It’s been an interesting ride for Cedric Daniel on The Wire. He started out as a lieutenant in charge of a specialized police detail targeting high-end drug cases, and over the span of five seasons ultimately became the police commissioner, only to relinquish the post after the mayor went back on his promise to end the stat games and corruption that plagued the police department. In the final episode, we see Daniels stick to his guns, and walk away from the police force, turning his attention to a life as a criminal attorney.
Playing Daniels on The Wire is Lance Reddick, an accomplished actor and musician who has already moved on to a reoccurring role on another hit show, Lost, and a series of Cadillac commercials. We recently had the chance to talk to Reddick about his mysterious new character on Lost, Cedric Daniels’ overabundance of shirtless scenes and the Dickensian aspect of The Wire.
We first had the chance to talk with you back in October of 2005. Since that time it seems you’re finally getting the credit you deserve. Season four and five have spotlighted Cedric Daniels quite a bit as he was handpicked to be the new commissioner. What has it been like for you to watch your character progress and to be spotlighted with some additional camera time?
It’s funny you say that because it doesn’t feel to me like it’s been more camera time. And also, to be honest, except for the last episode, I haven’t seen any of the fifth season.
Have you just not been able to catch it?
That’s been part of it. The truth is, I don’t watch much television. For example, I didn’t watch the first two seasons until April of 2006. I watched them straight on DVD. And then I did the same thing with seasons three and four in January of this year.
Well, perhaps you haven’t actually had more camera time, but it certainly seems like Daniels has been mentioned quite a bit more often in the final two seasons and has become more of a focus of the show after being groomed to be the police commissioner.
It could be. See, the thing that’s kind of funny about the show is that it seems that the cast gets bigger every season if that’s at all possible, and the stories get even more complex every season. And, if I would speak to other members of the cast, it’s pretty universal that they would say after the first season, they would say that they felt like they weren’t working much. Except maybe Dominic West this last season.
Having been a part of The Wire from the very beginning, what was it like to wrap filming on the final season?
It’s interesting, other than The Wire, I haven’t worked very much until season five and then it just seemed like season five was very busy. Once again, I felt like I really didn’t have much to do until the last few episodes. The thing that I remember most is that my last day of shooting was the night that we wrapped for the entire series. And my attitude was kind of like I’m ready to do something else; I’m ready for this to be over. And, that moment, I finished my last shot and I was ready to just sneak out and David Simon kind of made a thing about it – it’s not like I was unique, everyone who wrapped for the series, they stopped and said goodbye. And I lost it. I cried like a baby.
It’s funny because one of the things I said, I heard recently in Atlantic Monthly that a journalist said something very similar, I had never been much of a literary person. Most of my interests in reading had been in spirituality and psychology and some philosophy. So mainly from the urges of my daughter who’s just a voracious reader, I decided it was time for me to start reading more literature. So I had been reading Dickens. And I was really struck by how Dickensian The Wire is because I read three novels back to back.
It’s interesting because David Simon seems to shy away from that comparison. You said you haven’t watched the final season yet, but in the newspaper storyline, the two unscrupulous senior editors often mention capturing the “Dickensian aspect” of a story. It seems like David Simon views that term with contempt.
It could be that people bandied it about. I said it sort of independent of realizing how much it would be evoked. (Laughs.) It could just be that he doesn’t like being constantly compared to someone else.
It seems his preferred metaphor for the show is that it’s a Greek tragedy.
When he talks about his work, he doesn’t say things lightly. So if he made the reference to Greek tragedy, I’m sure that’s how he thinks of it.
His way of explaining it was that it was a Greek tragedy and the institutions are the gods controlling the fate of the characters. The citizens of Baltimore are at the mercy of these gods – the government, the police department, the drug game.
Wow, I get that.
Okay, be honest – did you add a clause to your contract stating that you must be shirtless several times a season or was that the writers’ idea?
(Laughs.) That’s mostly the third season and, it’s funny because they asked me to do it this season and I didn’t want to do it. I ended up being in a wifebeater. What happened was the last episode of the second season, the director asked me if I minded having my shirt off when I came out to answer the phone. And then, it was one of those things where – first of all, this is embarrassing to say – a lot of the female crew kept wanting to see me with my shirt off after that. I’m assuming because they asked me whenever that would come up with me and Pearlman in the third season, I don’t know how much of it’s because fans wrote in or what it was. To be honest, I don’t know if I had my shirt off anymore than Dominic West did, especially first season.
