For four years, J. August Richards played Charles Gunn, Angel's ass-kicking right-hand man. And while Angel, the show, has been off the air for eight years, every day still feels like the show's heyday thanks to omnipresent repeats and The Whedonverse's super passionate fans.
Although Richards wonders if people will be as willing to approach him after they see this week's Arrow, featuring the actor playing Mr. Blank, a mysterious new character with a strong sociopathic streak. Richards tells ETonline that the chance to mix things up was just one reason he jumped at the chance to guest star on TV's most action-packed hour!
ETonline: Arrow is known for its mysterious characters, but yours takes the cake. All press knows is his name. So, who is Mr. Blank?
J. August Richards: [laughs] My whole life is shrouded in mystery these days -- and even after you see the episode, there will still be mystery. When I got the part, I was really fascinated by the amount of blanks, forgive the pun, that I had to fill in. I worked really hard with the director to find the tone of the character, and once we figured it out, I had a blast with it. Mr. Blank is hired to keep a couple of witnesses quiet. That's how his path crosses with Oliver. I will say that it's a character I've never played before, and it was such a compliment because the role was offered to me. But I did wonder what I had done before that would make someone think I was right for this part because it's so dark and so villainous. I hope my friends still like me after they've seen it.
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ETonline: It strikes me that this is kind of the dream actor situation. You have a character that's unlike anything you've ever done and he's a blank slate, allowing you to really create.
Richards: Sir, you just illuminated my whole life right now. I always say that I'm at my best when there's no example of what the character is supposed to be. I thrive when there's not much and I have to create it. In this case, I kept coming back to his name: Mr. Blank. I decided that he should feel empty but at the same time, it's very full. I don't want to ruin too much, but this character is clearly a sociopath. However he's very empathetic to rooms and spaces and inanimate objects -- and that was the toughest thing for me to figure out. How is someone emotionally dead to people but emotionally alive to spaces? This character is so in tune to that tension in a room, but has no clue what people are feeling. That was fascinating to me.
ETonline: Based on what you've said, and the gun in your character's hand, I'm guessing he's an assassin of sorts, so it makes sense he'd have to disconnect from humanity.
Richards: Absolutely. But then how are you so connected to the emotions that linger in a room? I know that I can walk into any room and feel what's been going on in that room. I've always been able to sense the relationship between two people based on how one person says the other's name! I understand being connected to that invisible thing, but I don't understand how you can be turned off to people and still be connected to that invisible thing. I decided this character lived his whole life in isolation and in the shadows. Thinking about what needing to avoid the radar must be like for somebody was so interesting. The character is extremely lonely and that's why he understands spaces so well.
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ETonline: You've done a lot of series regular and guest star work, which I feel like can mimic that loneliness you speak of since you don't have time to develop relationships with the cast and crew as readily. Do you enjoy one over the other?
Richards: I feel like my life experience is that of an outsider. Let me explain: my parents are from Panama and they moved to the United States the year after I was born. They moved into an all-white neighborhood, where the previous black family had a cross burned on their lawn. We lived in this all-white neighborhood, but I was bused to a school in an all-black neighborhood. Then, my cousins moved from Panama and all spoke Spanish, while I spoke English. So I felt like an outsider in all those places. As a result, I am so comfortable being an outsider that I actually loved doing guest star work because it's an opportunity to step into a new world. In the best scenario, it gives you an opportunity to create something. But let's keep it real, that series regular check is a beautiful thing.
ETonline: Which was probably one more reason you were excited to reunite with Joss Whedon on his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot.
Richards: Oh, I'm not at liberty to discuss the fact that I'm on that at all.
ETonline: The last time you worked with Joss, on Angel, was in 2004, but since the show still runs every single day, is it a strange experience for you to have so much distance from that character, yet have it be so omnipresent in the lives of your fans?
Richards: Dude, I get recognized by my voice still -- on the phone, in a hotel, everywhere. People are always like, "I was watching you this morning!" To do a show with this kind of impact was amazing. It's been a long time since Angel ended, but I still get people hitting me up online as if the show is airing now. It's a gift that keeps on giving.
ETonline: It's probably a good things the fans liked Gunn then. Otherwise, you'd be seen a jerk forever.
Richards: It's true. I think often times on Joss Whedon's shows he can make you hate a character for a period and then love the character. He does it effortlessly. These days, you can't put a show on the air without a complicated lead and I feel like Joss was doing that a long time ago.
ETonline: Well, you definitely see that with Arrow -- and it sounds like we will with Mr. Blank as well, who hopefully survives the episode to return next season.
Richards: That would be awesome because I really loved working on the show. It actually reminded me a lot of Angel because the cast is really cool and they film incredibly long hours at night. But I thrive at that time, I love shooting a 5 a.m. close-up -- something about that turns me on.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.