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Charon, Lieutenant Daniels, and Zavala: Lance Reddick’s Essential Roles

Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: Bungie Inc.; ABC; Summit Entertainment; HBO

There are actors who are so consistently great onscreen that they elevate everything they show up in, instantly adding an electric energy to even the oddest projects. Actors who, while not always the stars of the show, are always exciting to watch. Lance Reddick was one of those — a commanding presence onscreen who consistently did something slightly unexpected with the parts he played. He often represented authority figures — cops, detectives, lawyers, hotel concierges — but never seemed typecast, contrasting his looming height with a deep, soft voice, weaponizing his piercing gaze against anyone who dared cross him. Whenever you saw him, you knew you were either in the safest place in the world or about to get your shit rocked.

A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Reddick cruised around television procedurals and crime dramas for a few years in the 1990s before breaking out with roles in Oz and The Wire, long-running dramas that took similarly expansive looks at the complicated, interconnected worlds of crime and law enforcement. After that, he popped up in everything from mystery-box TV shows to action franchises like John Wick and epic video-game series — an instantly recognizable presence no matter where he was. When his family announced his death last week, fans showered his most beloved and underrated characters alike with an outpouring of love.

To honor Reddick’s decades-spanning legacy, we’ve gathered 14 of his defining onscreen roles that show not only his wide-ranging talent but his ability to elevate bad to good and good to great.

Johnny Basil/Desmond Mobay, Oz

Reddick’s first regularly recurring role was in the fourth season of HBO’s era-defining prison drama, Oz, in which he played Detective Johnny Basil, better known as his prisoner alter ego Desmond Mobay (which he used to attempt to infiltrate the drug trade inside Oswald State Correctional Facility). In the end, Johnny is too good at his job, getting too deep into the prison’s tangled web, becoming an addict to prove his commitment, and eventually murdered at the hands of another inmate. Over the course of the season, we watch Johnny as he cracks apart, hiding his stress with jokes and a smile for the other inmates, only allowing the anxiety to break through in quiet, private moments that last mere seconds — breathing heavily, hand to his head, then back to work. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Cedric Daniels, The Wire

One of Reddick’s most celebrated roles was as Cedric Daniels on The Wire, David Simon’s HBO crime drama about Baltimore’s relationship to its law enforcement in all of its many forms. Daniels is a well-respected lieutenant in the Baltimore Police Department’s narcotics unit and one of the few authority figures in the department unmarred by scandal or corruption. His commitment to integrity — for himself and everyone who works under him — makes him the ideal enforcer of the law in a story where those types are few and far between, the honorable sheriff in a nation of outlaws. It’s his commitment to the truth that eventually forces him out of his shining career when he’s unwilling to play ball with an increasingly corrupt organization. After that, his shift to a job as a criminal-defense lawyer, in order to help the very people he used to hunt, seems only natural. Reddick’s imposing screen presence lent itself perfectly to a character who holds personal honor above political and financial gain — he’s the guy you want on your side no matter what.

Matthew Abaddon, Lost

Reddick appears only a few times on Lost, but his presence is felt all through the fourth season of the show. As Matthew Abaddon, obsessive industrialist Charles Widmore’s facilitator, Reddick deploys his enigmatic stare on maximum power as he gently but firmly (and a little scarily) manipulates the Oceanic Six like pieces on a chessboard, making sure everyone ends up where they belong — not unlike his biblical namesake, he’s an angel in charge of ushering lost souls to their final resting place. Abaddon, thanks to Reddick’s thoughtful, commanding presence, is the kind of guy you fear as much as you trust, knowing that no matter how unlikely or impossible the things he says sound, they always turn out to be true.

Phillip Broyles, Fringe

At the same time that Reddick was making cameos on Lost, he had a main role on Fringe as various parallel iterations of Special Agent Phillip Broyles, head of the Fringe Division of the FBI. As Broyles, Reddick is instantly believable as a no-nonsense leader who nevertheless holds a special curiosity for anything out of the ordinary — a crucial trait for anyone involved in the study of the supernatural. His past and much of his personal life remain mysterious, though sometimes, he’ll drop occasional factoids — like the time he beat President Obama at golf. He’s the kind of guy you want to know more about, but if he tells you, he’ll probably have to kill you. He also has one of the most unsettling laughs ever seen on TV.

Himself, The Eric Andre Show

In perhaps his most surreal TV appearance, Reddick played himself as a guest on Adult Swim’s absurdist The Eric Andre Show, popping in for a minute-long “interview” in which host Eric Andre shouts a few non sequiturs about baseball and Justin Bieber. Visibly perturbed by the word salad and co-host Hannibal Buress in the background crunching on chips, Reddick stands, strides over to Andre’s desk, and smashes a hole in it with his fist. “You need a new desk,” he says, while Andre looks genuinely terrified. The clip is endlessly rewatchable — if only to see one of TV’s most commanding stars use his presence to its terrifying, hilarious full potential.

Mick, Faults

“I don’t carry a gun. Do you want to know why? Because I don’t need one.” With just a few lines, Reddick introduces himself as the guy to watch out for in Riley Stearns’s directorial debut, Faults, playing Mick, a sinister debt collector hounding a fraudulent cult deprogrammer for money. Reddick’s trademark elegant enunciation and flashy bolo tie flesh Mick out to more than just a scary fixer, adding the fun little details that make Reddick’s characters memorable.

