Interview with Julian Richings

Interview with Julian Richings

April 19, 2014 6 By Steph Mernagh

A popular character actor, Julian Richings has appeared in many films and television shows in his past twenty-five years of work. While he started out acting as many do in theatre and then moved from live audiences to being in front of the camera, Richings still takes the stage from time to time. He just finished a limited run of “I Send You This Cadmium Red” in Toronto and will be back on our televisions when Orphan Black returns tonight on the Space Channel.

I had the opportunity to speak with Julian about what was coming up next for him, as well as the show he is probably most well-known for, Supernatural, which comes with an incredibly large fanbase who were all incredibly receptive of his character when he made his first appearance.

Photo by Tim Leyes

Photo by Tim Leyes

You just finished a short run of “I Send You This Cadmium Red” at the Enwave Centre in Toronto; what was the most enjoyable experience?

For me its great as an actor because I do a lot of film and TV but I also like using the other muscles that I need while I’m doing theatre. It’s great getting the live feedback from the audience that’s in the house with you. On top of that with this particular show, there was a live orchestra. I improvise with them and I talk as they play. It’s a very different feeling – almost like being in a band.

Do you have any more theatre work coming up in the Toronto area?

Not right now. I’m going to be doing a lot of different films over the summer.

Did you begin your career on stage?

Yes I did. I trained in theatre and worked in the UK and travelled around with a couple theatre companies. I came on tour to Chicago, New York and Toronto in 1980 and that’s how I ended up in Toronto. I really liked it here so I stayed. I started into film and television shortly after I arrived here; I did a big feature with Peter Mettler who was a well-known local filmmaker at the time. I started to dip my feet into independent film and then began to do that more and more. I started out doing 90% theatre and 10% film and now it’s 90% film and 10% theatre.

So it must be very refreshing to be back in front of a live audience.

It is though I must say I do love film and TV because it offers such a different challenge.

You have many parts in both blockbuster films like Man of Steel, and independent films like Septic Man, how does your experience on set differ between the two?

There’s more resources in the big budget movies but I don’t differentiate between them. I take them both just as seriously and I feel that what I have to contribute to a film is very specific; I come in and I do that. Being very much a character actor, I’ll come in an do a very intense role in a number of scenes. It’s the same kind of adrenaline kick that I try to give to a movie. I try to give whatever is required of that certain movie. While the resources may be different, my approach [to the roles] isn’t.

You are well-known and loved in the Supernatural fan community for being the embodiment of the horseman, Death. Did you have any inspiration for your portrayal of him?

It was really from the writers. As an actor, you use your resources and what comes natural to you but I was given the gift of a script. That first episode I was in, the pizza parlour, was so beautifully written. It was witty, and I love the whole idea that Death really loves junk food. I used the writing to ensure that I approached Death as an elegant, aristocratic guy who isn’t too concerned about anybody. I didn’t feel the pressure as an actor in the role to be spooky, tough or threatening. I feel you can achieve much more by playing against that. I feel that the way the scene was written led me into that. I concentrated on the inter-play with Jensen and the writing.

Kudos to Jensen and Jared because they are very accessible and they are good actors. The show is successful for a number of reasons but one of them is because they are good at what they do. When it comes to someone like me who comes in as a guest star for a week, they really ensure that person is seen at their best. Jensen created a very dramatic scene and I feel he played into the scene incredibly well and made me powerful just by the way he played fear in the scene.

Did you audition specifically for the role of Death?

Actually I put myself on tape much earlier and I read some of the lines of Pestilence. I heard nothing more from that and I moved on. One day I got a note from my agent saying “you’ve been asked to play Death in Supernatural”. So I did audition, but not specifically for Death. Once they’d seen me, I think they figured out that I would be pretty appropriate for that character.

Do you think Death be making another appearance in Supernatural?

I hope so! I don’t know, honestly, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I think they use my character very sparingly, but that’s a good thing. I’m a trump card that comes in from time to time and for me to have that aura I don’t think you can overuse that aspect. I guess we’ll see!

In the meantime I’ve been shooting Orphan Black which has got a very hardcore following, I’m sure you’ve heard about it.

Turns out, Death rather enjoys junk food.

Turns out, Death rather enjoys junk food.

I was just about to ask you about that, actually! I know you can’t say too much…

I’m not allowed to, but it’s showing in a couple days. Things will be unveiled then. That’s so cool for me too – being on a show like Supernatural, a show that is such a big deal for fans and has such a following and fanbase – it’s so cool to realize that and interact with the fans at conventions. Then the double-pleasure is being on a Canadian conceived, shot and made series like Orphan Black. I know John [the director] and Graham [the writer] I did Cube with Graham and I did John’s earliest film. I’ve known them a very long time and it’s been a pleasure to work with them over the years and get to see that they are in control of an incredible series. For me it’s a bit like doing Septic Man where I worked with Foresight Features or working with the boys from Black Fawn and other independent groups. It’s very exciting to see our film industry maturing and see people come up and achieve amazing work.

I also understand that genre is a great shortcut for a lot of emerging filmmakers. It has a place in conventions and things. The beauty about genre films is that they can be shifted and changed. With Orphan Black and Supernatural – it goes down a path but always surprises and keeps people engaged. With me, the kind of roles I play, I find I do a lot of genre films and TV and that’s great, I’m very happy to do it.

What other work do you have coming up you can tell me about?

I’m in a very cool feature that is by Alejandro Amenábar it’s called Regression. It stars Ethan Hawke and Emily Watson. Alejando did an English movie called The Others and he’s very interesting; he shoots like an independent filmmaker. Very artistic and very subjective films. This one is about Satanic cults in the 90s. I can’t really say anything else but it’s very interesting and it’s being shot around Toronto. I’m not sure of the release date, but it’ll likely come out in the new year. I’m very happy to be on board with this.

I just did a guest role in The Listener — I wouldn’t call myself a bad guy so much as a dramatic input for the episode. I enjoyed that a lot.

It’s funny, as an actor you throw a ball up in the air and you keep juggling them.

Will you be on the convention circuit at all this year?

I’ll believe I’ll be at four Supernatural conventions this year; LA, Chicago, Dallas and New Jersey. I’m looking forward to it. Up until now it’s been one here and one there whenever I’ve had availability and now I’ve committed to a couple more. I’ve gotten used to them now. I didn’t know what hit me the first time.

A little overwhelming?

Yes! It’s so different but I get it and I quite enjoy it. The fans are who you do it for. I think we owe it to them and it’s a way of being able to give back. ]I think that it’s a great development that fans are so powerful now. Doctor Who, Supernatural, Orphan Black – you can see an immediate response from a fanbase and you can see their reactions. I like the idea of being able to interact with them. It’s an interesting development of the industry.

Thank you to Julian who took time out of his day in order to speak with me. You can follow him on Twitter @JulianRichings and catch Orphan Black Saturdays at 9PM on Space.