Pik-Sen Lim as Queen, J. August Richards as Victor Dashkov in VAMPIRE ACADEMY - Season 1 |©2022 Peacock/ Jose_Haro

Pik-Sen Lim as Queen, J. August Richards as Victor Dashkov in VAMPIRE ACADEMY – Season 1
|©2022 Peacock/ Jose_Haro

Actor J. August Richards has played a number of lawyers (in CONVICTION, RAISING THE BAR, THE DEFENDERS, and NOTORIOUS) and doctors (in GREY’S ANATOMY and COUNCIL OF DADS), along with a sheriff’s deputy (in KEVIN [PROBABLY] SAVES THE WORLD) and a cyborg superhero (in AGENTS OF SHIELD).

However, Richards is perhaps best known and loved for costarring as heroic vampire hunter Charles Gunn on ANGEL for that show’s five seasons, from 2000 through 2004.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY gives Richards the opportunity to come full circle in a way. He plays series regular Victor Dashkov, a member of the vampire royalty.

In VAMPIRE ACADEMY, the vampires, called Moroi, live in their own secret world, protected by the half-vampire/half-mortal dhampirs from the undead Strigoi. The Moroi drink blood, but only from consenting humans who are in on the secret; draining a human to death causes a Moroi to turn into a Strigoi.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY premiered its first four episodes on Peacock on Thursday, September 15, with a new episode of its ten-episode debut season dropping each Thursday thereafter. The series is based on a series of YA novels by Richelle Read, which were published between 2007 and 2010 (there was a little-seen feature film adaptation in 2014). VAMPIRE ACADEMY was developed as a series by show runners Marguerite MacIntyre and Julie Plec (of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, THE ORIGINALS, and LEGACIES).

While there are many integral characters, VAMPIRE ACADEMY centers around Victor’s goddaughter, eighteen-year-old Moroi royal Lissa Dragomir (Daniela Nieves), and her best friend/dhampir guardian Rose Hathaway (Sisi Stringer).

A tragedy puts Lissa in the running for the Moroi throne, which means Victor must campaign for her. At the same time, he’s trying to do his best by his concerned husband Robert (Cornelius McCarthy) and their two adopted daughters. Mia (Mia McKenna-Bruce) is sharp-tongued and resents not being royal like her fathers; Sonya (Jonetta Kaiser) is sensitive and seen by others as peculiar.

In a Zoom call, Richards talks about all things VAMPIRE ACADEMY.

ASSIGNMENT X: How would you describe Victor Dashkov?

J AUGUST RICHARDS: Victor is a political animal. He is someone who is very driven by the fact that there is inequality in the society in the world of the show. I’m a royal Moroi vampire, which means that I’m one of twelve heads of historical royal families. He’s on the council advising the Queen [Pik Sen Lim], and he’s very driven by the fact that his family is not considered equal, because his children are adopted. His kids are non-Moroi, and he feels that that’s super-unfair. So, he is driven by finding equality in this society.

AX: At the beginning, Victor’s ambitions seem to be for the people around him, rather than for himself. Do you think that he genuinely doesn’t have personal ambitions when he starts out, or that he feels that it wouldn’t be a good idea for him to be ambitious on his own behalf for some reason?

RICHARDS: It evolved for me over the course of the shooting. Initially, I believed that his desire for political power was solely for the purpose of making his daughters equal members in the society, as well as [getting equality for] the dhampirs. But then, as we started to shoot, I realized that I wanted to explore with this character what it feels like when you had a dream that you gave up on, that you got to a point in life where you go, “Okay, well, this is not going to happen for me.” What happens if that dream suddenly becomes possible again? What would that do for you, and what would that look like? Thinking about that really inspired me about playing Victor. So, that was something that definitely drove this performance for me.

AX: How old is Victor?

RICHARDS: Fifty. Moroi vampires are mortal. So, I’m playing the age that I am.

AX: Where did you shoot VAMPIRE ACADEMY?

RICHARDS: We shot in Olaeta, Spain, which is outside of Pamplona, as well as Portugal, and I think we actually shot one time in France as well.

AX: How was working in Europe?

RICHARDS: It was great. I mean, it was different. Pamplona’s not a very busy city. I liken it to sort of the Cleveland of Spain. Also, because of COVID, we weren’t able to come and go as freely as I’m used to when I’m shooting on location. So, that was difficult, being away from my life for so long. It was definitely a challenge. But it was worth it in the end.

AX: In a lot of shows, they’ll have one or two scenes where everyone is dressed to the hilt. There seem to be multiple scenes per episode of VAMPIRE ACADEMY when the royals are dressed, well, royally. Do you look around in those scenes at all the costumes and go, “Wow,” or do you have to go, “No, Victor is used to this, he wouldn’t be that wowed”?

RICHARDS: I have to tell you, I had no idea how to play this character when I first got the part. I’m playing this royal vampire in this other world, this society that exists underground from this [real human] one. I had no idea how to approach the character, how to talk, how to walk, whatever. But the costume designer, Sonia Grande, designed everything from scratch for this show, when I had my first costume fitting, when I put on those beautiful costumes, and shot in these monasteries and castles and estates that are centuries old, suddenly, my posture went straight up and my voice dropped an octave, and I knew how to behave in this world, and in this character. My cast mates yesterday paid me the ultimate compliment and said that they think that I’m very different from Victor. So, that’s how it went down.

AX: I believe you’d said in a previous interview that your grandmother felt that you’d achieved acting success when you were playing lawyers who wore sharp business suits. What do you think she would make of your status in Victor’s costumes?

