‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: J. August Richards talks Deathlok duty

Feb. 07, 2014 | 5:41 p.m.

J. August Richards loves playing poker, traveling and interacting with a fervent fan base, which is why his new role as cyborg killing machine Deathlok on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” may fit him perfectly.

Any character in a Joss Whedon-related project — though “S.H.I.E.L.D.” was also created by husband-and-wife team Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen-Whedon — could be on thin ice (ask costar Chloe Bennet, whose character Skye was recently gunned down), but Richards may have staying power. Whedonites recognize Richards as vampire/demon hunter Charles Gunn from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spinoff series “Angel.” In the premiere episode of “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Richards introduced Marvel fans to an equally tough guy, Michael Peterson, who is transformed into Deathlok in this week’s episode and must carry out deadly missions, despite them often being against his good nature.

The “T.R.A.C.K.S.” episode is garnering good reviews (and here) for the show, and Hero Complex caught up with Richards to talk Deathlok, familiar confines, and being “chosen” for genre roles.

Hero Complex: How far in advance did you know that you could be coming back to the show after your appearance in the premiere?

J. August Richards: Not far in advance at all. Everything with Marvel is on a need-to-know basis, so I didn’t officially know until the second episode I did, which I think was the 10th episode in the season. Information is carefully guarded over there. I definitely didn’t know that I was Deathlok. I even had a costume fitting, and I didn’t know what I was being fitted for!

HC: Did you do much research into the character once you found out who you were going to be?


Deathlok (Marvel.com)

JR: I did, but honestly, I feel like I’ve researched this role my whole life because I was a comic book collector as a kid. Once I found out that I was playing Deathlok, I unearthed my old comic book collection.  I was going home for Christmas and I have a collection of thousands of comics.  I was surprised to see that 90% of them were Marvel. So, I wanted to go through my collection and start there. Fortunately I had the “Guide to the Marvel Universe,” all of them, and I looked up Deathlok and read a little about him there. I started doing research on the Internet, and then Marvel was kind enough to give me access to some of the older comics. I read some of the Michael Collins versions of Deathlok and got what I needed from that, but I also wanted to make sure that my research and my information were based on what I was doing on the show.

HC: So in the comics, there were many iterations of Deathlok, from a soldier to a pacifist. Where would you place Mike Peterson?

JR: Definitely, in my reading, I was drawn more to the Michael Collins version because this character is such a good man, such a good moral, decent person. For [Peterson] to do the things he’s asked to do as Deathlok are very difficult for him. When I showed up to play the character for the first couple of days, I was still trying to find it. Obviously these are circumstances that I can’t relate to, but I had to really use my imagination to get at what it would be like for Mike Peterson to be turned into Deathlok. Once I figured it out, it was like night and day, just a huge epiphany on what was going on internally for this character. I feel blessed that I’ve been asked to play this character because I always want to play the person behind the superhero. Even when I’m playing a lawyer or a doctor, I want to play a person. A human being. It’s challenging physically, mentally, emotionally and even in the circumstances of the production. The makeup and the costumes. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s something that I love so much.

J. August richards in the pilot episode of "Marvel's Agents of Shield." (ABC)

J. August Richards in the pilot episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC)

HC: Since you played Charles Gunn on “Angel” for years, you’re no stranger to genre shows and devoted fans. Are these roles conscious choices?

JR: It very much is a conscious choice! I feel very, very connected to the science-fiction community worldwide. I do conventions, and I love doing them. What I love about the sci-fi community is that it’s the most nonjudgmental, inclusive, diverse environment in the country. There’s no group of people that is more diverse and inclusive. I thought about this a long time ago, and I feel like the work that I do, for me, incorporates the concepts of diversity and inclusion, and it’s something that I’m connected to. I just feel like I’ve been chosen to do this work because I love the community so much. So whenever I get an audition to do something that is sci-fi-related, it makes me really happy because I realize that I can continue doing the work that I’m doing and continue meeting people all over the world. It does baffle my management team sometimes, though!

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It’s also really very demanding on your chops as an actor. It’s not easy to personalize the struggle that Michael Peterson is going through. It’s just such a challenge to say, “What would it be like if you were being controlled by this entity and you lost your freedom?” Personalizing that is not easy and it’s a challenge, but I love challenges. I love roles that don’t really have a template or a paradigm and force me to create using my own imagination… that really, really turns me on. When I read Deathlok’s first appearance, the cover said “the world’s most offbeat superhero,” and I just love that so much. I can’t entirely explain why.

HC: You’re dealing with Jed and Maurissa, and not Joss, but you’re still under the Whedon umbrella. How’s the working relationship, and is it still familiar — or is it different show, different vibe?

JR: You know, working with Jed and Maurissa is just easy. Everything is easy. There’s no drama. There’s no ego. It’s very comfortable. Obviously I’ve known them a long time, but you don’t always get that as an actor in this business — working with people who are just easy and comfortable. I want to throw Jeff Bell in there as well. We’ve had a relationship for such a long time that it makes everything easier.

Clark Gregg and J. August Richards in the pilot episode of "Marvel's Agents of Shield." (ABC)

Clark Gregg and J. August Richards in the pilot episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC)

Also, working with Clark Gregg makes it easy. I often find that the No. 1 person on the call sheet sets the tone for what the set is going to be like, and because he is all about the work, everyone else is all about the work too.

HC: What do you see in your character’s near future?

JR: I can’t really comment on that ’cause there are things that I know and things that I don’t know, so any answer that I give you would be incomplete and would get me in trouble! What I do know is that I love characters where I can’t quite look to others to get cues from.  I have to create this since he’s never been done before, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It just requires me to show up and be on my game.

— Jevon Phillips | @LATHeroComplex


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3 Responses to ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: J. August Richards talks Deathlok duty

  1. J F says:

    Please don't give spoilers i.e a characters death without warning! I am from overseas and they hav'nt even begun airing those episode yet. Otherwise a great article.

  2. Jevon Phillips says:

    Sorry, JF. It's been almost a week here … and I also didn't say that anyone was dead!

    • meme-com-poop says:

      It read that way in the article. I saw the episode in question and had to go back and check to make sure I hadn't missed Skye dying.

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