We talk horror and “Hall” with Death himself, genre icon Julian Richings, whose latest outing once again proves there’s nothing he can’t do.
If you don’t know the name Julian Richings, you will know who he is by the time we are done here. An unforgettable presence in both television and film, his plethora of characters, including Death, are darkly charismatic — whether in a genre film, comedy, or drama. Unless you truly live under a rock, Julian’s is a face you will recognize and then say, ”Oh yeah, that guy, I love him!”
I got a chance to talk on Zoom to this multifaceted and animated actor about acting, his many characters, the Covid pandemic, his latest film releases Hall, and Anything for Jackson, playing Death on Supernatural, and so much more.
His part in Hall is not a big as I had hoped for, but always a captivating bad guy, he will be remembered in this fantastically shot and thought-provoking film (stay tuned for my full review).
Vicki Woods: Good Morning, Julian, I just want to start out by saying I’m a big fan! Thanks for all the awesome characters over the years! You bring something new to each character you play, and that makes them each so unique!
Julian Richings: Thank you, I try to.
VW: So, we are here to talk about your newest release, Hall. I just got to watch it, and it was really very cool. I had hoped you would have a bigger part, so I was left wanting to know more about your character. He is kind of the ultimate bad guy. Is there any kind of a back story you can share, about the guy with the glowing vials?
JR: There is. He’s obviously a device to insinuate that there is more going on. He’s kind of a narrative thread, in a way and clearly, this virus has been caused by something or someone. There are hints in the movie. Right at the end, there’s the newscast about government cover-ups, but the source is kind of an unreliable news show. So obviously, my character has something to do with what’s going on.
One of the writers suggested to me that there is a plan for part two and part three, so it could be seen as a trilogy. And what went on behind the scenes is actually going to emerge in the next film. Now whether that happens or not, I don’t know. So, I’m kind of talking around the fact that I can’t offer you a deep explanation about why I’m there, but I think I’m sort of a texture of possibility, to at least satisfy peoples’ curiosity about what’s going on.
There is also a health meeting that’s happening in the hotel, the Gala fundraiser, which you know also raised the question, is it something to do with that? What’s happening? It’s planting seeds of doubt really, rather than anything else.
VW: Ah, so you can’t really tell me anything! You aren’t playing God, are you?
JR: No, (laughs) but I have a messianic complex obviously, in the sense that my character feels that he is doing it for the greater good, and he’s clearly misguided but he’s not an agent of evil destruction. I think he’s just a banal human being that’s on the phone to somebody that he’s dependent on and has a personal connection to. I don’t think he’s from some sinister laboratory, someplace in the mountains; I think he’s simply a living human being.
VW: So, he’s not a mad scientist trying to destroy the world?
JR: Well, I think there’s an element of that. He obviously has some technical know-how, and presumably, he has some sort of immunity to what’s going on around him because he’s confidently striding down the hallway, touching them. So, there’s the sense of the mad scientist seeing his work. There is that. But otherwise, it’s deliberately obtuse.
VW: How did you prepare to bring your character to life? You didn’t have a lot of lines.
JR: No but he’s very much a presence. So that’s not very difficult for me, particularly when there’s a clear universe that I’m inhabiting. And what was interesting about the film was that even though it was such a low-budget film, director Francesco Giannini managed to rent the entire floor of a hotel and put us up in our rooms. We shot in the rooms that we were being put in and in the corridor right outside. So, we were in this wing of the hotel, and they put lighting rods all along the hall to get those incredible shots.
There was an intensity to the process that was very easy to slip into because everybody was there all the time, you know. You’d walk in a door, and it would be someone’s room, with their bags and their pajamas because they’d been sleeping there. So it was very intimate. But as far as preparing, the character doesn’t have a lot of layers, he’s more of a question mark than he is setting up a complex relationship. So, it was pretty straightforward actually.
VW: What did you like most about this film?
JR: Why I liked being in this film, and I liked the enigmatic quality of my appearance, is that really, it’s not a traditional plague movie or pandemic story. It’s more about the disintegration and infection of relationships. A sort of a societal breakdown between people, particularly women being entrapped, not just by a pandemic, but by abusive relationships. So, there’s a lot more going on than you think.
VW: Was this film shot before or during the COVID pandemic?