RICHARDS: I think it was more my mom, actually, who really wanted me to be a lawyer or a priest. And you know, I think she’d be on board for this whole ride at this point. I think she’d be proud of the journey that my career has taken, going from the streetwise vampire hunter to now playing sort of a vampire prince. I think she’d love it.

AX: Speaking of your streetwise vampire hunter days, back on ANGEL, did you ever play with the fangs? That is, did you ever think about playing a vampire?

RICHARDS: Definitely. I was so jealous of Julie [Benz] and David [Boreanaz] and James [Marsters]. I thought that they got to have all the fun, playing vampires [laughs]. I always knew that one day I would want to return to this genre and do the same thing. I never played with their fangs, because that was gross. That was pre-COVID, but still, you’d get the cooties, which is worse than COVID. And so, I was really happy to be able to play a vampire this time around.

AX: Fairly early on in VAMPIRE ACADEMY, we learn that Victor has some health issues …

RICHARDS: In the book, it’s called Sandovsky’s Syndrome, and it sounds a little like “Send Off, Ski,” like he’s being sent off [laughs].

AX: Is there a real-life ailment that you thought, “Okay, I’m going to play it like he has this particular disease”?

RICHARDS: Yes. I made some very specific choices about what it felt like. I imagined that it was respiratory, number one. And then honestly, I felt like anything goes, because it’s a fictional disease, and no matter how much research I did, no matter how much I looked in the books and Googled the Wiki for [VAMPIRE ACADEMY], it didn’t say specifically what it was. So, I chose everything. I was like, “This is a blood disorder, this is a respiratory disorder, this makes me dizzy, it comes quickly and globally, and it’s painful.” I just had a field day. I decided, “I can cough, I can sneeze, I can get dizzy.” Whatever I needed. And that’s what I love about fictional worlds and fictitious things, is because all of life is your palette, so that you can pick whatever you want. So, depending on the scene and what I needed to accomplish for the scene was the symptom I chose.

AX: How is playing a parent to two very different teen daughters?

RICHARDS: It’s so funny, because there was a time in my career where I couldn’t be cast as a parent, because they felt that I looked too young. And now my [onscreen] kids keep getting older and older, which is awesome [laughs]. But yeah, I love that aspect of the character, that he’s a he’s a loving and caring father. Jonetta and Mia, who play my daughters, we’re more like friends, so it’s very strange. We just hang out and kick it, but then when we’re on camera, I’m playing their dad. It’s so different, our relationship off-camera.

AX: We know from the beginning that there’s something unusual about Sonya. Did you think about a real-world analogy, like, “What if I had a child who was autistic, or …?”

RICHARDS: I did, actually. I thought a lot about conversion therapy [the discredited practice of trying to force gay people to believe they are heterosexual].

AX: That Victor subjected Sonya to something to try to make her more “normal”?

RICHARDS: That the society forced him to subject her to something to make her more “normal.” And the guilt that he feels about that. It wasn’t a very difficult analogy to think about, because we all live in a world where society forces people to compromise. I also thought his desire to have political power was also a desire to keep his daughter safe, and other people who were like her to be safe.

AX: In VAMPIRE ACADEMY, you seem to have more of an onscreen romantic life than you’ve had since ANGEL …

RICHARDS: No, no, no. KEVIN (PROBABLY) SAVES THE WORLD was a whole romantic storyline, COUNCIL OF DADS I was married –

AX: But here you have a bed scene …

RICHARDS: Oh! You mean sexually [laughs].

AX: Sorry, I was euphemizing there. Was that something you had to think about, “Do I want to do this at this point?”, or were you like, “Good, Victor is in a healthy marriage”?

RICHARDS: You know what’s really hilarious is that it isn’t in the script. I had such a level of trust with the director, Jesse Warn, who we all fell in love with. We did have an intimacy coordinator, and Jesse didn’t throw it on me and Cornelius McCarthy, who plays Robert, my husband, on the day. He talked to us about it days before. Directorially, Jesse felt that there was an opportunity to make a good transition, because you see us in one scene, and then you see us laying in bed. So, he was such a champion, and such a great director, that we just wanted to do whatever he asked of us. And so, that’s where we found ourselves. It was very spontaneous, but it was very safe, as well So, I didn’t have much of a chance to think about it at all. But I really liked it, I thought it was really well-done.

AX: Do you feel like it’s good to have that kind of LGBTQ representation in the world of VAMPIRE ACADEMY, where everyone takes the marriage for granted? If one of them were a dhampir, that would be a problem, but this is a complete non-issue …

RICHARDS: Right. I do think that it is important, equally in fantasy worlds, sci-fi, genre pieces, that you see things like this, because I don’t remember who said it, but our myths are as important as our history. Myths give us something to aspire to, they are part of the culture.

AX: And what would you most like people to get out of VAMPIRE ACADEMY?

RICHARDS: A good time. The drama, the fun, the excitement. I think it’s for people who want to be entertained. We’re not trying to hit you over the head with a huge message, per se. I love the world of this show, because it’s very high stakes. And that’s what I loved about playing Victor. It was almost like a Shakespearean character, in the sense of the stakes of the world. There was a day when I had to say, “You’ve set us back centuries.” And I kept saying, “You’ve set us back decades.” And they kept having to remind me, “No, it’s centuries, it’s centuries.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a huge difference.” The weight of that means a lot more. So, it’s just an exciting world – it’s so much fun, very sexy and romantic. So, I just want people to have a good time.

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Article: Exclusive interview with actor J. August Richards on new vampire series VAMPIRE ACADEMY


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