Julian Richings is one of Canada’s leading character actors. While you may not know his name, you most certainly recognize his face from many of the films and tv series’ he’s appeared in, including Supernatural, Hannibal, X-Men: The Last Stand, Man of Steel, and many, many more. Richings latest starring role is the science fiction thriller, Ejecta, in which he portrays blogger/writer Bill Cassidy, who has been dealing with extraterrestrials for much of his life. It’s a thoughtful, paranoid performance, and demonstrates why Richings is a favourite of genre fans.
Along with our previous interview with directors Matt Wiele and Chad Archibald, we were able to talk to Julian about Ejecta, his thoughts on the cosmos, the allure of horror and much more.
Andy Burns: Congrats on a yet another solid performance, Julian. What drew you to the role of Bill?
Julian Richings: First, the boys at Foresight Features approached me and I’d been very impressed with their hands-on pragmatic approach to filmmaking. They’re a tight, no-nonsense group who dig into successive projects wearing slightly different hats each time, but they share an unflinching work ethic and creative ingenuity no matter what roles they take on. This was actually Matt Wiele’s first time wearing a director’s hat, but I was impressed his collaborative style coupled with his clarity of execution. (Chad effortlessly and sensitively expanded the sense of a family dynamic ).
When I read the script I realized I’d been offered the role of a troubled and complex character written by none other than Tony Burgess, someone whose writing I’ve admired forever, and who I feel an affinity with because of our mutual co-conspirators over the years.
So these things came together in a project that had a hands-on no-nonsense leanness , but had enough confidence and improvisational flair to adjust and grow as it went along.
It was a blueprint to go-to-it and create.
AW: You and Lisa Houle have some fairly intense moments together – how was it working with her?
JR: She’s a trooper; a team player and one of those actors who is refreshingly grounded in real life but can deliver the most off-kilter characters. Adam Seybold created a beautifully quirky inquisitive small town guy to open up the found footage section of the movie and make it believable, then Lisa injected a different level of institutional menace and obsession to drive the interrogation scenes. It was a joy to work with them both.
AW: How did you prepare for this particular role – was there any specific research you did? Did you look into the world of extraterrestrials, etc?
JR: Yes I listened to some conspiracy talk-shows on the radio, but that was just to give me a feel for the territory. A kind of emotional geography. Tony creates worlds that are complex and expansive. His characters have the ability to surprise and contradict; they can never be explained away with a label. I had lots of room to move around and make some personal investments in Bill rather than try to imitate a so-called ‘conspiracy crank’. I tapped into stories- personal and apocryphal- of obsession, rejection, and fatigue.
AB: Once you’re on set, how do you get ready to work? Do you listen to music? Read? Or do you just get down to it? What’s your process?
JR: I come to the set knowing the tune, ready to dance but recognizing that any number of things (the key, the tempo, whatever) can change. So I try to be prepared without being dead set on something. Spontaneous events and problem-solving can actually create magic, so I try to roll with it rather than bring a rigid agenda with me, especially in a low-budget movie where things like sleep deprivation actually become part of its DNA.
AB: I’m curious if you’d share your thoughts on the possibility of life out there beyond the stars – did the role make you think about that, was it or is it something you’ve considered or continue to consider?
JR: Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the magnitude of Everything and become contemplative. Ideas come to mind about the insignificance of humankind. “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’gods, They kill us for their sport.” – Shakespeare. Then I get hungry, or thirsty; the bodily needs kick in and I marvel at how quickly I revert from philosophical thought to the life pangs of basic existence. I guess if I’m truthful at heart I’m an actor; a little too absorbed in my own existence and the portrayal of others.
But yes, I dare to dream.
AB: There are a few notable character actors out there that I know when I see their names in a film, I’m going to at least enjoy seeing them work. Obviously, you’re among them. You often show up in genre films – what is it about horror that appeals to you as an actor?
JR: The horror genre looks at the underbelly of everything. Things that go wrong. People that scare us. Situations we never ever want to find ourselves in. The horror genre haunts us, it doesn’t flatter us. It doesn’t offer Nice and Pretty and Successful as concepts to aspire to, or become enslaved by. In some ways it is our collective conscience- it makes nightmares out of lazy consumer dreams. It’s the ‘what if?’ of our popular culture.
It provides an actor like myself with the opportunity to subvert, to surprise, and turn things on their head. The challenge is to play the truth of a character- to play even the most ‘despicable’ or ‘destructive’ character with compassion and honesty. Not to pre-judge. Then hopefully an alternative, surprising perspective is offered to an audience. Hopefully we can all gain insights into both the unfathomable and the ‘other’.
AB: Ejecta has gotten some very strong notices since premiering at Fantasia – what do you hope audiences take away from the film?
JR: I hope they have an enjoyable ride and come away talking about it. I think there’s enough great stuff there to excite and to baffle, and I hope people feel strongly enough to dig a little deeper, to figure out the various timelines, to be animated and to disagree.
AB: What’s up next for you?
JR: A few different things. As a bit of a new venture I’ve been involved in an upcoming ‘Assassin’s Creed’ game- but I can’t say much about it. A couple of indie features- ‘Prisoner X’ and ‘Last Drop’. Right now I’m in Montreal shooting a pilot for Amazon. In the new year I’m looking forward to returning to the stage to do Kat Sandler’s ‘Mustard’.
Thanks to Julian Richings for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and thanks to Kristen Ferkranus and Amberlight for making it happen. Ejecta is now available on DVD from Raven Banner and Anchor Bay.