Playing the assassin Mr. Blank on the network’s DC Comics adaptation “Arrow,” Richards faces off against vigilante do-gooder Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) as the hooded hero also contends with the return of high tech sniper Deadshot. The assassin showdown presented some challenges for the actor best known for playing right-hand-man Charles Gunn in the “Angel” cast.
In advance of tonight’s episode, Richards spoke with CBR about the challenge of playing a psychopath, the sci-fi community of Vancouver, his big battle with Stephen Amell and the possibility that he’ll be playing in both the DC and Marvel Universes after rumors of his appearing in Joss Whedon’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” pilot surfaced.
CBR News: The whole premise of “Arrow” is that our hooded lead takes down people corrupting Starling City, one-by-one. But this week, your character, Mr. Blank, acts as an enforcer on the opposite side of the divide —
J. August Richards: Well, I guess you could say that. I am hired to keep some witnesses quiet, if you will, and that’s how my path crosses with Oliver. I think it’s out there that my character is an assassin, and he takes his work extremely seriously and goes to the greatest lengths to remain absolutely invisible. Just thinking about what that person’s life must be like and how simple and isolated their life must be, it made me feel really lonely. So I’m playing the part from a very lonely place.
That’s interesting, because I get the feeling that in general, there’s a community of folks who work up in Vancouver where the show is filmed that do mostly action and sci-fi series. Is it weird for you to step into that established world of people to do a part like this?
It actually happens a lot. I feel like I have a second life up there. I go up a lot to do the genre shows. I’ve done “The 4400,” “Warehouse 13” and now “Arrow.” I did a TV movie up there with Katherine Heigl. It’s funny because you always expect to run into a really great friend when you go up there to work. On my way up there for “Arrow,” I bumped into my old friend Julie Benz. We talked the entire flight. She was working on something up there, and I was working on the show, so it was great. And my dear friend David Ramsey is on “Arrow” as well, so like I said, it feels like I have a whole second life.
I met all the guys from “Supernatural” when I was up there doing “Emily Owens, M.D.” which is not a genre show, but it was cool to meet them. I feel like our paths cross a lot in the science fiction world.
What was it like working on “Arrow?” The show’s tone gets compared a lot to the Chris Nolan Batman movies in terms of its approach to its characters. Is that a different style for you to play?
Oh man, this part was sooooo different for me to play, and I think that’s a very accurate comparison. The part was frightening to me in a lot of ways. It was offered to me out of the clear blue, which I thought was awesome. Then I got the script and read it, and I thought, “I wonder what I have ever done to make anybody think I could play this part?” [Laughs] I’ve never been this diabolical, this…I don’t want to say “evil” because it’s not that Mr. Blank is evil. He just doesn’t care about human beings. He has no feelings about people. I thought, “What have I ever done that I would make somebody think I’m able to do this?” At first I struggled a bit with it, but thankfully the director Ken Fink and I figured out how it should be played. I love creating characters that don’t have a template, characters we’ve never seen before. And I’ve never seen a character like this one before. It was really exciting — kind of scary, but I think we got it. It was just fun to do.
There are a bunch of smaller worlds and different pockets of story that run through the show. Who did you end up interacting with most on screen?
I worked mostly with Oliver — Steve Amell — and I guess I’m not giving anything away when I say that there’s an adversarial relationship. We have this epic throwdown that I think people are going to be talking about for a long time, it’s so well shot and well done. I had the pleasure of seeing a cut the other day, and it’s one of the most impressive fight scenes I’ve ever been involved in. I think people will really like it.
I don’t know if you can comment on this, but given the chance, would you return as Mr. Blank?
I probably shouldn’t comment on that! [Laughter] It was an awesome experience. I really, really enjoyed the other actors and creating this character with the director. I had an amazing experience.
Now, a lot of people have been talking about how you’re supposedly appearing in your pal Joss Whedon’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” pilot for ABC. That means you’ve now had a chance to play in both the DC and Marvel Universes. Do you feel prepared to be straddling two worlds like that?
You know, I’m not at liberty to comment on that. [Laughs] But guess what? That is an amazing question to be asking right now.
“Arrow” debuts tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific on The CW.