‘Council’ of J: An Interview with J. August Richards

Council of Dads on NBC is one of the most special shows on the air right now. The show, which premiered on March 24 and is now on its 9th episode tonight, is a bold look at grief and its impact on families of all shapes and sizes, tackling subjects like transgender identity, adoption, and unconditional friendship. It also features one of the most diverse casts on television. Out of its ensemble, three of its leads are Black, one is Asian, and one is Trans. And to have a mainstream television show on the air right now with a cast that integrated and inclusive is not only rare, but also quite important. And this past week, The Nerds of Color was able to sit down with one of the show’s leads, J. August Richards.

If you grew up watching Angel or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D like I did, you’ll know the name J. August Richards is synonymous with “badass.” After all, playing badass vampire hunter, Charles Gunn, and cybernetically-enhanced superhero, Deathlok tends to give you one heck of a reputation. But what most folks don’t know, is the badass-ery extends well beyond what we’ve seen on the small screen. Richards is a true hero and badass in real life. And the Nerds of Color was able to speak with the Council of Dads star to discover that first hand.

Council of Dads - Season 1
Council of Dads — Season: 1 — Pictured: J. August Richards as Dr. Oliver Post — (Photo by: Jeff Lipsky/NBC)

NOC: I wanted to say thank you again for calling in and taking the time. This is really cool and I’m glad to be doing this with you!

J. August:  My pleasure, Mike! Thanks for asking me.

My first question is a basic one. It’s basically me wanting to make sure you’re good. How are you holding up these days? I know times are crazy, and I want to make sure you’re staying safe and also fighting off cabin fever.

Thanks for asking! Honestly, yesterday was the hardest day for me. I think it was because it was the first day in a few months that I didn’t have anything to do work-wise, and I was really looking forward to it. But I guess the fact that I’ve had Council of Dads to think about, and also the things I’ve decided to do in terms of activism. So I’ve kept a little busy. But just having nothing to do yesterday, I really hit a wall in terms of cabin fever, and outrage. But today I feel so much better. I did a lot of exercise this morning and had great conversations with friends last night. So I feel a lot better today!

Thank you for a really good, really honest answer. It does sound like you’ve been keeping busy and at least things are better.

Yeah! Today’s definitely better. Let’s see how long that’ll last [laughs].

So before, we get into Council of Dads, there’s a few geeky questions I’ve been meaning to ask for some time.

I love geeky questions!

I’ve been a Whedon-ite for a long time, since the Buffy days. And my introduction to you as an actor was Charles Gunn, one of my favorite characters from Angel and the Buffy-verse. I have so many fond memories of you doing karaoke scenes with Charisma and Alexis, or the scene where you sang “Three Little Maids from School” — Those were the funniest scenes ever! Have you kept up with David, Amy, and the Fang-Gang over the years?

Yes! Yes we just did a reunion at New York Comic-Con [last] year. David couldn’t make it because he was shooting in another country. That was the last time I had seen them. But I see them regularly over the years since the show had been cancelled. I consider them a part of my family. I love them all incredibly. We’re friends for life!

That’s awesome! Do you think there will ever be a reunion movie or special? Maybe one where Gunn becomes a vampire after the events of the series finale?

You really never know! The climate in the entertainment business is unpredictable. And there have been a lot of casts that have reunited to do updated specials. So I don’t close the door to that opportunity. You never know.

I’d love to see it if it happens. I’d love to see Gunn again. 

I’d love to do it!

So there is another Whedon-show on the air right now in its final season. And you were a huge part of it when it first started. And I was a huge fan when I first saw you suit up as Deathlok. Given it’s the last season (and you don’t have to talk about it if you can’t but…) do you think we might be able to see our old friend, Mike Peterson, aka Deathlok, one more time on this final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

I signed an NDA that was about 100-pages long, and I don’t think I’m released from it until the last episode airs, so I will have to honor that agreement!

Well I love you as Deathlok. I’d love to see you again. And my fingers are crossed. I’d love to see you as part of this season!

I love that character a lot. That character was the starting point of the second phase of my career where I began playing fathers and complex men. So it’s just interesting to me that Joss was at both phases of my career so far. So I think so fondly of that character and everyone I’ve worked with on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Well I’d love to see you come back as that character at least for one more episode!

We shall see!

