Lance Reddick moved to Manhattan in 1995 after graduating from the Yale University School of Drama. He had two young kids at the time, and he admits to being a bit of a recluse during the ten years he resided and worked in the city. So the answer is no, he did not draw on his personal experiences cavorting around the city’s luxurious, dangerous after-hours locales when preparing to play Charon, the ever-hospitable concierge of a New York hotel hangout for assassins in John Wick.
Reddick was actually only on the set of the original John Wick for one day. He had no idea the sleek 2014 action film — which starred Keanu Reeves as a former hitman who returns to a seedy New York City underworld to avenge the murder of a puppy gifted to him by his just-deceased wife — would turn into a worldwide $573 million-grossing saga. (It’s since spawned two sequels and counting, each one shining a stylish pop-noir light on a fictionalized Manhattan, after the sun sets behind the skyscrapers. A Starz prequel centering on Charon’s character is on the way as well.) But it did, and the subsequent films have permitted Charon to move from behind that Continental reception desk — in reality, the interior of Delmonico’s steakhouse in the Financial District — and check into the game. For the 2017 sequel, he filmed at the Beaver Building on Wall Street and chauffeured Ian McShane’s Winston to Central Park. By 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, Reddick was performing intense action scenes alongside Reeves. With John Wick: Chapter 4 due in theaters next May, Reddick — who has long been a magnetic presence on TV in The Wire, Oz, Lost, and Fringe — is one of only three actors (along with Reeves and McShane) to appear in the entire saga.
“The movie blew up so much,” Reddick explains in a conversation with Vulture. “Everything changed.”
What stood out to you when you first read the John Wick script?
It wasn’t the death of the puppy. The mild-mannered guy who comes out of retirement and returns to his old universe had been done so many times, but this was original and fresh and fantastic. And the opportunity to play this quintessential gentleman with an African accent was exciting to me. I found out later that the role was kind of written for me. I assumed it was because I did an accent in Oz, or maybe screenwriter Derek Kolstad was a fan of The Wire.
So what was the real reason?
It’s a funny story. I went to lunch with him about two years ago and I was talking about Fringe and complaining about some of my experience on the show. He said that he loved it and that’s where he knew me from!
The Kenyan accent was in the script just for you?
No, it said “African accent.” I get this call on a Wednesday and I was supposed to shoot it that Monday. It happened fast. When I read it, I was worried it wasn’t enough time to do it. But then I thought it may be interesting. So then I put on my accentations. I tried my South African accent and it didn’t fit. And then I tried my Kenyan accent and it worked. The director heard it and said, “Great, let’s do it.”
Did you have anybody in mind when fleshing out Charon’s personality?
He speaks so little but his presence is large and I had to find a way to capture that. So I started through some performances that made me think of him. The two people who came to mind were Alfred from Batman and Hector Elizondo from Pretty Woman.
I was not expecting you to drop a Pretty Woman reference.
Yeah, there was an elegance about him.
What memory comes to mind about filming in New York City?
Well, remember in the first film, I’m only in the hotel and all my scenes are behind the desk. I flew in on a Saturday and did my fittings. Then I shot all my stuff on a Sunday. We were downtown across the street from that big statue of a bull.
What about the sequel, when you got to leave the Continental?
I remember a night shoot. So I pulled up in front of the hotel with Winston and I got the door for him and then we walked in. This was downtown, right? And across the street, all the chairs were there along with the video village, and because it was a restaurant area, there were hordes of rats. Someone showed me a video of the night before and the rats were just swarming around this tree. I’d lived in New York for ten years and never seen anything like it.
Okay, that’s freaky and disgusting.
It was scary because I’m in the generation that the first thing that came to my mind was the Ben movie. All I kept thinking about was Willard!
Still, this was a big-budget Hollywood production. As someone who pounded the pavement while living in the city, was that gratifying to you?
Well, the first one was almost an independent film. By the third one, it was a big Hollywood production. But yeah, I hadn’t worked on a movie that big in New York since The Siege in 1998.
Did people make a scene while you guys were literally making a scene?
They locked it up pretty well. And most of my exterior stuff was done at night. The one scene I did during the day was with Ian and Keanu in Central Park in the second film. And yeah, a lot of people were gawking.
