J. August Richards has been working in film for over twenty years and has over forty acting credits to his name between television and cinema. He is perhaps best known for two characters in particular, Charles Gunn from Angel and Deathlok from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the latter of which inducted him into the select group of actors that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As a celebrity guest at Toronto Comic 2015, he took part in a moderated Q&A period, and got to talk about his experiences on film.
The Moderator: You used to be a comic collector, but did you have Deathlok comics?
J. August Richards: What I did have was The Guide to the Marvel Universe [The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe]. So what happened was that all of my old comic books were in my sister’s house back in D.C. It just so happened that there was a Christmas break so I went home, I got all my comics, and I was like “I’m going to find Deathlok in this comic book collection” because I was not familiar with the character. So I was looking around and I saw The Guide to the Marvel Universe and I was like “I’m a virgo, if I know me, I completed this set.” I checked and I had A through Z Guide to the Marvel Universe. I went to D and found Deathlok and that is where I started doing my research into the character. Then Marvel was nice enough to make the old comics accessible to me and I read those to a certain point and then I had to stop, because as you may or may not know, there are three incarnations of Deathlok over the history of Marvel. Maybe even four, it depends on how you are counting … could be five depending on how you are counting. They had three very different back stories, the three ones that I looked at, and the circumstances were very different and I still wanted to stay true to the character that we created in the first episode, the father with his son, being a single parent. That meant the world to me and I thought that whatever happens from here on out, that I had to play a father to a son, and that is who that character was going to be.
Question From the Floor: Will Deathlok show up again in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or in a movie?
JAR: I like the way that you are thinking. Unfortunately when I started the show, way back when we did the pilot, I had to sign a contract that prohibited me from talking any future things which would happen from the show, so unfortunately I can’t answer that question. I need to leave that alone but I like that idea [of showing up in a movie.]
QFF: How did they come up with the name Deathlok?
JAR: The character was introduced in 1974, which was the year after I was born. So I don’t know where they came up with the name, but this would be my guess. One of the interesting things about playing a character that exists in the comic books is that you can do research in the comic books about that character, and one thing that I learned was that although there were three different Deathloks, they had something in common which was that they were trapped, somewhere between life and death. So I believe that is where they came up with the name. It is kind of like that he is locked in death. And it is a little more relevant in the comic books because in one version, the consciousness is in the machine of Deathlok, so he is like a human being but he’s not quite human.
QFF: How long before did you find out that you were playing Deathlok?
JAR: The day before he turned into Deathlok. When I signed up to do the pilot it was just for the one episode, and then they brought me back for episode eight, and then as I was doing eight then asked me to do nine and ten. And then I did ten and they asked me to do a bunch towards the end of the season. That’s kind of how Marvel worked, they want to keep everything top secret, and they want to make sure that nothing gets out and want to make sure that nothing spoils it. Personally I hate being spoiled, sometimes I will go see movies that I know nothing about except the title, because I just like that experience.
TM: But that brings up a good point. As an actor do you prefer some notice?
JAR: I prefer not knowing, because then you just have to play what’s in front of you.
TM: One part that we haven’t talked about is Angel, and during that series …
JAR: At least you didn’t say Heroes. I meet a lot of people that say “you were in Heroes.” “No, I was not.” But the actor that was in Heroes, we look a lot alike. Leonard Roberts doesn’t think we look alike, he used to say that until his girlfriend invited me to his surprise birthday party, and I showed up late, and when I walked in everyone yelled “Surprise!” And so when he showed up finally I was like “Now do you think that we look alike?”
TM: Angel was a spin-off but I have heard people say that they started looking forward to Angel more than Buffy. Have you heard fans say this?
JAR: Umm … no. Angel is so synonymous with Buffy and it came out of Buffy. I don’t hear that very much myself. They’re together right?
QFF: How awesome was it to work with David Boreanz?
JAR: Like this awesome [holds arms wide]. I love David, he’s so much fun. He’s just a whole character, you know what I mean? He’s just a super cool guy, he likes to try to make you break character when the camera is on you, which is so unfair. I feel like now that I could act with this whole building falling down, because having to do very intensive scenes with him laughing at me and pointing at me, you know I feel like I can act through anything.
QFF: Have you read the Angel comics that came out after the Fall?
JAR: I can’t read that for some reason. I can’t bring myself to. When we were in that alleyway which was the last shot of Angel, I said goodbye to the character. Anything else would feel like someone writing an unauthorized biography about you. Not that it is unauthorized, just that I don’t get to play it, so I don’t want to know about it. I want to leave him right there, because I found him to be so heroic and he found what he was looking for.
QFF: As an actor and as a Star Wars fan, if J.J. Abrams was here, which character would you pitch to him to play?
JAR: Nice! First of all if you want to see someone fanboy out, or more accurately fangirl out, I would lose it. Because I love Star Trek too and what he did with it. What part would I want to play? Any part. I would be an extra. I would do anything. Put me in a mask, put me in whatever, I don’t care. I mean maybe like Jar Jar Binks’ nephew? Ha ha, never! That’s the the only one I wouldn’t want to play, but really anything. Stormtrooper number 12! But if I had my druthers, I would be a dope Jedi, with like, four lightsabers.