That was just a throw-away question, but we do appreciate the amount of thought you are putting into it.
What made you decide to go wifebeater in this season? What was the change?
It was only one scene. Honestly, it was a scene where we were at home and she’s at the table working and I’m looking at the news and I was in my pajama bottoms and it just felt gratuitous to me. It’s different when I’m in bed, but I felt like it was an excuse to have a man’s shirt off and I just didn’t want to do it.
What are some of your favorite moments from the show?
I think the most exciting season for me was the first. Number one, because it was new, but also because I just knew I was part of something really special and I had so much to do. It’s the only season that I was just completely exhausted by the end of it. I felt like the only person in that season that had more to do than me was Dominic, and maybe Larry Gilliard.
The scenes that I’ve done that comes to my mind is the first season when I have the talk with Detective Polk, he’s one of the alcoholics. So much of my character was about going back and forth between a party-line hard ass and jumping in with McNulty and being a rebel. That was one of the few scenes where I felt like it was all about my relationship with one of the men and my relationship to him as a leader and as human being; I cared about him as a person. A sense of responsibility. Honestly, I thought it was beautiful. It was a great scene to play and a beautiful opportunity. I felt like in some ways that said more about who the guy was than anything else.
In season four, Carcetti declares that he wants no more “stat games” in his new administration. But in the series finale, we see his subordinates going into Daniels’ office and demanding just that, leading to Daniels resigning as police commissioner and ultimately becoming a defense attorney. It may not be the perfect ending, but are you satisfied with where David Simon left your character or would you have liked to see things end differently for Daniels?
Well, as far as the way my character ended up, I am completely satisfied. In his own way, I think that Daniels was just as much of a maverick, just as intractable as McNulty and Freeman, but from the standpoint of leadership. The only thing that I missed was closure on my relationship with Freeman. But that’s from a personal standpoint. Objectively though, I can’t say that it would have added anything to the story.
What do you think the legacy of The Wire will be?
Wow, at least in the genre of crime drama and maybe just in drama in general, it’s got so many legacies because there’s never been anything like it. It may be the first hit dramatic series with a predominantly African American cast, that’s one. Number two, possibly the finest written and acting ensemble in the history of television. Once again, I’m on it, so I’m biased, but that is an honest assessment.
I was thinking about it the other day, and I was thinking about how when we advance in technology, different mediums become new places to create art. At first, it starts as kind of a pop culture thing and then eventually it really starts to evolve into another art form. We’ve moved from the epic poem to the play to the novel to film. I feel like in television, more than anything else I feel like its legacy is going to be, dramatic television as true art and as true social commentary with all the complexity and significance that entails. In some ways, I feel like it’s opening the door for people to say it’s okay to be as complex and real and as artful as you can be and that there’s a market for it.
Do you think at some point people will go back and discover this show on DVD years from now?
To be honest, it’s happening now. Because of the timing of everything with the strike and HBO’s well drying up a little bit from that period when they had so many hits, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos and Sex and the City and even though The Wire didn’t have the industry acclaim that the other shows had, it had as much, if not more, critical acclaim. So with those shows gone, on top of the strike happening and all of these other shows shutting down, The Wire is the only show during the strike that aired its entire season. And HBO threw more weight behind it than it had since the first season. So, for the first time, everybody in Hollywood is talking about it.
I called Amy Ryan to congratulate her on her Oscar nomination about a month ago and I got a message from her just last weekend saying that when she was going around to all of her Oscar parties, everybody was saying how much they loved her work on The Wire. So finally, everybody’s talking about it.
And I was talking to my ex-wife the other day and she was saying that all of her friends, everybody’s talking about it now. Everybody’s running out and getting all four seasons.
It’s funny that people are finally realizing how great the show is now that it’s over, which is probably actually fitting for The Wire.
It kind of is.
Dominic West, Wendell Pierce and Sonja Sohn are reportedly trying to convince David Simon to do a Wire movie. Is this something you would like to see happen and would be on board with? And if so, do you think it would be easier to pick up where things left off with season five or to do a prequel?