Speaking of Keanu, can you give us some insight into his personality?
I’m a journeyman character actor. And whenever I work with a big movie star for the first time, I keep my guard up to protect my work from an ego. And if there’s any big movie star who’s not that person, it’s Keanu. I remember my first scene that I shot with him — it’s the first scene you see us together in the first movie — he was struggling with the timing. I said, “Keanu do you want to do XYZ?” I don’t even remember what it was. And he kind of smiled and said, “No man, you just do your thing.” My experience with him after that continues to be one with someone who’s very generous as an actor and then all about the work. He’s also very shy. This is going to sound really weird, but — he seems simple, but spiritually he’s very advanced.
That makes perfect sense, actually.
He’s incredibly deep and insightful and thoughtful. But watching him in social situations, he can be like, “I can only take so much input from other people so don’t bother me.” Which is fine. He’s very shrewd. On one hand I feel like I don’t know him very well but on the other, I just adore that guy. He’s such a wonderful human being.
How has your friendship changed after four movies?
We’ve gotten to know each other a little better. I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling this story: During John Wick: Chapter Four, my first day of filming happened to be Keanu’s birthday. But he wasn’t in the scene. He came to the set anyway at nine o’clock at night with his girlfriend who I had never met. And she is … can I say a bad word?
Go for it.
His girlfriend is cool as fuck. And she told me that she asked Keanu what he wanted to do for his birthday and he said, “I want to go see Lance.” He’d never done this before but he wrote me a note thanking me for what I brought to the character in these movies. And he wanted to give the note to me. I’ll never forget it. I’m going to cry now.
Where is the note now?
I don’t remember where I put it. I do know that I want to frame it.
Does the cast hang out together off-the-clock?
No, the shoot is so fragmented. Keanu was so busy and is not a guy who runs all over town, and Ian is almost 80, and I’m a homebody. But my wife and I did once see Bruce Springsteen’s one-man show. I’m not the biggest fan, but seeing him live is a whole other experience.
Can you confirm if there are regular, non-killer guests at the Continental?
Hmmm … I don’t know. I always assumed that all the clients are murderers. Because in certain scenes where bad people would show up in the lobby, everybody would stop because they knew who those people were. But I didn’t do any research into it.
Do you think there is a real secret underbelly in New York City full of bad guys?
I mean, there are all kinds of people between the upper echelons of politics and the ultrarich and the mafia who control so much of the restaurant and trash industry in New York. They’re very secretive and very dangerous. But I’m not part of those clubs!
Could John Wick have worked as well if it weren’t filmed in New York?
I don’t know. There’s definitely a mystique about it. I don’t want to insult another city, but …
Could another city have passed for it?
It wouldn’t have been the same movie. There’s a pulse and energy to New York that’s not like any other place I’ve ever been. It’s such a cultural and financial center of the world. I don’t want to say it has a certain je ne sais quoi, but I just said it. It also has an edge and an elegance because the city encapsulates both the upper echelons of wealth and the dirtiest and grimiest parts of the street.
I know you can’t say much about Chapter Four, but are you an integral part of the movie?
The simple answer is yes. That’s all I can say.
Are you involved with that Charon origin-story series?
I don’t know anything about that but I’ve been hearing about it since the third John Wick film. I may do a cameo but I have not been approached. My plate is pretty full anyway with doing the Resident Evil, movies, and voice work.
So you say you’re a homebody. But what kind of reaction do you get from concierges when you travel and stay in hotels?
Ha! That’s a fun question. Generally they don’t talk to me. Sometimes they’ll know who I am and say, “It’s a pleasure to have you, Mr. Reddick.” But I don’t use a concierge that much.
What about when you’re filming John Wick in New York? Aren’t you in a fancy hotel for a long time?
I’m not, but the other actors are. Because of my, um, personal quirks, I always stay in a Residence Inn. I like to prepare my own food. And the Residence Inn has a big room and a big kitchen. That’s all I need.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
More From This Series
- New Yorkers Live Side-by-Side and Worlds Apart
- Snapshots of the City Where Movies Were Born
- It Took an Artist to Make a Great Film About Art-Making