GLAAD x Vampire Academy: A Conversation with J. August Richards

By GLAAD |
September 15, 2022

 


By: Julian J. Walker, Communities of Color and Media Associate Director, and Kayla Thompson, Communities of Color and Media Junior Associate

 

With the same enthusiasm, revivals, and rebirths the genre received in the 80s, 90s, the late 2000s, and the early 2010s, vampires and vampirism have returned to saturate our television screens once again. In the past few years, television shows and films have seen a resurgence of the genre, marking yet another vampire renaissance, with releases such as What We Do in the Shadows, First Kill, Vampires vs. The Bronx, Midnight Mass, and Night Teeth being eagerly accepted by audiences.

Amidst the plethora of new vampire related media comes Peacock’s Vampire Academy. Based on a series of novels by the same name (authored by Richelle Mead), Vampire Academy will follow the story of two young women as they navigate friendship, romance, and danger, all while completing their education and preparing to enter vampire society. 

In addition to stars such as Sisi Stringer, Daniela Nieves, Kieron Moore, André Dae Kim, and Zoey Deutch, the cast will also welcome the incredible J. August Richards, a veteran of the genre with a vampiric history of his own. 

Appearing in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Buffy spin-off series Angel, Richards will return to his roots as Victor Dashkov, vampire royalty. 

Richards’ characters and the vampires he portrays have been close to the hearts of numerous viewers throughout the years, and his roles are crucial representations of Black characters being present and taking up space in worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Richards' acting career is also populated with a number of amazingly talented portrayals of Black characters. His performances are strong, thought provoking, and inspiring (for Black and non-Black viewers alike), and he has occupied notable roles in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Temptations, and Council of Dads, among others. 

Despite marked increases in depictions of diverse people over the past few years, on-screen characters in the entertainment industry are still lacking in diversity. And, going a step further, diverse representation among characters in fantasy and science fiction films and television shows can be even more scarce. When Black characters and characters of color do appear in those genres, there can also be audience pushback from those who envisioned, and desired, a character who doesn’t come from an underrepresented background. Take, for example, the recent backlash with which fans responded to the announcement of the young, Black actress who would play Annabeth Chase in the revival of the Percy Jackson movie franchise. 

In addition to his impactful work of portraying Black vampires in a genre where such representation is few and far between, the newest vampire that Richards portrays is both Black and LGBTQ+. Richards' Vampire Academy character, Victor Dashkov, is married to husband, Robert and has adopted children. This is groundbreaking representation for the vampire genre, and a hopeful sign for the kinds of Black LGBTQ+ representation that could one day exist in not only television and fantasy genres, but in entertainment and media more broadly as well.

It’s important for audiences, and especially young Black and Black LGBTQ+ audiences, to see themselves and potential versions of themselves represented on-screen, to see that their identities won’t place them in a specific box or consign them to certain roles or character descriptions. Actors such as J. August Richards are an important example for such audiences, demonstrating that the possibilities for their careers and lives are endless, that there is no limit to the roles they can play, their creativity, or their aspirations.

In addition to his already impactful, important, and representative work, Richards also puts on his powerful performances as an openly Black gay man in Hollywood. This form of representation both on and off screen inspires Black queer actors around the world and affords them the space to explore and embrace their identities, encouraging them to seek out and assert their space within the entertainment industry.

Check out our chat with J. August Richards below, where we further explore Richards’ career thus far and his new role on Vampire Academy

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GLAAD x J. August Richards

 

GLAAD: What a true honor it is to be in conversation with you today, Congratulations on your upcoming role in Peacock’s Vampire Academy! 

I’m a huge fan of Angel! I remember cuddling on the couch with my mom each Sunday evening as we tuned in for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. As you mentioned on Instagram, you’ve gone “From streetwise vampire-hunter to royal-blooded vampire”. How does it feel to be back in the world of vampires? 

Richards: Thanks so much for the kind words! Within my body of work - the roles I play, I like there to be some connective tissue. Some thematic consistency. So I always wanted to return to the vampire genre and I had hoped it would be as a vampire!

GLAAD: As the series begins, where do we find Victor Dashkov? Tell us a bit about your character. 

Richards: Victor is a royal vampire —a descendent of one of the twelve royal bloodlines. Because Victor is married to Robert and their kids are adopted, his family members aren’t given the royal title. As a member of the Queen’s council, I am deeply committed to bringing change and equality to our society.

GLAAD: Representation continues to shine light on communities often in the shadows; forgotten. I must take this opportunity to thank you so much for showing up authentically each and every day. From such roles on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Temptations, and notably Council of Dads ( to name a few ) has been an absolute treasure to follow. 

#BlackQueerExcellence 

What advice would you share with LGBTQ+ actors of color, as they embark on their own journeys within the entertainment industry? 

Richards: Number one, study! Great work is the ultimate trump card in this business. Two, I had an acting teacher who used to say, “Have the courage to say this is me!” Whatever the character or character description — no matter how (heavy quotes) “wrong” you feel for the role, go in there WITH ALL OF YOU and look that scene partner in the eye with the confidence and assuredness you can muster and fight for what the character NEEDS!!! Don’t let YOU or your thoughts and ideas about “you" get in the way. Allow that character to use your body mind and voice to get what they want and need. If you’re “wrong” for the role, that’s not your business. Don’t worry about it. Worry about what the character wants and go after that unflinchingly. Practice that with every audition. If you do that, you’ve already won.

GLAAD: What has been your most exciting experience thus far filming for Vampire Academy? 

Richards: Man, I just love this work, this role, so much, so it was exciting to live in the world of Victor and Vampire Academy. We shot in Spain so I spent seven months there — traveling around to France and Portugal. My boyfriend came to live with me so it was incredible for us to live in another country together. I loved it, although living in Spain caused me a mini-identity crisis, but that’s a story for another time...

GLAAD: The conversation / exploration of Mental health is important for black men. Not to mention the traumas often attached to our lived experience. What are ways that you’re intentional with nurturing your mental, physical and emotional health while maintaining a career within film and television? 

Richards: That’s a great question. Number one, I don’t immerse myself in my career/Hollywood. I don’t really socialize within the industry. I do a little but it’s not my primary source. Secondly, I am fortunate to have a very understanding partner. He put his life on hold to come be with me in Spain because he knew I needed it. We needed it. Third, having limits and saying “no” to things the industry demands and being comfortable with the consequences. Four, I had a really great therapist for several years with whom I made great strides. Also, I have a lot of support.

GLAAD: Thank you again so much for your time, energy, and words!

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Be sure to keep up with J. August Richards on Instagram, and catch the season premiere of Vampire Academy now streaming on Peacock.