Some say villains are made and others say that they are born that way. But there is a school of thought that some villains choose their destiny regardless of their birthright or upbringing. This just may be the case with ARROW’s latest villain Mr. Blank. Born unable to connect with others, he relates only to his surroundings. Taking that unique ability, he found a decisively diabolical career for himself and put it to good use. In an exclusive interview, J. August Richards talked about trying to get into the mind of a sociopath, as well as what continues to draw him time and time again to the allure of genre television.
So who is Mr. Blank? Who is he and what can you share about him?
J: Mr. Blank is an assassin who has been hired to silence a few witnesses. That’s kind of how he crosses paths with Oliver. He takes his work very seriously and he lives his entire life to be invisible. As an actor that was just really interesting to delve into because I thought about how lonely that must be, and it also kind of explained to me why the character has no feelings towards people. Like the work that he has to do is not personal and he does not lament it at all. He just does it. Just like someone would enter numbers into a computer, that is what his work is to him. So it is a really interesting character to play. I don’t know why anybody thought I would be good for this part, but I really enjoyed doing it. I’m the sort of person who is very empathetic. So it was a reach, but a fun one.
I bet they were just fans of your work and they wanted to find an excuse to put you on the show.
J: (Laughs) That works for me too! Apparently Andrew Kreisberg said he saw my work on EMILY OWENS, M.D. and he thought of me for the part. I thought that was really, really cool. There no similarities between the characters, but it was really fun to do. I really enjoyed playing the villain.
What would you say was the one particular quality that you most admired about Mr. Blank?
J: You know what I really loved about this character — and I have to honest and say I feel funny admitting there is something I love about this character – but he can walk into a room and take the temperature instantly, and be 100% accurate. You know how you walk into a space in someone’s house and the space feels good, warm, inviting or if it doesn’t, it feels painful or sad – he can feel that immediately. Now he can’t feel anything for a person, but he can feel it for a room. I thought that was really, really cool.
How do you convey something like that, or do you just kind of stand there?
J: It’s so hard. ‘Cause when I first read the script, I was like, “Okay, we’re shutting off all emotion.” But then when I got to the parts or lines where he would be really analyzing a room, I thought, “No, no, no. This character is extremely dialed in.” He’s extremely emotionally available. Just not to people, only to spaces. And that was very difficult to turn off my extreme empathy and turn on my sensitivity to a space. That was very, very difficult, but fun. It was a great challenge.
Are we going to be seeing Mr. Blank in scenes with anyone besides Oliver?
J: My friend David Ramsey is on the show and unfortunately we never got to act together, which sucked for me ‘cause we’ve done probably three projects together – this being the third – and the other times we got to work together a lot. So we didn’t work together at all this time. I did a brief scene with Katie [Cassidy], a brief scene with Willa [Holland], as well as Colton [Haynes]. But not much at all. Really the majority of my stuff was with Steven [Amell].
It is almost unbelievable that you missed working with David since his character interacts the most closely with Oliver.
J: I know. I know! That really sucked.
What did it feel like to return to the genre a little bit after a couple years working on legal shows?
J: Actually, I did a fair number of appearances on genre shows like WAREHOUSE 13 and THE 4400, in addition to my work on ANGEL. I really enjoy working in sci-fi because I really feel like you are really required to act. That’s what I love about sci-fi. Sci-fi always has these large themes going on that you do not always get in contemporary dramas. So you really get to play those things out as well as you have to create so much. So it really feels like I’m really getting act when I do science fiction projects.
So when you heard they wanted you to guest on ARROW, did you think, “Oh thank god, I’m going back to genre!”?
J: (Laughs) Yes, and I’m a fan of the show. So that was a plus. The truth is: yes. Especially after I read the script because there’s a lot of stunts and there is just a massive fight scene with Stephen that I got to do. That I love. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s ‘cause when I was a little boy I played “Star Wars” all the time and me and my friends would fight each other with fake lightsabers. But I just love fight scenes and I love stunts, and when I saw that I was getting to do that, I was in immediately.
So you find sci-fi to be more physically active and a richer tapestry emotionally for you when you do those kinds of characters within the genre?
J: Definitely both. The important thing is your work in science fiction must really be grounded in reality. For example, when I was doing ANGEL, my character hated vampires and I saw it almost like a form of racism in a way, like hating a group. So I thought, “While my character really hates a group, so what group do I hate?” I really wanted to make it real for myself, but my problem was I don’t hate any group. In fact, I feel like my purpose on Earth is to end racism or any kind of –ism. I’m really against any bad feelings towards any kind of group. But then I thought, “Oh, there actually is a group I do hate and that’s bigots of any kind.” So in my mind I kind of transferred the vampires and made them bigots. That’s how I was able to find the fire and the hate. So I find in science fiction you have to come from a real place and find real motivations to make the world real for yourself.
ARROW is really fond of its villains. Is there a particular villain on the show that you’re fond of?
J: Deadshot is very cool, obviously.
Would you have enjoy it if Mr. Blank and Deadshot had a scene together?
J: Absolutely. I’ve love a fight scene with him.
Did you see your character Mr. Blank as a villain or did you see him as something else?
J: No. I definitely saw him as a working guy. He’s a guy who takes his work very seriously and I’m a guy who takes my work very seriously. So I never ever saw him as a villain. I saw him as someone with a job to do.
There has been an interesting trend where some villains see themselves as a hero, like they saw what they were trying to do as good. Did you sense that was a part of Mr. Blank’s motivation?
J: Absolutely not. I do not think he falls into that category. I know that character well ‘cause a lot of times I feel like I’m put in that role where I play characters like that a lot. Very gray characters. But this character I just saw as performing a task, which is actually more diabolical than anything. This is just work to him. Nothing personal. It’s: “I’ve been hired to complete a service. This is my business.” That was the phrase I used in my own mind a lot: “This is my business – and I have to protect my business.” And he just saw it as a business as any other. Now that’s very difficult for a person like me who’s very empathetic, but that’s how I had to see it.
To see what kinds of nefarious mischief the mysterious Mr. Blank brings to Starling City, be sure to tune in for an all new episode of ARROW on Wednesday, April 24th at 8:00 p.m. on the CW.
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