PASADENA, Calif. — Although he always felt something was pushing him toward acting, Lance Reddick ignored it. His dad was an attorney, and Lance was on his way to becoming a classical music composer. Then something went awry.
“I always knew I had a thing when it came to acting but never took it seriously. I just thought people who wanted to be actors were silly,” he says, in the sunny patio restaurant of a hotel here.
It may have been silly, but Reddick has managed to parlay that tomfoolery into a full-blown career with memorable performances in TV shows such as “Oz,” “Fringe,” “Lost” and “The Wire” and his new movie, “White House Down,” due June 28.
For a guy who was too shy to even consider performing, he somehow beat the odds. He studied composition at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, the piano his instrument. “Because my parents wanted to give me what they didn’t have, I grew up around a bunch of affluent white kids,” says Reddick.
“So everybody’s parents were lawyers and doctors, bankers and architects. I didn’t really get it. Now I do.” He developed his first taste for music at an Episcopal elementary school when he started singing with the choir. “A lot of black people grow up singing gospel music. I grew up singing Gregorian chants and 16th-century motets,” he grins.
Still, he left Eastman before he graduated. “I realized I was in denial and I really wanted to be a rock star,” he says.
“So I got married straight out of school, moved to Boston because my wife at the time was from there. Two years later my daughter was born. And I found myself working three jobs, seven days a week.”
He still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. But an excruciating back injury changed all that. “I was lifting a big bundle of newspapers, but it wasn’t the lifting itself, it was the exhaustion. I’d come from a double shift of waiting tables to a double shift of delivering newspapers and I delivered the Wall Street Journal in downtown Boston. . . . I just cranked it up for about 24 hours, and I was just exhausted and something went,” he says.
“At the time I was used to working on adrenaline and I worked out every day — even with all I had going on. So when I was in pain or exhausted, I just ignored it and kept going.”
Two weeks later he awoke unable to get out of bed. Fourteen days of bed rest forced him to reevaluate his life.
“It sounds crazy but I thought, ‘Well, I know the recording studio I’m working with is taking me for a ride. It’s time for me to admit that to myself. So let me start from scratch. I can sing and I can act. So let me try to act . . .’ I went on a couple of musical theater auditions and realized that wasn’t me, so I started going on straight auditions and getting cast and getting cast and getting cast.”
Reddick thinks his period with est (Erhard Seminars Training) — especially a workshop on communication — gave him the ability to ace those early auditions. “I led seminars for about two years when I was in college. My participation had a profound effect on my acting later, and my ability as a seminar leader allowed me to fill in the gaps in my training that I didn’t have in auditioning,” he explains.
“Because I was used to figuring out how to read a room and being myself in front of people — even though I hadn’t really studied auditioning — I was able to audition well and that made a big difference. . . . When I did est and that was over — I didn’t want to think it — but I was thinking, ‘What the heck was that? I want my money back.’ All these people were, like, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t get it. But there was something there that I was curious about, so I kept participating,” he says, sipping a glass of water.
“I was different when I came out of the workshop. I’m shy, an introvert. I was so withdrawn, so self-conscious, but when I came out I was ‘Whoa!’ Suddenly all this stuff I’d been suppressing since I was 7, I let go of.”
Although at one time he was costarring in three shows at once, it wasn’t always so easy. Married with a daughter, 24, and a son, 19, he and his first wife split in 1997. (He has since remarried).
“She made three times the money I did,” he recalls. “God rest her soul, she passed away a couple years ago, but she was a brilliant artist, really talented. We didn’t make it, but she was a great lady,” he sighs.
“Six months after she left, I got ‘The Siege’ and I was ducking the landlord. And I had the kids every other week, so I was borrowing money to buy groceries. I got ‘The Siege’; then I got ‘I Dreamed of Africa’; then went to the Guthrie and got to play Marc Antony [in “Julius Caesar.”] I came back home to New York and didn’t work for six months. For somebody who’s always doing a side job or has a trust fund or savings, it’s one thing. But I didn’t. . . . The only reason I didn’t quit was I didn’t have any alternatives. What was I going to do, wait tables? The only way to get out of the situation I was in was to make it.”
Opening June 28 in area theaters. Rated PG-13 for action violence, a brief sexual image and some language. 137 minutes.