Lance Reddick on His ‘Angel Has Fallen’ Role and Yale Acting Classmate Paul Giamatti

Lance Reddick Angel Has Fallen
Courtesy of Lionsgate/Jack English

Lance Reddick, known for tough-cop roles on such shows as “The Wire,” “Fringe” and “Bosch,” will play the director of the Secret Service in “Angel Has Fallen,” the third installment of the “Olympus Has Fallen” series, coming to theaters Aug. 23. When Reddick was younger, though, his dreams were of composing music, not acting. Here, he describes his preparation for his role in “Angel Has Fallen” and his unexpected path to becoming an actor. 

What surprised you most when researching your “Angel Has Fallen” character?

I had to talk to senior-level ex-Secret Service agents. Before I signed on to it, I was a little hesitant to play another “top cop” character. But this was a different animal. One of the things that was amazing to me was understanding how stressful it is because you have to be on all the time. Anything can pop up at any moment. You have to be constantly scanning the crowd and have your brain trained to notice anything that seems irregular.

You go back and forth between comedy and drama; does one inform the other?

My training wasn’t in improv or sketch comedy. It was in a traditional theater. When you are in a traditional theater you do Shakespeare. I did a lot of drama, and I did a lot of comedy. In some ways the preparation work is similar because it’s all about finding rhythm and timing.

Thirty years ago, did you think you’d be starring in movies? 

Never. It was never on my radar. Music was my first love. I took acting later in life. I feel like acting is [now] my great love. I majored in classical compositions. I thought I was going to be a classical composer. Then I left music school because I thought I really wanted to be a rock star. I got married straight out of school and moved to Boston.

I started acting really almost by chance. I had a back injury about a year after my daughter was born from just working so many jobs. I was delivering newspapers. I went to lift up a heavy bundle of papers the wrong way after I had been up working for like 24 hours on double shift waiting tables.

Over the next couple of weeks, my back got worse and worse until one day I couldn’t get out of bed. I just started thinking about my life and what I was doing, and if I kept doing what I was doing I’d be doing it for the rest of my life.

So really I started acting as a crazy move of desperation thinking it would help my music career. It made no logical sense. I started going on auditions for local theater in Boston, and I started getting cast. Before I knew it, it was taking over my life. Then I applied to Yale drama school on a lark and got in. At 29, with a wife and a 3-year-old child, I started in the Yale School of Drama, and that changed my life.

Did going in late with all these life experiences help you as an actor?

Absolutely. Things you would think on the surface would put me at a disadvantage actually gave me an advantage because I had so much life experience. My relationship to the work was different. I was there to learn. My relationships with my teachers were different. I never demonized or deified any of my teachers the way some of the younger students did.

My first thought when I saw student productions was “F–k. Everybody is really good. I got to get on it.” I was intimidated. The other thing that was daunting that had the potential to mess with my head was that Paul Giamatti was in my class. Paul was one of those rare actors where he was just the star the first day of class. He was a genius. I, on the other hand, was that person who worked harder than everybody else. When other people were like, “That’s bulls–t,” I’m like, ‘F–k that — I want to try it.” 

Things You Didn’t Know About Lance Reddick

AGE: 56 BIRTHPLACE: Baltimore FAVORITE ROCK STAR: Sting YALE IN THREE WORDS: “Grueling, exciting, life-changing” FAVORITE COMEDIC ACTOR: Gene Wilder BEST SEAsON OF “THE WIRE”: 4