By RACHEL REEVES
When it comes to horror genre character actors, few are as prolific and universally beloved as Julian Richings. After leaving his home in the UK behind for Canadian soil in the 1980s, Richings’ wasted no time getting to work and has been racking up film credits ever since—217 to be precise. An incredibly versatile performer with uniquely distinctive features, Richings’ credits include films like Cube, Wrong Turn, Saw IV, the Orphan Black TV series and The Witch. He also became a quick fan favorite as Death in the long-running Supernatural series.
Despite 2020 being a true dumpster fire for so many in the entertainment world, Richings still managed to add an impressive 8 credits to his resume last year alone. Among those were Justin Dyck’s emotive reverse exorcism film ANYTHING FOR JACKSON and Andrew Thomas Hunt’s blood-splattered, punk-rock injected SPARE PARTS. In celebration of both films receiving DVD and Blu-Ray releases this month, Rue Morgue sat down with Richings to talk all about these two wildly different films, his passion for horror and what it is about Canadian filmmaking that he loves so much.
In SPARE PARTS, you play a character called The Emperor, who is the incredibly charismatic leader of this odd, bloodthirsty cult. Tell us a little bit more about your character and what you enjoyed about the role.
It’s fun playing an out-and-out, mean, terrible guy! I don’t think there are many redeeming qualities about him. [Laughs] The only thing I guess is that he’s a little vulnerable. You see a touch of his vulnerability. He has a partner who he clearly needs to confess to or get advice from. So, there’s a couple of scenes where he’s not just out there being a monster, but he’s fun! It’s fun when you can be that primary color that says, “Ok. This is the guy. The guy who has to be overthrown in order for us to gain our freedom.” Throughout my career, I’ve tended to do a few of these roles that introduce this primary color. And then, our hero who is on a longer, bigger arc has to overcome that primary color or saturate it with their own story. Plus, he’s part of a very blood-splattered, rock and roll, chainsaw world!
It is a very blood-splattered world! In fact, it has a very Corman-esque, grindhouse feel that is super fun and wonderfully over the top. Knowing this going in, how did that fact ultimately affect your performance?
I’m a big fan of the Roger Corman films! And, Mad Max is another one of those great post-apocalypse types of movies. I’m also an actor who is versed in the theater too and there’s something extremely theatrical about this. I play a Roman emperor type of character and we literally have a gladiatorial ring of junked-out cars. It required size and scope and so, I went for it! But at the same time, it also requires a kind of truth and integrity. That’s always the balancing act for me as an actor – to ground it and make it believable. Andrew is smart enough to create a world in which we’re not all just belligerent all the time. There are also moments of calm and those are the moments that help the telling of the story.
You also star as Henry in the film ANYTHING FOR JACKSON along with the incredible Sheila McCarthy as your wife, Audrey. In that film, your characters are so endearing, but also quite villainous and victims in their own right. That balance of tone seems quite tricky to pull off. How did you two approach these roles and ultimately, do you think Audrey and Henry are villains?
Yes, and I think you’ve actually encapsulated it all very well there. I think that they are vulnerable, fragile elders who are responsible members of society. Henry is a doctor. They are professionals, but they should have known better. Even though they are grief-stricken, the way that they deal with their pain is a way that is unacceptable. And so, even though you feel for them and you feel for their love for each other, there is something outrageously bad about them. Especially in our current time.
You know, we hear the politics of decisions being made on behalf of older people, from older members of society who should know better. And yet, they’re making decisions for…whether it be on an ecological level or a leaving Europe level – whatever it is – the younger generation feels very differently than the older generation. I think that in this film there’s a sense of the irresponsibility of our elders. Now, I say that and it sounds very grandiose and very literate, but I think it’s all wrapped up in a very simple story. It’s a simple chamber piece. And then, I think the other element that is so interesting about it for me was that well, I guess I have to admit that I’m an older actor. [Laughs] Sheila and I are together in that. And Sheila is an actor I’ve admired for many years. We also share a similar kind of training and experience. We both grew up in theater, we’ve both played outsiders and outliers in movies and we hit it off immediately. We have a very good working rapport.
Also, I think what is so great about this script is that it’s about two people making the decision, not just one person. There was no real villain. What’s wrong is the way this couple copes with their tragedy. And in many ways, they’re responsible for enabling each other and doing it for the love of the other person, but not realizing how irresponsible it is. I think that’s a really interesting place. So, for Sheila and myself as actors, it was really fun because we were able to approach every scene together. We always checked in with each other and made sure that we knew why what we were doing and how we felt about it. It was never about Audrey’s journey or Henry’s journey. It was about the combination of the two of them.
Within that, what’s fun about them too, is that there’s scope for comedy as well. There’s some endearing quirks that have evolved over the 30 odd years they’ve been together. Like the making of tea for each other and reading each other’s thoughts and completing each other’s sentences. That kind of stuff. The little niggles that they have. I think those are really endearing things and they’re things we often see in movies, but we don’t often see them as the central character arc. Something that leads to an action that is actually quite cataclysmic.
These two films could not be further apart in tone, but together they also serve as a really wonderful illustration of your range and overall filmography. What attracts you to a project and ultimately gets you to sign on?
It’s a ton of different things. It can be the director, it can be the script, the other actors involved. It could also be because I’m bored. [Laughs] Honestly, there are so many factors. I’m hungry as an actor and I like to work. I like to perform. I’m also very excited by the horror genre. For a number of reasons I like horror movies, but it’s more than that. As an actor, I think some of our greatest creative talents are coming through the horror genre. It’s a medium where a lot of people will cut their teeth. There are a lot of formulas in place in the horror genre, but people will take them in a slightly different direction. It’s sort of the bedrock of a lot of creative choices.
There’s also a very literate, intelligent, well-versed audience out there for horror movies. It’s an interesting culture. And me, the way I look, let’s be realistic here, I have a very specific look that lends itself to being an outlier, or an other, or an alien. Or somebody that sort of fits in that universe. And when I say the horror universe, I mean the kind of universe that doesn’t just celebrate niceness and “Oh, we live in the suburbs with a nice car and we can have all-terrain vehicles” and that kind of stuff. It’s not that kind of story or that film’s story. It’s the story that scratches the underbelly of everything and exploits our fears and doubts about things. And I think that’s where everybody identifies with the horror genre. It’s about our fears rather than our aspirations.
You’re originally from the UK, but have lived and worked in Canada for a very long time now. How would you describe the Canadian film industry and what do you love about it?
I love the fact that it is…there’s still a sense that it is figuring itself out. There are definitely a lot of big-budget Hollywood movies that come to Canada. They film in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and all over. And that’s great! It provides a lot of experience and a lot of depth of talent. We have some great crews too. But at the same time, there’s sort of a subculture of an emerging Canadian voice that is figuring out its own stories and its own ways of storytelling. I’m actually a middle sibling. I’m the middle brother of 3 brothers, and I feel in many ways that Canada is a bit of a middle sibling. I think it’s between the U.S., its big brother south of the border, and its very dominant little brother – or even bigger brother maybe – that’s over the Atlantic in the UK. It’s establishing what it is, who it is, and it’s beginning – through all kinds of positive, diverse stories – to understand itself. It’s sort of gone past the romanticism of the CN Tower and maple candy and it’s actually evolving quite nicely. There’s a lot of creativity and I think the horror genre really allows that. I think the horror genre encourages us to look at our doubts and our fears. And I think that’s very Canadian. It’s very Canadian to be introspective and to look at what doesn’t quite work rather than just what does work.
SPARE PARTS is now available on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray from RLJE Films. ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is currently streaming on Shudder and will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray June 15th.