A character actor known for his gruff and authoritarian characters, Stephen Lang stepped away from looking menacing in front of a green screen to talk to a gaggle of reporters on Tuesday and I had the pleasure of being in on the call. I asked Lang‘s about his knack for choosing those previously mentioned authoritarian roles, how he navigates through effects laden projects, his future, and because I’m a lovable scallywag, I asked him about the semi-beloved but now cancelled Terra Nova… which went… un-well.
Nerd Bastards: After some of the effects-heavy work in Avatar, Conan, and Terra Nova — is it a nice change to, sort of, come in from the jungle and do something a little more grounded in reality (In Plain Sight)?
Stephen Lang: Well the first thing I did when I got out there, I said, “Excuse me, where’s the green screen? I can’t work without a green screen.” No, it was nice to get back into this kind of century for one thing and wear something that wasn’t kind of military, and yes, tell kind of a human story — not that the others aren’t, but you know what I mean — it’s kind of on a different scale — an intimate story. I mean, I know it’s a big show and it’s all about witness protection and everything but, you know, (theirs) a sense of — we’re doing a father and a daughter kind of a reunion show — albbe it not a conventional reunion. And so it was great. It’s good to do it.
Nerd Bastards: You have a long history as a theater actor — did that help you ease your transition to the CGI heavy work — working with the green screen — did it help your ability to work with that which you can’t see?
Stephen Lang: I think it does. Sure, I mean on some level acting is the art of pretend and you have to have a highly cultivated sense of imagination. You have to be able to see things that aren’t there no matter what aspect of acting, whether it’s green screen, whether it’s on stage, whether it’s anything else, whether you’re working on the radio. And so it’s just something that we cultivate. I think for some, that kind of work comes quite naturally to us but you have to — you want to develop the technique for it, yes.
Nerd Bastards: Do you think that Terra Nova might have worked better as a film with a bit of a bigger budget, rather than as something that had to run week after week?
Stephen Lang: Well, you know, I made one statement about Terra Nova a couple of weeks ago and that’s it — that’s all I’m going to say about Terra Nova at this point.
[Note: Stephen Lang just crushed my metaphorical tree fort, I am blue.]
Nerd Bastards: Going forward, are you looking for other TV projects and would you want to join something that is already in motion or would you want to start with scratch with something again?
Stephen Lang: I love television. I love working at that intense speed that one does work in television and I love the opportunity to create a character over a long period of time.
So yes, I look for television projects. I never say — I don’t say no to anything so I’ll read something — I’ll read anything that comes along, whether it’s an existing series or whether it’s a new series. If given my druthers — you want to be there at the moment of inception and do something that’s completely startling and completely new.
Nerd Bastards: Throughout your career you’ve obviously played a lot of historical figures, a lot of soldiers and warriors — what is it about those kinds of roles that really appeal to you, other than the fact that you keep getting offered them?
Stephen Lang: Well — it’s a good question. I think that if you look at a career, probably more in retrospect than while it’s happening, you’ll probably be able to identify themes that happen in an actor’s career. I mean, you look at Nicholson’s career and very often you’ll see that he’s playing an outsider, you know? I’ve been interested for years in a lot of the themes that are personified by military stuff — the nature of courage, the nature of duty, the whole concept of humility, and selflessness. All kinds of interesting stuff, and so much of the time military figures and military stories are a good basis for drama, just because of the nature of the conflict, it seems to me.
So, I think it’s — maybe it’s a thematic thing as much as anything but as you pointed out asking the question, these are the roles you get offered. That, you know, that counts for a lot of it because I’d love to move outside of that as well, you know, I feel like I’ve got a lot of range.
You can see Stephen Lang on In Plain Sight tonight at 10pm ET on USA. To hear a bit more about how Mr. Lang feels about that project, check out Reg Seton’s questions from the same conference call over at Deadbolt.