Major Carver, The Guest

For the knockdown drag-out gunfight that marks the sinister turn of Adam Wingard’s bloody thriller The Guest, Dan Stevens’s ex-military psychopath needs an equally terrifying adversary to go up against in order to prove how ruthless and violent he is. Who better than Reddick to play a special-forces operative hunting down a bad guy who seems indestructible — until he isn’t. The purpose of Reddick’s Major Carver isn’t merely to get killed but to prove beyond a doubt how dangerous the guy he’s hunting really is. If someone can go up against Reddick and survive, heaven help whoever gets in his way next.

Charon, John Wick series

In anyone else’s hands, hotel concierge Charon would be a cool side character in the John Wick universe. In Reddick’s, he is instantly iconic — from his meticulously tailored suits to his wry familiarity with everyone he comes across. He, like his counterpart Winston (Ian McShane), the Continental hotel’s owner, face down the scariest dudes the world has ever known with a wink and a smile, following the assassin world’s rigorous set of rules while craftily looking out for their own interests and the interests of those they count as friends. Where does Wick leave his new dog for safekeeping in John Wick: Chapter 2? With the hotel concierge, of course. The safest place in the whole world.

Officer Carter, Little Woods

Reddick has a small role in Nia DaCosta’s directorial debut, Little Woods, playing a probation officer doing everything he can to support his charge, a woman named Ollie (Tessa Thompson) waiting out the last week of her punishment for illegally crossing the U.S.-Canada border. His character, Carter, is empathetic and friendly toward Ollie, darkly joking about writing her a reference for a job application. Reddick plays Carter as the type of paternal teacher figure you’d do anything not to disappoint — a friendly face in a place where friends are hard to find.

Chief Irvin Irving, Bosch

Characters like Harry Bosch, the renegade police detective of Amazon’s police procedural Bosch, need a foil to keep them in check, and Reddick’s Chief of Police Irvin Irving provides that opposition, playing the buttoned-up, rule-following authority figure against Bosch’s hotheaded rebel. Seven seasons of the show allowed Irving’s character to be fleshed out, brimming with complexity and contradictions yet never losing that hard edge. It’s that very edge that ultimately alienates Bosch from police work altogether by the end of the show, but it was the thing that inspired Bosch to stubbornly push beyond the constrictions of the law.

Commander Zavala, Destiny video games

In a career spanning genres as well as mediums, it’s important not to forget Reddick’s voice work for a number of video games including his much-beloved portrayal of Commander Zavala in the epic sci-fi series Destiny. At first introduced as a mainly silent, stoic protector charged with preserving the lives of the citizens of the Last City, the Awoken Guardian Zavala was granted a much more compelling backstory in the ensuing years, becoming an integral part of Destiny 2 and its expansions and a fan-favorite character. With his voice alone, Reddick portrayed an all-powerful, effectively immortal warrior whose commitment to protecting life itself was never in doubt.

Christian DeVille, Corporate

Before Severance, there was Comedy Central’s workplace sitcom Corporate, which starred Reddick as Christian DeVille (har har), the ruthless CEO of evil megacorporation Hampton DeVille. Reddick’s stature, growl, and generally ominous presence are used to their full effect as he verbally beats his underlings into submission on his quest for world domination. “We all know there’s no God,” he confidently reminds his employees after dashing their hopes of implementing Casual Fridays in the office. Plenty of people feel like they’re selling their souls as soon as they get a corporate job. Reddick was the guy you hired to play the devil.

Albert Wesker, Resident Evil

It’s a good thing for Netflix’s otherwise bland sci-fi series Resident Evil that it had so much Reddick — the actor played clones of Albert Wesker, a superhuman doctor employed by the Umbrella Corporation obsessed with bettering humanity by any means necessary and responsible for the T-virus outbreak in the show’s future timeline and the disease’s resulting army of bloodthirsty zombies. It’s a showcase of his talents, because he not only plays the video game series’ iconic character. He plays Wesker’s clones, giving each their own distinct looks and personalities — even styling one after Wesley Snipes’s Blade. Reddick is almost single-handedly responsible for imbuing Resident Evil with a sense of gravitas while maintaining a necessary sense of fun.

Thordak, The Legend of Vox Machina

In the Dungeons & Dragons game that The Legend of Vox Machina is adapted from, Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer had to voice pretty much every character. When given the opportunity to bring in other voices for Prime Video’s animated series, he turned to none other than Reddick to voice Thordak, the mad red dragon and central villain — crediting Reddick’s work on The Wire as inspiration. His deep, unforgettable voice was so perfect for the series’ fire-breathing antagonist that it’s almost strange he didn’t spend a whole career playing powerful mythical beasts. It’s a tragedy that Reddick won’t be able to continue voicing Thordak in future seasons.

Whether it was as a dragon, an assassin hotel concierge, or the chief of police in any number of U.S. cities, Reddick made each character so much his own that you couldn’t imagine them played by anyone else.

Charon, Lt. Daniels, and Zavala: Lance Reddick’s Best Roles