Until then, however, I am really enjoying you as Dr. Oliver Post on Council of Dads. Oliver is just a really good character, and this is a really good cast and a really good show. One of the things that really stuck out to me about the show was that, we’re really in an important time in history, and we’re starting to see people fight back, not only for representation in pop culture, but also in society. We’re giving a platform and a voice to people who have mostly been subdued most of their lives by other voices. Not just Black lives, but also transgender, and LGBTQ stories — stories not told until now. And prior to the monumental events of the past few weeks, Council of Dads was actually filmed and premiered before all this. You guys were ahead of the game. So one of the things I wanted to ask you was why do you think this is a show America needs right now?

Everything that’s going on in the country right now can be solved by people showing up for one another. That is what our show is about and that is what is happening in our country and our world right now. With the coronavirus, we’re being asked to show up for one another, whether that means staying at home, or wearing the mask, or being a frontline healthcare worker. We’re not going to get through this by ourselves. We have to get through it together. And the saddest thing about it is we have no leadership. So that’s what makes it incredibly difficult. That was one of the things I was most upset about yesterday. As I was watching the numbers rise all over the country I got super depressed because I thought, “oh my god, I’m going to be sheltering in place for another year or longer.” When I was looking at how rapidly the numbers were rising, I thought, “what is the endgame? There is no endgame, when there is no plan in place.” So I got so sad, because I was like, “I’m going to be stuck here forever.” I don’t feel comfortable just living my life all willy-nilly like other people are. So I had to really sit with myself and think about how I’m actually going to get through this.

When it comes to Black Lives Matter, again it’s all hands on deck. We need everybody to do three things: Police Reform, Reform of the Criminal Justice System, and the ending of the Prison Industrial Complex. We as Black people can’t do it alone. We need allies. We need people who are as outraged as we are by the killing of George Floyd, and the long, long list of others that I can run through. But if we don’t come together as a community to solve it, society will continue to fall apart.

Now our show is about a family. People who share genetics, and people who don’t. And we’re showing up for one another in a time of crisis, but also in the mundane day-to-day moments where you just need somebody; the way we show up for relatives who are sheltering in place alone.

That’s why our show is the perfect show for this time.

Well said! That’s incredibly important, and I can’t stress how much people need to hear that right now. 

Thank you for allowing me to think about the show that way.

If I can ask, one of the strongest points about Council of Dads is the ensemble. But this is very different from other ensembles like Angel or S.H.I.E.L.D. You have huge diversity and representation across the board. And even working with Kevin Daniels, you two are so cute together on-screen! How does working with them compare to working with the other ensembles you’ve worked with in the past?

The biggest comparison would be that we have kids in this ensemble as well — who are just heavyweights as far as their acting goes. That I would say makes this ensemble different. Because every show I’ve had the pleasure of being on, I’ve worked with the most professional and dedicated, and serious-minded actors you can find. And I love that. No one is slacking and no one is phoning it in. Another thing that makes it different is that everyone on this show is bringing their own deeply personal story to the table. I felt like I was on the show lost because everyone’s character had something deeply resonant that had something deeply going on in their personal lives. So that was scary, but it was beautiful to watch everybody just put it all out there on the line. Just have everyone go all out telling their own story and their own truth.

You’re not kidding when you say those kids are heavyweights. Emjay Anthony, Thalia Tran, and especially Blue Chapman! He is phenomenal. Someone of his age with such a heavy role. But one that speaks to issues today is fantastic to see.

Blue said to me one day on set, we were walking away from shooting, and he said, “When I’m on set I feel plugged in.” And he made this gesture like someone putting in a plug. Then he goes, “And when I’m off, it’s like someone yanked it out!”

He’s already speaking like a thespian of 30 years! That’s impressive!

Isn’t it?

Well I just want to say, if you are going out there and joining the protests, please stay safe, and we’ll continue to watch your work as an actor and an activist as well!

Thank you! I have been going to the protests, and I have been super safe, and careful. And it’s such a moment right now, I literally feel the consciousness of the planet raising. It’s a powerful time. And it was a difficult choice for me because I’m very much an “A-student” — if you tell me to stay home I’ll stay home. But there was something about it. I just couldn’t not go. And I did. And I’m fine. I went to two of them. But I had to do something.

Council of Dads airs Thursdays at 8pm on NBC. And you can catch up now on Hulu as well!