You may not know his name, but you’ll certainly know his face. Julian Richings is a staple of genre film and television, with roles in Supernatural, Cube, The Witch, Urban Legend, Man of Steel, American Gods, Channel Zero, Hannibal, Wrong Turn, and many more. The British actor (now living and working in Canada) has a strong sense of physicality that he brings to every role, fully embodying each part and giving them their own sense of gravitas. He’s an impressive actor that stands out in each scene, no matter the size of the part.
I recently sat down with Richings to speak with him about his training as an actor, and his roles in the reverse-exorcism hit Anything for Jackson and punk rock gladiator showdown Spare Parts.
Kelly McNeely: You’ve had such an extensive career in genre film and television here in Canada. How did you get started? And are you particularly drawn to working in genre?
Julian Richings: How did I get started… I guess I’ve always been an actor. I’m a middle sibling, and I have two brothers — one either side of me — and I’ve always felt as a kid, I was the one that would like… I would be different with each brother, I would be different with everybody.
I had an older brother also that had a particular skill creating environments, he became a theater designer, and used to build environments in our backyard. And he needed somebody to populate those environments, like a ringmaster for his circus, and a ghost for his spook houses and stuff, so… guess who did that. And so I’ve just always acted, I always felt really comfortable acting.
And in some ways, acting enables me to be all kinds of extreme characters that I never would be in real life. Like, I’m always actually aware of how ordinary and dull I am. You know, people go, Oh, my God, you play that guy! It’s Death from Supernatural! And I love to say, Well, I was allowed to be that, but you don’t really want to know me outside the movies. So, oh, and there’s two parts to your question! Genre.
Kelly McNeely: Are you particularly drawn to genre?
Julian Richings: Well, I think it’s organic. I think that, you know, it’s just developed over the years, the kind of parts that I’ve played. Not so much in theater, I grew up in theater, I trained in theater, I’ve acted in theater, and then I slowly evolved into film and television. And as I was doing theater, I started to do commercials to supplement my income. And the commercials all tended to be offbeat, geeky, weird characters. Because, you know, when you’re doing a commercial, I wasn’t the classic dad, or, you know, the good looking guy with perfect teeth. I was always the strange guy, the eccentric. And that’s sort of inevitable in film and television, because it’s a more literal medium. So the kind of roles that I’ve played have been outliers and aliens and horror genres. So it’s sort of organic.
In theater, I’ve had more of a wider spectrum, but I embrace everything. And I always try to inject different elements to all the characters that I play, so I don’t dismiss them as being, oh, that’s a horror role. Like if it’s a horror role, I’ll try and introduce a bit of humanity or if I’m playing an evil Emperor, I’ll try and inject a bit of vulnerability, you know what I mean? So, for me, it’s like, I don’t know, it’s just inevitable, I guess.
Kelly McNeely: And now speaking of the villainous characters, you’ve played villains in Spare Parts and recently in Vicious Fun, and a more morally complex character in Anything for Jackson… What kind of roles really excite you as an actor?
Julian Richings: There aren’t many roles that I don’t go, oooh, that’s interesting. I have no sense of size. I have no idea or prejudice, saying, well that’s not a big enough part for me. Oh, that’s too small, or that’s too cliche. I like stories. I like storytelling. And I like being part of a story. And sometimes that requires something that’s small and intense. And sometimes it’s something that’s spread on a bigger arc.
So I find it hard to distinguish. It’s like, you know, there’s those classic masks that represent theater. There’s the smiling mask for comedy, and there’s the glowering mask for tragedy. I find it very difficult to separate the two, I think behind every tragedy, there’s a comedy and vice versa. And the same of the roles that I play. So I like mixing it up, I’m very comfortable being a comparatively small part of the story, and I’m happy carrying a main story. So I don’t kind of go, alright, next film, I want to be this or that.
I guess as I get older, I’m happy to sort of upset everybody’s preconception of what older characters do. So as I get older, I’m happy to play enigmatic powerful characters, because in our culture, we tend to dismiss aging as being something that, you know, you’re written off. So that’s kind of a cool thing that I’m sort of starting to embrace.
Kelly McNeely: Yeah, you definitely see that a lot in Anything for Jackson. I love that idea that instead of, you know, these kids reading from this book and summoning demons, it’s this older couple, and they should know better, but they do it anyway. And I really love that.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the moral complexities of Anything for Jackson, because it’s really quite a layered approach to the act of kidnapping. There’s this whole idea that he’s doing it for his wife, he’s doing it for his family, he knows that maybe it’s not necessarily the right thing to do. But it’s all out of an act of love.
Julian Richings: Absolutely, you hit it spot on. I think that what’s both wonderful and unsettling about the film is that it’s two people that are committed to each other, but share a terrible grief and a terrible tragedy. And in order to kind of alleviate that grief, they look to enabling each other, and the actions that they take are quite, quite unforgivable, but they do it in the name of love, and protecting the other person. And so in many ways, they’ve deflected the responsibility away from themselves. And I think that’s a really complex and interesting place for a film to sit.
