In all his roles, the Toronto-based actor embraces the unusual, the difficult, and the strange.
“I don’t think I’ve been typecast, but it would be fair to say that I think filmmakers approach me with with particular roles in mind.”
The Toronto-based actor Julian Richings has played a vast and varied array of characters over the last three decades. He portrayed the disillusioned rock star Bucky Haight in Bruce McDonald’s breakout film Hard Core Logo and was gruesomely murdered in Canadian cult horror classic Cube; he was Death in the hit television show Supernatural and the Hooded Leader in Todd and the Book of Pure Evil; and he played Lor-Em, head of the Krypton Council in Man of Steel, and the Mutant Theatre Organizer in X-Men: The Last Stand. He might not have been typecast, but he does have a type—the powerful, the monstrous, the odd. His roles are always otherworldly, preternatural, and often frightening. “It’s a great deal of fun,” he says.
In person, Richings at first seems to have little in common with the characters he plays. His animated and unusual face is warm and welcoming; in his work, his cheekbones alone are somehow capable of suggesting menace. But he makes a point of steering clear of the obvious or one-note when it comes to his darker performances. “Whenever I play a monster, I believe it’s very important to find their humanity,” the actor says. He’s intrigued by their flaws, longings, and vulnerabilities. When he played Death on Supernatural, for example, he focused on emphasizing the character’s dignity and grace, rather than his omnipotence and brute force—and highlighted his quirks (this was a Death who relished junk food). As he says, “I think they end up much scarier that way.”
Luckily, there will be plenty of opportunities to observe Richings at work in the immediate future. Tonight, March 20, at the Royal Cinema, Richings plays lead roles in two of the featured films: in Patch Town, a surreal fable based on Russian folklore and featuring disillusioned factory workers who harvest cabbage babies, Richings plays the dreaded Child Catcher (a role he says was influenced deeply by the villain of the same name in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang); and in the short “Bastards” Richings portrays an aging rock star who invites all of his illegitimate children to compete for his affection, dangling the reward of making one of them his heir. Both films are part of the opening night gala of the 2014 Canadian Film Fest, and Richings will be in attendance.
He’ll also be appearing a trio of horror offerings written by Tony Burgess—Septic Man, Hellmouth, and Ejecta—and while he can’t reveal much about the role, viewers can look forward to seeing him in the second season of Orphan Black, which premieres in April.
But Riching got his start on the stage, and in April, he’ll be returning to his roots and reprising the role of Berger (which he first played in 2011) in I Send You This Cadmium Red, a mixed-media play based on the correspondence between artists John Berger and John Christie.
You might think a well-established and distinctive-looking actor with memorable roles to his credit would be used to being approached by fans—but it’s clear Richings is still positively delighted to be recognized. Whether they want to discuss his iconic portrayal of Bucky Haight or his unique embodiment of Death, Richings appreciates talking to fans. “It’s great,” he says, “to know that it means something to them.”