Richards is of Afro-Panamanian descent. He grew up in Bladensburg, Maryland. Richards attended the Visual and Performing Arts program at Suitland High School in Suitland, Maryland and graduated in 1991. He attended the USC School of Dramatic Arts on a scholarship.
Richards's acting career began with a guest star role on The Cosby Show as Vanessa's boyfriend Roy in the episode "Out of Brooklyn" (1988). Other guest appearances would come later on shows such as The Practice, Chicago Hope, Any Day Now, and Nash Bridges. It was the role of Taj Mahal in the play Space that first brought recognition.
Richards has appeared in feature films Good Burger (1997) and Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998). He starred in the television movies Critical Assembly and Mutiny, and appeared as singer Richard Street in the NBC miniseries The Temptations. Richards has also guest-starred on The West Wing and The 4400.
Richards gained a recurring role beginning in the first season of Angel as Charles Gunn. He was promoted to a regular at the start of the second season, and remained a member of the cast throughout the rest of the show's run.
In 2006, Richards joined the cast of Law & Order spin-off Conviction as Billy Desmond. He has also been featured in CSI: Miami as Bob Villa, and portrayed Marcus McGrath in the series Raising the Bar until its cancellation. Richards portrayed a young Richard Webber in two Grey's Anatomy episodes: "The Time Warp" and "Only Mama Knows". He also appeared in an episode of The Mentalist. Richards had played the part of Damon in Sliders episode "Just Say Yes". Richards also guest-starred in an episode of Warehouse 13.
In 2013, Richards debuted in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Mike Peterson, a.k.a. Deathlok. In the same year, Richards created his own sci-fi web series called The Hypnotist.
Motivated by his portrayal of Dr. Oliver Post in the drama series Council of Dads, Richards publicly came out as gay in April 2020.
- "War Zone"
- "Blind Date"
- "To Shanshu in L.A."
- Angel season 2
- Angel season 3
- Angel season 4
- Angel season 5
- Liane Bonin, "Angel's new actor discusses life on the set". EW.com, September 26, 2000.
- "Why I let the cast and crew of @nbccouncilofdads know that I'm gay...". J. August Richards on Instagram, April 20, 2020.