Now, as actors, Sheila and myself work together really well, like we had a really good chemistry, and we just played the integrity of the relationship between two people. And we, I guess, we brought to it our own experience. We both are fortunate to have had long term relationships. And so we tried to be honest about both the juries and the distractions of having a long term relationship, you know, and this sort of comedic bits that can come into it as well.
Kelly McNeely: Absolutely. And there’s, of course, an abduction in Spare Parts as well, which has its own sort of set of complexities and a much more sinister motive.
Julian Richings: Yeah, I mean, it is clearly much more of an upfront, grindhouse, take-no-prisoners kind of film. What I like about it, what it really injects into that is a sort of a punk mischief. There’s sort of a high intensity, and there’s a sense that the women are not simply happy to be, you know, customized objects. You know, they’ve got to fight their way out to freedom. And it’s sort of got an energy to it, and a rock and roll kind of ferocity. And that is fun. Very different. Very, very different kind of energy.
Kelly McNeely: A very different vibe between the two films. Now, I’m happy to hear you talk so much about theater. Could you speak a little bit about your training and your background in theatre and if that perhaps lends itself to genre, as far as like the real complexities that you find in those characters?
Julian Richings: Yeah, it does. It’s been instrumental in my career. So I grew up and trained in England. But I grew up in a period of time when the Old English system, the weekly repertory theatre companies, and the regional theaters were decaying and we’re no longer relevant. And so there was a new kind of a wave of community theaters where people would perform in non-traditional spaces. I performed in parks, on the end of the pier, on beaches, in seniors homes — the idea was to take theater to the people.
And so there was a sense of — in the 70s, in England — that the old system wasn’t relevant anymore, with the advent of television and movies, that the traditional theater had to change. So that’s where I got into the theater, my early years of experience were there, and I also trained as a physical actor, not like a lot of British drama schools, that were very much versed in the old school.
I was very much trained in Grotowski’s method. He was the Polish guru of the time, who talked about creating the physical theater of pain and cruelty in which the actors were almost trained like dancers, they had a sort of physicality about them. And in fact, that’s why I ended up in Canada, is that the show that I was in was a sort of a multi-lingual, multicultural show that went to Europe, toured Europe, went to Poland, came over to Canada, it was a touring show. So then I discovered Toronto and — long story — but I ended up in Toronto. But the idea being that my physicality for performance has always been there. And I’ve adjusted it from the theater to film and television.
But I always have a physicality in my character. I mean, it’s not deliberate, but it’s there, because it’s innate in my training. So whether it’s even with my face, or whether it’s with my eyeballs, or whether it’s, you know, I’m playing a creature like Three Finger in Wrong Turn, or Death in Supernatural. What’s important to me is the overall physicality. And by that I don’t mean, you know, like, just trying to be big and strong and tough. It’s not like that. No, there’s a sort of a depth to it that comes from the physique.
Kelly McNeely: It’s a bit more of a physical finesse.
Julian Richings: Yeah. And things like traditional theatre, it’s actually not a genre that I’m actually well versed in, you know, the traditional English spoken word plays. It’s not something you know, where characters stand around and have tea and discuss and debate ideas. I’m not well versed in that kind of theater. So horror, and grand sort of operatic films, like Spare Parts, actually suit me very well.
Kelly McNeely: So this might be sort of a broad question. But what to you is the greatest joy and/or challenge of acting?
Julian Richings: Oh, gosh. It’s a part of me, you know? It always has been. I guess both, it’s the vulnerability. Because you always have to be present in the moment, right? It is truly interesting in the telling of the story, you’ve got to be engaged in that it can’t be a part of your brain going, hey, I’m really enjoying strutting my stuff. Or, I’m in control, or who am I? Funny, that voice in your head cannot be there, you have to be inside of it. So in order to be like that, you have to be in a position of a state of vulnerability, I think, and availability to the moment.
And that’s actually very difficult. It’s actually very difficult to be simple and open and spontaneous. And so, the search for that, it requires rigor. And it requires a lifetime of never sort of being complacent, really. Now, I don’t begrudge that. I think that’s the way I live my life. I’d sort of live my life on my front foot. I’m always sort of moving, I drive people crazy because I can’t keep still, I’m always sort of listening, responding.
But it’s both my greatest joy that I feel very much a part of the flow of life. But it’s also a little overwhelming too, because there’s no peace. As an actor, I can’t sort of sit back on my laurels. I can’t. Even during COVID I’ve never been able to sit down and write my great novel or write my reflections, or I’m too much on my front foot listening to other people and reflecting what they give to me. I hope that answers it. It sort of sounds a little pretentious, but it’s a state of mind. I guess it’s a state of being that I think you have to try and preserve.
Spare Parts is available now on VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray
Anything for Jackson will be available on VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray on June 15
Get a Look Inside ‘Exorcist: Believer’ in New Featurette
Perhaps the most anticipated movie in this third quarter of the year is The Exorcist: Believer. Fifty years after the original came out, reboot artists Jason Blum and director David Gordon Green are adding to the canon of one of the most beloved horror movies of all time. They even got Ellen Burstyn to return as Chris MacNeil, mother to demonized Regan (Linda Blair) in the first film!
