Q&A: “EJECTA’s” Julian Richings Talks “WRONG TURN,” Romero, Del Toro and More, Part TwoFearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
In the first part of this interview, longtime Canadian actor Julian Richings discussed his starring turn in the new alien-abduction thriller EJECTA. Below, he discusses some of his many past genre roles—and the part he almost had in PACIFIC RIM.
Among the more than 150 film and TV credits on Richings’ résumé are WRONG TURN (as the deformed, human-hunting Three Finger), George A. Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (as James O’Flynn), SAW IV, URBAN LEGEND, MIMIC, the Stephen King-based BAG OF BONES and KINGDOM HOSPITAL and other series such as SUPERNATURAL, ORPHAN BLACK and TODD AND THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL (as well as the short film that inspired it). Many genre fans probably first became familiar with Richings’ unique features from a movie in which they were sliced into cubes in the opening scene…
FANGORIA: Can you talk a bit about your memorable demise in Vincenzo Natali’s CUBE?
JULIAN RICHINGS: That was quite groundbreaking at the time. I’m just in the first four or five minutes, to set up the whole idea of the “cubing” that happens to people who take the wrong path. So myself and the special effects unit, called Caligari Studios, worked extensively together. This was obviously pre-computer animation, so we did it with old-school effects, where they had to create a body mold and then the parts of me that were cubed. It was a painstaking process, but that scene was a great adrenaline rush for the top of the movie, and it was a lot of fun.
I’ve continued to do a lot of work that involves special effects, makeup and prosthetics. I’ve got to say, I like that as an actor, because it involves you in a technical side of the business. Sometimes actors get a bit lost in their own parts, in their own portrayals, and it’s interesting for me to understand the mechanics of how things work. Also, the effects guys were really into what they do, and I was amazed at the depth of their knowledge of film, and a certain kind of fandom where they watched movies just for a five-minute effect, which they could quote in great detail.
That prepared me for my later forays into TV, like SUPERNATURAL, where I have an ongoing role as Death. That has introduced me to a whole echelon of fandom that I had never dreamed possible. There’s a whole convention circuit, and a fan base that’s intensely loyal and very knowledgeable. It’s been interesting to see, over the last 20 years with the change in technology, that audiences really have an effect on the stuff they’re watching.
FANG: One of your biggest makeup-FX roles was as Three Finger in WRONG TURN.
RICHINGS: That was produced by Stan Winston, the makeup genius behind EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE TERMINATOR and so many other great movies. He created three of us monsters; I was one of the cannibal hillbilly brothers. I was the runt; I stand at 5 feet 10 inches, and my two older brothers were 7-foot-3 and 6-foot-9. They were really big guys! We got kitted out in full regalia; I had extra thickness put on my shoulder and my arms, a horrific face, contact lenses, fangs, you name it. But it was great, because it took me back to the basics of theater acting. That’s where I grew up; I’ve done an awful lot of stage work, and WRONG TURN returned me to the idea of playing in a mask. I spent that entire movie essentially wearing a full-body mask, and letting it inform my character. It was intriguing to be in a movie where my appearances are very specific. It’s a bit like the magic formula of the shark in JAWS; I was never allowed to have too much seen of me, so it was very, very carefully calibrated. So it was kind of cool, understanding the mechanics of how to use a monster in a movie.
FANG: Did you have fun running around the woods and terrorizing beautiful girls in that film?
RICHINGS: Well, of course. I mean, that goes without saying [laughs]! One of the funny side stories to that was, the producers were told right at the top, “You know, there’s going to be a lot of action in this, a lot of climbing trees, a lot of falls, a lot of fights and fire,” and they said, “Well, that’s no problem, we’ll just put a stunt guy in makeup, and he can do all the difficult stuff.” But of course, if you put the same prosthetics on a stunt guy’s face as you put on mine, he looks even more different than he did in the first place. So they ended up saying, “Well, there’s no way this guy reads like Julian,” so I did most of the stunts in that movie. That was quite an experience, too, to get an inkling of the business from a different department’s point of view.
FANG: You worked with two of the horror genre’s great directors, Guillermo del Toro and George A. Romero, on MIMIC and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD respectively. What do you recall from those two productions?
RICHINGS: I think I had one of my most uncomfortable shoots with Guillermo—I was up to my chest in sewage, so that wasn’t too pleasant—but he was great; he was so nice and hilarious all the way through. I had no idea who Guillermo was at the time; this was early in his career, and I thought, “Who’s this jolly guy making the most of all this darkness and grimness and bugs invading New York?” And then, of course, his films spoke for themselves.
He’s very loyal, too. I was touched when he did PACIFIC RIM, and he remembered me and said, “I want that skinny guy—you know that guy who was up to his chest in water? I want him in my movie!” Just on the strength of that, he called me in and wanted me to do PACIFIC RIM. Then things changed, the script went through a lot of revisions and it turned out that the section I had been scripted into would no longer be used. But it was fun working with him.
As for George—well, what an honor. I mean, we all know what a legend he is, but I had no idea how laid-back he would be. Because he’s one of the granddaddies of horror, I thought I would be a little intimidated, and then I met him and he was just marvelous. And pragmatic, too; I was impressed. SURVIVAL was an indie film, it didn’t have a huge budget and he had to be very careful about how he shot things. There was one day I remember when our posse was to come breaking into a home, to see if there are any zombies upstairs. The scene opened with us smashing down a door and invading this house. Well, there were problems on set with the door, and the mechanics of knocking it down and getting the shot right, and the camera department were upset and the carpentry department were upset, and the producers were looking at their watches, like, “We’re losing time, we’re losing time.”
Then George said, “That’s it, we’ll cut it. No problem.” He said, “We don’t really need to start the scene with the door caving in; the scene is about what they say later on. We’ll just hear a noise offscreen and cut to the reaction of the people being invaded, and then we’ll see you in the room.” Sure enough, we shot it that way, and it worked. Great instincts, no ego; George just knows exactly what’s necessary. And all the while, he keeps calm and doesn’t get upset about the wrong things.
FANG: Do you have any genre films coming up beyond the EJECTA producers’ HELLMOUTH?
RICHINGS: I just finished another sci-fi movie called PRISONER X, which is about a prisoner who’s captured by a border patrol, and they realize he’s an alien from another world; he’s a terrorist from the future. It’s an interesting concept, where they’re trying to find out why he’s there, what he’s doing and whether he’s in league with other people. I’m assuming that that won’t be out for a while, that it’ll take another six to nine months for postproduction. I’m also continuing with my ongoing roles on ORPHAN BLACK and SUPERNATURAL, and I’m about to take my first step into video games. I’m not allowed to talk about it too much, but I’m looking forward to it. A lot of actors have stepped into the arena of games, and I’ve never done one before, so I’m quite curious about it.