J. August Richards on how new show Council of Dads inspired him to come out publicly
We may still be in quarantine, but J. August Richards is feeling free.
On Monday, the Angel and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alum came out as gay during an Instagram live video with current Council of Dads costar Sarah Wayne Callies. "If I think about why I even got involved in this industry, it was really to combat oppression," explained Richards who plays Dr. Oliver Post, a happily married gay black man with a daughter on the NBC drama. “I knew how I was affected by the people of color I saw on television, or that I didn’t see on television, so this being a married, gay man, with a family ... on television, I don’t take anything I do lightly, and you have an opportunity to put an image into millions of homes. I wanted that image to be honest and I wanted it to be correct.”
During the live chat, Richards also shared why he felt it was important to be open about his sexuality with his castmates and the creators before starting work on the series. “Honestly, it required me to show up fully in a way that I don’t always when I’m working," said the 46-year-old actor in the video. "I knew that I could not portray this gay man honestly without letting you all know that I am a gay man myself. " Richards went on to describe how he felt a responsibility to share his sexuality since other people out there in similar situations to him "need to see that role model."
Council of Dads marks the first project that Richards has worked on where he has come out professionally to the people involved in making it. The love and support he encountered after doing so, as well as the messaging embedded within the show's narrative, encouraged him to take the next step and announce his sexuality publicly on Monday.
Ahead of the NBC series' return for its second episode on Thursday, April 30, EW caught up with Richards about his life-changing decision and the role that inspired him to take that leap.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been a huge week for you! Why did now feel like the right time to come out publicly?
J. AUGUST RICHARDS: The timing felt perfect. It was so divine. I felt like it was important for me to share this with the audience at this time because I saw that it would be a great opportunity for change. It was funny because my friends were all saying, "When the time is right, you'll know," and I just knew with everything in my person. It was a scary decision because I was out in my life, but I wasn’t out at work yet, so I came out at work for this job [Council of Dads]. But then there was that still that last bastion of going out publicly. I had a lot of feelings and a lot of fears about it, but I just felt so clearly that that was the time and I'm proud of myself for doing it. The response was…I could not have anticipated the love, support and respect I've gotten as a result of it.
You should be proud of yourself. That’s so incredible.
It's you saying that to me right now that really helps undo the pain and the fear and the trauma that I've experienced as somebody who was trying to hide their sexuality in the public eye.
Were there times before in your career when you considered coming out at work or publicly?
Not publicly, no, because there was a process for me of undoing my own fear and, honestly, trauma and coming into it within myself. I had to parse that from being public about it. I went through a very serious process with myself and then considered telling anyone else. Some people do it simultaneously. Everybody's got their own way of doing it. I drew a wall between my personal life and work and public stuff. The only person I told prior to this — that was not a close personal friend — was the actor Patrick Heusinger who played my husband on Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce. I only told him after we were done working together. He was the first person that I worked with that I told and then Sarah Wayne Callies was the first person I ever told while I was working with them.
She was also part of your Instagram Story where you shared your sexuality publicly. Was her support integral to doing it?
Yes and that was absolutely how I knew that it was the perfect time. Because she was the first person I ever told while I was working with them, I didn't want any walls up within myself when I'm looking her in the eye on camera. I didn’t want there to be any secrets between us because our relationship is so tight. I know this about myself: If I'm talking about my sexuality or the character's sexuality and looking her in the eye, it will cause friction within me. I knew that I had to tell her. Her response could not have been more wonderful and perfect and awesome. The next people I told were the writers and producers who invited me into the writers’ room prior to us filming to discuss my thoughts on the character. I realized that I couldn't go into that meeting and have a real conversation if I was hiding that part of myself. So that made sense there. On Instagram, I knew Sarah was going to ask me that question, but she didn't know what my answer was going to be because she respects my privacy. She had no idea that I had chosen that moment. I didn’t discuss it with anyone. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn't want anyone’s influence. I just thought it was the perfect time in my life, with her. So, yeah, it was perfect.
This show has clearly had a huge impact on your life. What was it initially that drew you in about the script, in addition to the character's parallels with your life?
I believe that my purpose as a human being is to fight for equality and to break down walls between people and that's what is at the heart of this script. Oftentimes, as an actor, you're serving a story that may or may not be in alignment with your master purpose, but this show was so in alignment with that that I was like, "Wow, if I could get on this show, so much of my life would be in alignment." When I got on the show I was like, "This is perfect". So everything surrounding this show for me has been really kismet.
How is working with Joan Rater and Tony Phelan as showrunners?
They go so far out of their way to make sure that every aspect of the environment is safe and nurturing and that's why I'm where I am now. It's had ramifications in my personal life — that’s how nurturing and safe an environment they created. It’s collaborative, creative, and inclusive. You feel like you're part of the process. Telling them in the writers’ room that this is actually an aspect of my life, they allowed me to bring this intimacy of what I know about the experience of being a black gay man to the screen. I can never thank them enough for that.
How would you describe Oliver as a dad compared to the others on the Council? Is he the strict dad? The fun dad?
He would be the accepting dad and not only is he accepting, but he wants to create an environment where you can thrive in the exact way that you need to be thriving. He’s about presence and building a fence of protection around you. That's his role on the Council.
Do you have a favorite episode coming up?
I love every episode for different reasons. Episode 5 would be my favorite because there's a moment in that episode that really speaks to the journey of the LGBTQ movement. It’s seen very specifically through the eyes of this couple and I'm going to be dead honest [chokes up], I could not get through one scene in that episode without crying. They did not want me to cry on camera in the scene, but I could read it because it was so much about my life. They never got it without me crying, so I don’t know what they’re going to do.
Council of Dads returns for episode 2 on Thursday, April 30 at 10 p.m. on NBC. An encore of the pilot will air an hour earlier at 9 p.m.