JR: A lot of people have said to me, oh my goodness it’s so amazing that you shot a movie about the pandemic, in the pandemic. But no, this was actually shot way before the pandemic; it’s very prescient. I think that the writer and director are very keyed into the times, but they are keyed in on a metaphoric level, not a literal documentary. Like, “Oh my god we predicted the pandemic!” It’s not that kind of movie.
It’s a quieter movie. It’s more about the banality of awfulness, of domestic violence, of a pandemic even. People slowly, slowly, slowly expiring in a hotel hallway. It’s not very dramatic. It’s not full of jumps and scares. It’s just a sad disintegration.
VW: Do you think the film will have any political or societal impact as it is coming out while we are dealing with our own virus?
JR: No, I don’t, because as I said I think it’s more of a human take on issues that are prevalent in our society. I don’t think it’s as limited as saying we were the first to talk about the pandemic and aren’t we cool. I think it goes deeper than that.
I think it’s a really, really good first feature film by a director. I like to be in a position to be part of an emerging director’s consciousness. I like to be able to help a bit, but also sort of have my feelers out for what’s happening, what are people thinking, and what’s going on — so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
VW: As I said earlier, I love all your different characters and as a horror fanatic I love films like Wrong Turn, The Witch, and of course I am crazy about Supernatural, which I watched with my daughter for years. You are my absolute favorite Grim Reaper! Do you have any personal favorite characters among the many that you played?
JR: I honestly love playing all my characters, investing in the differences between them as you said at the beginning of the interview because they go a little more than just on the surface. I try to do that, that’s the challenge for me; being in a very specific genre and trying to subvert it a little bit.
For instance, with Death, he’s a fun character, probably one of the most powerful people in the universe. But I love the fact that he has human frailties, he has a loyalty to Sam and Dean, almost like a stern uncle to them, and I love the fact that he actually has a weakness for human junk food. So, there’s this contradiction and I love that, and I love finding that in the characters that I play.
One of the most interesting ones quite recently was a feature film from Canada called Anything For Jackson.
Again, there’s a complexity there where it’s a sort of horror but with a reverse exorcism, and it’s performed by very unlikely characters, who you don’t know whether to empathize with or to be appalled by. Because they clearly are abusing their status, their knowledge, and their economic clout. It’s a fascinating part and I really enjoyed immersing myself in it.
And that was fun for me because I don’t usually get to pair off with another actor. And in Anything For Jackson, I sort of paired off with Sheila McCarthy. We both have enjoyed watching each other’s work over the years very much, and the idea of not only having your own character arc but to share it with somebody in a long-term complicated relationship is a lot of fun. And add to that the third element which is Constantina’s character, who rather than being simply a screaming victim starts to insinuate herself into the relationship. So, I would put that film high up on my list.
VW: Anything for Jackson is one of my favorites this year too! I must admit I empathized with you two; you were doing a bad thing for what you thought were the right reasons. I felt your pain and realized humans are capable of a lot more than we think we are.
JR: Exactly, and that’s the complexity of the film. Our horrible actions were based in a profound place of loss and the protection of each other. What’s interesting is what terrible things can come out of that.
VW: You seem to work on a lot of horror films, so I assume you enjoy working on them.
JR: Yes, I do like horror and working on genre films because it allows the audience to face some of their darkest fears. But honestly look at my face! In film and television, you use the looks that you have and mine lends itself to horror. (laughs)
VW: Have you ever been involved in a horror project that just got too creepy or weird?
JR: Yes, and I’m not going to name them, but sometimes with younger immerging horror directors they get lost in the creep factor and the shock factor, and they lose their sense of perspective. Sometimes they go over the edge. Horror should challenge our sensibilities, it should provoke, and appall, but in a very specific way. When they get lost in it, I find myself thinking, “I’m not so sure about this, this feels too unnecessary, overt, or predatory.” It happens, but it’s a fine line that they have to work at learning.
VW: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JR: There are a couple of very exciting ones that I can’t unfortunately, but I’m happy to say that I am busy. But there is one that is now showing on EPIX that is called Chapelwaite. It’s an adaptation of Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot starring Adrien Brody and Emily Hampshire. It’s a lot of dark, mysterious, gothic, and creepy fun.
VW: Thank you so much for your time and keep bringing us all these wonderful characters.
JR: I appreciate it, I will, thank you!