“In terms of characters, I’ll have to find a rhythm or a psychology to them or an accent, in which case then I have to do that preparation” – Lance Reddick
Whether it’s Fringe, The Wire or Bosch, whenever Lance Reddick appears on screen, you know it’s going to be good. In the new film, Monster Party, that statement definitely still applies. In the horror thriller, Reddick plays Milo, the leader of a secret cult of serial killers, who has joined a dinner party at the home of fellow members, played by Robin Tunney and Julian McMahon. When three teenage thieves pose as waiters, all hell breaks loose.
In this interview, Reddick talks about the film and playing a psychopath, how he stumbled into acting and what he does to prepare for a role. And don’t miss his worst audition story!
I watched the movie last night. That was nuts, but in a totally fun way.
Lance Reddick: Yeah. I agree.
I read in an interview where you said that this was one of the toughest roles you’ve played because you had to get to that psychological sweet spot.
Lance Reddick: I don’t seem to remember saying that. [laughs]So, if I actually take what you said, the quote, when I think about it… because so much has happened since we shot that movie, it was about a year and a half ago, but when I think back about trying to find this character, what was tough was that so much of what I had to play was subtext until it wasn’t. You know what I mean?
Lance Reddick: So, in other words, that shit has to be there. And it has to lead somehow until he loses it and then you see his monster come out, you know what I mean? I think that’s what I meant. [laughs]
How do you say ‘yes’ to this role and this film? Because some of it is so over the top, and it works so well, but it could have also gone terribly wrong.
Lance Reddick: That’s true. Two things: It was very well written. I mean, what I read is kind of what showed up on screen. So, it’s not like you read this and you’re like, “Man, I don’t know?” It’s like, you read it and it’s like, “Shit man, I haven’t seen this before. This is cool!” And I knew one of the producers and he just does quality stuff. So, that was what my confidence was. And I think I may have even said ‘yes’ before I knew all the cast. And then when I saw some of the other cast, especially Julian and Robin, I was like, “Yeah, this is good.” And Erin [Moriarty], I didn’t see her film with Mel Gibson, but I was a fan of hers from the first season of Jessica Jones. So, in terms of taking a gamble, I was more on the house side than the ‘grandma coming into the casino’ side.
The role is definitely in your wheelhouse but I guess the story aspect of it, the over-the-top-ness off it is something different.
Lance Reddick: Well, the intimidating authority figure, yeah, that’s in the wheelhouse. The extreme, violent, psychopath… and having to kind of be him all the all the time and then not play the violence? That was what was tough.
Most of your roles, no matter how different your characters are, they always have this air of confidence to them. Are you that way in real life?
Lance Reddick: Not as much. I mean, I am but not that much. Because growing up, I was a pretty shy and insecure kid. So, for me, it was more kind of coming into myself as a man. It was more about coming to terms with that, as the saying goes, being authentic about your in-authenticity. The flip side of it is that I’m not very competitive but I’ve always been really ambitious. So, it’s kind of like, I feel messed up but I gotta do it anyway, so fuck it.
Aside from having an awesome first name in common…
Lance Reddick: That’s true!
I also grew up in Maryland. You spent your early years there and obviously spent a lot of time there when you shot The Wire.
Lance Reddick: Yeah, I lived there until I was 18, until I went off to school.
How do you go from Maryland to Yale Drama School? Did you always want to be an actor?
Lance Reddick: Well, there were ten years in between. And I had not always wanted to act. I mean, acting as a profession couldn’t have been the farthest thing from my mind when I was going through high school. I went to University of Rochester as a physics major. I grew up studying classical music. So, part of the reason why I even applied to the U of R was because it was attached to the Eastman School of Music. And so I actually applied to transfer halfway through my first year to Eastman and I got in on the Composition Department. So, I was trying to be a classical composer.
Acting was just a thing that I did for fun, as recreation, when I was in college. I knew I had something, I knew I had a talent for it but it wasn’t anything I could see. I mean, at that point I thought people who wanted to be actors were kind of pitiful. I mean, come on. Really? So, I started acting because I thought it would help my music career, I was kind of desperate. Because I left music school you know because I realized that I really wanted to be a rock star, I didn’t want to be a classical musician. I just stumbled into acting and it just took over my life. And applying to Yale was like a luck thing. I didn’t expect to get in. It’s the only place I applied.
I read that and I was like, ‘holy crap.’ That’s like spending a dollar on a lottery ticket and saying, “I’m going to try and win.” And you actually got it. That’s amazing.
Lance Reddick: Kind of. I mean, kind of, yeah. Now, the flip side is, I was 29 my first year. I graduated from drama school when I was 32. The first season of Fringe, Josh Jackson was 32 and he had already been a star for 20 years. So, I was also late to the party, in terms of the industry.
Were you one of the oldest classmates there at the time?
Lance Reddick: I was second oldest person in my class and the youngest was 21, I was 29. The oldest was 31. My first year, of all the actors in all three years, even then I was still one of the oldest.
Do you prepare each role differently or does it vary by character or even script?
Lance Reddick: Depends on the character. But in terms of how I approach script work, it’s pretty much the same. Now, in terms of characters, I’ll have to find a rhythm or a psychology to them or an accent, in which case then I have to do that preparation. Or, if there’s something that… for example, I read about psychopaths. That’s helped me playing Milo, it helped me, quite frankly, play Christian DeVille on Corporate. When I did White House Down and when I did The Guest, I was reading about soldiers and Special Forces guys because that helped.
What was your worst audition?
Lance Reddick: Oh, ha! That’s easy. I’ve had two awful auditions. The worst was for, oh my God, it was for Seven Guitars. When it was just starting auditioning, gathering its cast to go on its national tour before it went to Broadway. And I was six months out of drama school. And it was for Lloyd Richard. I got the audition the day before and it was basically a page monologue. The only reason I got the audition was because the casting director called for me. I was nervous as hell.
I get off the train to walk to the audition and somebody yells, “Lance!” And I turn around and it’s Jeffrey Wright, who had just won the Tony for Angels in America. He says, “Lance, what are you doing?” I said, “I’m going to an audition.” He said, “Seven Guitars“? I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Me too. Let’s go!” I was like, “Holy Fuck.” So now I’m walking with Jeffrey Wright who’s auditioning for the same role.
I sit down and then Keith David walks in the door. He sits right down next to me and he opens up the script and obviously it’s the same role. He leans into me and says, “So, uh, what role you reading for?” I said, “Uh, Canewell.” And he gives this smile and says, “Uh huh.” And he leans back. And in that moment, the door opens and Meg Simon says, “Lance, we’re ready for you.”
I go in, I greet Lloyd Richards, he says, “Good to see you young man. Please feel free to use the room.” I sit down, I put one leg over the other, kind of cross-legged to gather myself, and I looked down trying to figure what I’m going to do and I realize that my fly was open. And at that point, I just sat there and read it. When I was done Meg got this look on her face she said, “Okay, Lance, thank you for coming on such short notice.” And then she rushed me out of there. She didn’t call me up for years. It was awful. It was awful. So, that was my worst audition ever.
Ironically, the guy who got it actually won a Tony Award for that role and he ended up directing me in a revival of that show ten years later off Broadway at the Signature Theater. And this time I was playing the lead.
Monster Party is in theaters now.