J. August Richards--Angel Interview From The TV MegaSite
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Angel Interview

Written by Nadine

J. August Richards is one the gorgeous young stars of the series Angel on the WB network. He recently sat down for a telephone interview with Nadine for The TV MegaSite.

Even as a young man growing up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, J. knew that he wanted to become an actor. To that end, he did as many plays as possible as a child.  He landed his first role on the “Cosby Show” in 1988. When it was time for college, he moved to California, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California.

Both of J.’s parents are Panamanian and came to the United States as adults. Although J. was born here, he says, “my parents made sure that me and my sister went [to Panama] as often as we could”. The effects of this were far-reaching. Richards credits his connection to his family in Panama with giving him a sense of groundedness and confidence that has served him well in his career. It is a career that is actually pretty unique, if only for the simple fact that the vast majority of actors are unemployed. Unfortunately, many of them stay that way for most of their careers. Richards, in contrast, has been working steadily for years. He has appeared on “The Practice” and “West Wing” among other illustrious television shows. He also appeared in the big screen flick “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, starring Halle Berry.

Currently, the dynamic actor may be seen in the WB action thriller/dramedy “Angel”. Yes, it is all of the above—and more. In it, Richards plays one of a group of crusaders fighting evil in all of its many forms. The show is, in fact, a spinoff of the WB’s critically acclaimed series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Both were created by Oscar nominated Hollywood scribe Joss Whedon.

The title character “Angel”, is a vampire with a soul (which means he is noble and heroic), whose life’s mission is to fight evil- vampiric and otherwise. Richards plays Charles Gunn, a brash yet… noble and heroic character who along with Angel fights this evil.

This Fall, the drama began its fifth season on the WB, began running in syndication on TNT and UPN. Asked what he attributes to the growing popularity of shows and movies with the same or similar themes, Richards says he believes that, “… vampire shows and movies do well because [they] are part of an international shared mythology… lots of cultures have myths about vampires”. He also holds to the assertion that although there are vampires and other dastardly creatures on the show overall, they are really just metaphors for the demons that confound all of us as human beings. He says, “ I think [the show] is just a metaphor for redemption, and can you be forgiven for all the terrible things you’ve done in your life that you can’t forgive yourself for…” We can all relate to that.

Indeed, the show has characters and stories that viewers tend to care passionately about. For example, many people were deeply disappointed to see that Charisma Carpenter was not appearing on any episodes early this season. Many an internet message board burned up with talk about this turn of events. Fortunately, she will be returning the week of February 4th and possibly for future episodes as well.

As for his long-term plans, J. aspires to leading man status, but not your run of the mill leading man. He wants to play the same sort of offbeat characters for which Johnny Depp is known. He is more interested in the artistic aspect of being an actor than in becoming a star. He does not believe being a “star” is worth the price one has to pay. He says, “What it takes to be a star and to maintain stardom—you have to create a lot of smoke and mirrors in your life…” Richards wants no part of that. What brought him to respect acting as an art was a workshop led by Eric LaSalle (ER), and Michael Beach (Third Watch). After doing this workshop he said that he stopped wanting to be a “star” and became more interested in “… being the best artist I can be.” For him, that means, “Giving the viewer an original experience.” He’s off to a good start as this show definitely delivers on originality.

He’s not completely against doing ordinary Hollywood movies though. He would even do an action film if it were “…smart and different.” The bottom line for Richards is that he is interested in stories that “… illuminate some facet of human existence.” He is aware though, of the drawbacks of this type of professional outlook. He realizes that, “… maybe when you make that choice, the rewards are not as great.” Nonetheless, he remains steadfast in his belief that it is the art that is most important. He is not necessarily looking for the blockbuster film. He feels that potentially a smaller movie can have more of an impact. He’d rather a studio “… spend a few million [dollars] on a movie that actually says something and that illuminates people’s lives, and that kind of movie is not gonna be a success based on receipts. It’s gonna be a success based upon its position in the cultural psyche, and that’s what I’m shooting for”. He’s starting off on the right foot in that regard. Joss whedon’s original series “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” as well as “Angel” have definitely made an impact on the cultural psyche—and not just in America. These shows have become international phenomena. Hundreds of websites devoted to Whedon’s shows have popped up. Books have been written about them- scholarly books analyzing them, biographies of the actors, novelizations, comic books, etc. There have already been fan conventions much like the ubiquitous “Star Trek” conventions. Not to mention the massive market for merchandise using logo and characters from the two shows. Richards is clearly proud to be part of this experience.

When asked about his favorite movie of the past couple of years, he answered that it was a toss-up between two movies; both of which say “… something very profound about the human experience”. One is the “Matrix”, which stars Keanu Reeves and was very popular with the general public. The other is the French film “Code Unknown”, starring Juliet Binoche. Ever heard of that one? Didn’t think so. Still, Richards says it is a film that keeps you thinking long after the closing credits have rolled. This says a great deal about who J. is as a person and as an actor. He is part everyman, but still holds on fiercely to his individuality. This is also the reason why he is so much fun to watch!

Check out J. and the rest of the “Angel” gang out on the WB Wednesday nights!


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Updated 1/14/09  

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