture in Hollywood. While the series was never a ratings juggernaut during its original run, it has gradually developed a cult following and is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon. —CZ
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