When Lance Reddick is onscreen, you know he’s the guy in charge. He’s been a figure of capable (and complicated) authority across countless cop and sorta-cop shows — The Wire, Fringe, Bosch — with an unflappable demeanor that has also served him well as Charon, the maître d’ of New York’s Continental Hotel in the John Wick films. Even his voice is commanding: In video games, Reddick has been a steady presence for nearly a decade as Commander Zavala, the taciturn voice in the player’s ear in the Destiny franchise, and — as he discusses in the video above — as Sylens, the enigmatic secret-keeper nudging the player along in this spring’s PlayStation hit Horizon Forbidden West. (“Sylens was one of the first times I’ve watched myself as an animated character,” he says, “and thought, Wow, that’s a really cool character. I got a good deal.”)
Destiny is all militaristic sci-fi, depicting a long war that spans the solar system and alien races that have invaded it. In these games, players create their own character, a Guardian, and explore the world while staring down the barrel of a gun. And there’s Horizon Forbidden West, a lush speculative adventure in which nature has taken over a postapocalyptic United States and Boston Dynamics–esque robot dinosaurs rule the land. But despite the grandness of those premises, Reddick says the experience of being a game character is surprisingly minimizing, as he is just one small part in the giant machine of modern big-budget game development, playing roles in which he doesn’t always get to see himself — or even the set on which he’s performing.
With a live-action production, an actor might be able to use a wall or the side of a truck to ground himself, but in a video game, Reddick says, “a building or the side of a truck was just a stand with a tennis ball and another stand with a tennis ball.” And it’s not just the set: “You don’t have the script, so you’re walking into lines, or even scenes, without context — you are relying on the director very heavily to give that to you and then you just gotta do the best you can.”
A game actor might be lucky to even work across from other members of the cast. In the original Destiny, Gina Torres played a fellow soldier, Ikora Rey. The two actually got to work in a room together, a games-acting experience that Reddick treasures: “Love her. There was a big dramatic scene between us where we talk about what we’re gonna do after [fellow soldier] Cayde-6’s [played by Nathan Fillion] death. That was the one time I got to work with another person on Destiny. They actually brought us in to work together at the same time to get the rhythm and the chemistry. And I love that scene. I love it.”
But for all of the digital environment and motion-capture artifice involved in acting for a video game, one element remains purely and unmistakably Reddick: that voice. Terse but layered, a brick wall built with as few words as possible. Playing these games, you want to listen to him — make him proud? — even if the character he’s inhabiting doesn’t make it easy. “Zavala is the commander-slash-dad,” he says, “while Sylens, he’s a smart guy; you need his help … but, man, what an asshole.”
After he wraps his video-game parts, Reddick occasionally plays through the finished product or does some group play with a game’s developers. “With Horizon, there was a part of me that just wanted to watch the story because it’s so cool,” he says. But he admits he doesn’t always have the skills or patience to complete a full game. “Eventually,” he explains, “I reach the point where I’ve just gotta YouTube it.”