As far as a movie goes, my understanding from part of an interview that Dominic West did recently, is that David’s take on it is that he’d probably be inclined to do a prequel, if anything at all. For my part, I’m ready to move on from Daniels. I don’t want the show to be like one of those great athletes that just didn’t know when to quit. I think it was a fantastic ending to probably the greatest crime drama (if not the greatest drama) in the history of television. I’m not saying I would say no out of hand if it was offered to me, but at this point, I’m skeptical.
In addition to The Wire, you play the creepy Matthew Abaddon on Lost. How did you land that role and have they given you any information about your character beyond what has been seen on screen?
To be perfectly frank, he didn’t give me much explanation. So I don’t even know who the guy is yet. I only did the first two episodes of the season and right now it looks like I’ll be shooting one episode and I don’t know how many more at the beginning of April.
How do you play a character if you have no idea who he is?
I won’t say I have no idea. Once again, they’re even more secretive than The Wire. Like, for example, your script has your name encoded across every single page, so if you lose your script it’s a big deal. But, I’m just trying to think of how much I can say – the thing that he said was think of him as Darth Vader. (Laughs.) He’s probably not the top guy in whatever organization he’s in.
You mentioned you don’t watch much television. Were you a fan of Lost before becoming a part of the show?
No, I was cast and I went back and did homework. I got the first two seasons and watched them on DVD and then, of course, I got hooked.
We have a theory that you will be the person in the casket that Jack visits at the end of the last season. Do you care to comment on this theory?
See, I’m thinking it’s Ben.
Ben seems too obvious. We think the writers will swerve everyone and it will end up being you, even though your character was introduced after the episode featuring the casket.
I don’t know. You may find out not much later than I do. (Laughs.)
So you have no clue how much you will be in the show?
I don’t know how much I’ll be in it. The other thing that complicates it a little bit is that now I’m on this new show called Fringe, assuming that that goes (and that is an assumption at this point), I’ll be doing double duty for a little bit. The good thing is that it’s also J.J. Abrams.
What can you tell us about Fringe?
It’s an “X-Filesy” kind of show. But it’s going to be more action-oriented. And it’s a bigger cast, so a lot more twists and turns. In that regard, it will be a lot like Lost. Fringe is the name of this special governmental investigative team that investigates terrorists/paranormal activities. And I’m the head of the unit.
So you are the Daniels of the Fringe unit?
Yeah, well, kind of. Part of me, when I read the script, I thought, “If there’s a role for me, then that’s the role,” because it’s a cool role. He’s a lot more of a hard ass than Daniels is, believe it or not. As a personality, he’s more like Rawls. He’s a real ass. But he’s also one of the good guys. I think a lot like Lost, character will seem like they’re one thing, then they’ll turn out to be something else. And they will turn out to be something else again. I can already see it in the pilot. And it’s a two hour pilot.
If it does get made, will this show going to be on ABC?
No, this is Fox. Warner Bros. is producing it and it’s going to be on Fox.
But you still aren’t sure if it’s a go yet?
Well, only because that’s the way all pilots are. So until they give the official go, you can’t really say. It’s one of those things where you never know until the contract is signed or until you get the official word. So officially it’s not cool for me to say we are going to make this series. But it’s looking really good. I feel like we’d have to really mess it up to not get picked up.
What else does the future hold for you? We know you have some films coming out soon as well.
Yeah, I have a film called Tennessee, which actually shot a year ago in New Mexico. It was produced by Lee Daniels, who did Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman.
What’s your role in that film?
I play a state trooper. (Laughs.) It’s a drama. The theme of the film is domestic violence and abuse. And then people, whether it’s children or spouses, coming to terms with that.
You have another film on the horizon called The Way of War. What is that about?
It’s a political thriller. It’s kind of like Syrianna meets The Bourne Identity. It’s about this special forces operative over in the middle east who finds out that he’s been a pawn. It’s starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
How is the music career going? Are you still writing and recording music?
It’s funny, so much else had been happening that I kind of put that aside for a moment. But I’m just in the process of finishing redoing my website. I just got a MySpace page done for the first time, believe it or not. And the music is now online, it should be available for sale, at least for download, in a couple of weeks.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, March 2008. For more information on Lance Reddick, visit his official website.