What has the actor who gave us TWD’s gentle giant Tyreese been up to?
When Chad Coleman debuted as Tyreese Williams on The Walking Dead in season 3, he was already a familiar face to many TV viewers. Although he had been making guest appearances on TV since the 1990s, it was his turn as Denis “Cutty” Wise in the massively acclaimed series, The Wire that brought him to most people’s attention.
Coleman made a huge impact as reformed gangster Cutty, who escaped the criminal life to run a boxing gym for youths in an attempt to divert them from the life he had led. Due to his outstanding performance, he was never short of work. He had stints on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and I Hate my Teenage Daughter before he was cast as Tyreese, alongside Sonequa Martin-Green as his sister Sasha.
Sasha and Tyreese were comic characters who managed to break away from their comic counterparts early on, with Coleman carving his own niche from the start. Tyreese came in as the gentle giant, afraid to kill but with a conscience that needed to help others.
Once Woodbury and the prison groups merge in season 4, we get to see even more of Tyreese’s soft, loving nature as he undertakes a romantic relationship with Karen. A relationship that’s cut horrifically short when the killer flu hits the prison and Carol kills Karen, who is infected.
From that point on, Tyreese sees horror after horror. Despite saving Judith, Mika and Lizzie from the prison fall, he faces the most unfathomable barbarity when Carol and he discover that Lizzie has killed her sister Mika and plans to kill Judith in “The Grove.”
“The Grove” is often talked about as one of the best and most powerful episodes of The Walking Dead there has ever been, and Coleman can often be overlooked as a player in this savage episode. Tyreese’s haunted expression, his inherent compassion and suppressed rage are all beautifully depicted by Coleman.
It’s a performance that sadly reaches its peak in Tyreese’s final episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” when Coleman gives the most heart-breaking performance in the dreamlike scenes where a still haunted Tyreese is bitten and slowly bleeds out.
Coleman’s acting brought a depth to Tyreese that could easily have been lost with a lesser actor, and his role truly lingers in the memory. So it’s not surprising he has not struggled for work since including short-term roles in shows as diverse as Roots and The Goldbergs. However, it’s in sci-fi where he seems to have found his permanent – and very comfortable – home.
Since 2015 he has had a recurring role in the epic sci-fi series The Expanse (originally on Syfy and now on Amazon Prime), where he plays ex-US Colonel Fred Johnson. Johnson is a strong leader trying to escape his military past on Earth. He led an assault that destroyed a mining station whose workers were striking for better living conditions, killing everyone aboard – including children.
Now Johnson is battling to make up for that past by working to have the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance) recognized as an equal political power in the universe. Coleman brings his usual gravitas and warmth to the sporadic role of Johnson and makes a strong impression as a possible future political leader within the show.
The Expanse isn’t his only foray into space as, alongside his role as Fred Johnson, Coleman has also played the vastly different character of Klyden in The Orville. Since 2017, Klyden has been a recurring role in Seth MacFarlane’s comedy-drama series on Fox and Hulu.
Showing his range’s full extent, Coleman plays the gentle, softly spoken Klyden, spouse to Bortus. Klyden and Bortus are Moclans, a race dominated by males, where females are seen as inferior.
Given the prosthetics and make-up required to portray Bortus and Klyden, and the comic touches to their storylines, viewers may assume a lack of depth in their portrayal. However, their characters have been central to exploring sensitive topics such a misogyny and transgender issues in a moving and subtle way.
Coleman’s performance as Klyden is completely transformative without devolving into parody and caricature, and he manages to bring to life a loving, troubled character in a believable, loving way.
Outside of TV, Coleman is executive producer and the visual inspiration for the character of Osei in the Treadwater graphic novel series. It is reported that a TV show is planned, along with other expansions of the Treadwater universe, all of which Coleman will likely be involved in.
There’s no doubt whether Chad Coleman stays in the world of science fiction permanently or branches out, wherever he plies his trade, it is a certainty he will make his mark. Just as his performance as the cuddle bear with the killer hammer blow on TWD will stay with viewers for a long time.