Universal dropped a video today to give fans a closer look at the film before its October 6 wide release date. In the clip, Burstyn gives some insight into the character she created half a century ago.
“Playing a character that I created fifty years ago: I thought she has fifty years of living. Who has she become?” she says in the video.
She has more to say as does Green in this mini featurette. As with most of these videos, there might be light spoilers so watch at your own risk.
Wild Stills of Upcoming ‘Toxic Avenger’ Reboot Become Available
What do you get when you add some Bacon to a little Wood and then add a generous helping of Dinklage? Why a Toxic Avenger reboot of course. And today, Legendary Pictures allowed us to have a little peek at the aforementioned cast members as they appear in the reboot of the 1984 original.
This project has been trying to get off the ground for about 13 years and now it is finally getting to the big screen starting at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, running Sept. 21-28.
Director Macon Blair told Entertainment Weekly it is similar to the original “Toxie” via its storyline:
“There is a terrible industrial accident that renders him a mutant and an outcast, but also gives him some super strength and super abilities that sets him on a path of being an unlikely vigilante in this downward-spiraling society.”
He adds: “Similar to the original Toxic Avenger, he’s singularly unqualified to be a hero. He’s not especially brave, he’s not especially crafty, but he has his heart in the right place, and he starts taking it to the limit when he’s pushed into a corner.”
Kevin Bacon and Elijah Wood are the film’s antagonists. Wood playing the evil ganglord Fritz Garbinger who with his henchmen called Killer Nutz tries to upend our janitorial hero. Blair says Fritz is, “sort of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Danny DeVito Penguin mixed together.”
We’re going to do some lazy journalism here and let the PR release do the talking, but make sure to let us know what you thought of the movie if you are attending Fantastic Fest in Austin:
A fan favorite is reborn as filmmaker Macon Blair brings the iconic mop-wielding anti-hero
back to the big screen in The Toxic Avenger. The film from Legendary Entertainment is
a contemporary reimagining of Troma Entertainment’s 1984 comedic action hit, The Toxic Avenger, created by genre legend, Lloyd Kaufman.
Uniting an exciting critically acclaimed roster of beloved actors, the cast includes Emmy
Award winner Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirdsand Snakes”), Critics Choice award winner Jacob Tremblay (“Room,” “Luca”), Independent Spirit Award winner, Taylour Paige (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Zola”); BAFTA award winner Julia Davis (“Sally4Ever,””Nighty Night,” “Run Rabbit Run”); Jonny Coyne (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) with SAG Award winner, Elijah Wood (“The Lord of the Rings” franchise, “Yellowjackets”) and Kevin Bacon (“City on A Hill”, “Footloose”).
The film follows the story of struggling everyman-janitor Winston Gooze, who is
transformed by a horrible toxic accident into a new evolution of hero: THE TOXIC AVENGER! Now with super-human strength and wielding a glowing mop for his unconventional weapon, he must race against time to save his son and stop a ruthless and power-hungry corporate tyrant bent on harnessing toxic superpowers to strengthen his polluted empire.
Blair directed the film from a screenplay he wrote based on Lloyd Kaufman’s “The Toxic
Avenger” (1984). The film is produced by Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. The executive producers are Andrew Pfeffer, Jay Ashenfelter and Macon Blair with casting by Mark Bennett and Julie Harkin. Blair’s collaborators behind the camera include Emmy Award winning director of photography, Dana Gonzalez; production designer Alexander Cameron; editors Brett W. Bachman and James Thomas; visual effects supervisor Chris Ritvo; costume designer Vanessa Porter; with music by Will Blair and Brooke Blair. A Toxic World Deserves a Toxic Hero.
‘Saw X’ Filmmaker to Fans: “You Asked For This Movie, We’re Making This For You”
In a featurette probably being emailed to every horror pub out there, the producers of the upcoming Saw X movie say this one is a direct sequel to Saw II. You can watch that clip in the video below.
“It needed to look like early Saw,” says producer Mark Burg in the clip.
“They were shot on 35 (mm); they were scuzzy and gritty,” adds Saw X cinematographer Nick Matthews.
According to producers this entry really gives fans something to look forward to. “We really tried to pay them back for their loyalty and the fans that have been there since Saw I,” says Burg. “And that’s why there’s easter eggs, there’s throwbacks; we really just tried to say, ‘you asked for this movie, we’re making this for you,'” says producer Oren Koules.
Just weeks after the events in Saw (2004): John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is back. Set between the events of Saw I and II, a sick and desperate John travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure in hopes of a miracle cure for his cancer – only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, John returns to his work, turning the tables on the con artists in his signature visceral way through a series of ingenious and terrifying traps. The most chilling installment of the Saw franchise yet explores the untold chapter of Jigsaw’s most personal game.