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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Stephen Lang

08.29.2016
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Last week, we took a look at the career of character actor John Leguizamo. This week, we examine another well-known character actor, who, as he approached middle-age, found himself more in-demand than ever...
Stephen Lang
stephen lang avatar

Stephen Lang’s one of those guys who kicked-around for decades, always delivering whatever the role - but never really had a star moment. Or, at least, he never did until he hit his late fifties around the time he did AVATAR. His performance as the unhinged Quaritch catapulted him into high-demand. It’s worth noting that even though he apparently died in the first film, Lang’s been signed-on for the sequels, a testament to his popularity in the part.

stephen lang the hard way

Before that, Lang had done lots of film and TV work. Always a solid actor, he was a favorite of Michael Mann’s early-on, with him having played doomed tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds in MANHUNTER, before seguing into the part of attorney David Abrams on Mann’s small-screen cult classic, “Crime Story”.

stephen lang don't knock

Even before AVATAR, Lang’s imposing physique meant that he was frequently cast as baddies, such as the bleached-blond mass-murderer “The Party Crasher” in John Badham’s THE HARD WAY (opposite Michael J. Fox and James Woods), although he received a lot of acclaim for a pair of roles in Ted Turner’s Civil War epics, GETTYSBURG and GODS & GENERALS - where he played Stonewall Jackson.

His Best Work
stephen lang tombstone

While not the lead, to me Lang’s presence has always been an essential part of what made TOMBSTONE great. As the cowardly Ike Clanton, Lang plays one of the great big-screen bullies, with his Ike all “big talk” just as long as he has his cowboy buddies to back him up The second he winds up facing down the barrel of Wyatt Earp’s gun his bravado is gone. His hysterical acting during the gunfight at the O.K Coral is pitch-perfect.

His Most Overrated Work
stephen lang terra nova

I was pulling for ‘Terra Nova’ to be a hit. Certainly, Fox put a ton of money into it as in the summer leading-up to its debut you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing an ad for it (or having web banners come up for it when you visited a site). It would have given Lang a steady-gig, but the show - despite all the money put into it was flop I didn’t even make it past the pilot, although I understand it has a minor cult following now.

His Most Underrated Film
stephen lang band of the hand

Apparently, the little-known 1986 film BAND OF THE HAND started-out as a TV pilot produced by Michael Mann, which was passed on and then turned into a theatrical feature. In it, Lang plays a Native American Vietnam bet who heads-up a project where he recruits the worst juvenile delinquents and tries to make them into a unit for positive social change. Once his program loses funding, Lang takes a somewhat more badass approach, turning the teens into a posse of vigilantes devoted to taking down the drug cartels that have ruined their neighborhoods. While the idea of a man turning a group of teens into killers (albeit ones that only kill “bad guys’) probably wouldn’t fly nowadays, BAND OF THE HAND is a fun little eighties romp, with some heavy doses of eighties cheese and a memorable performance by Lang in a rare-leading part. It’s worth checking-out.

His Best Scene

I really liked the way Mann used Lang in PUBLIC ENEMIES, with him playing the smart, humble agent whose smarts wind-up helping Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis capture Johnny Depp’s Dillinger. I especially like the final scene, where he goes to full-fill a deathbed promise he made to Dillinger after delivering the fatal shot. It’s subtle, nuanced acting and while the movie is lesser-Mann, I’d wager it gave Lang one of his best ever parts.

His Five Best Films

5. PUBIC ENEMIES
4. THE HARD WAY
3. AVATAR
2. MANHUNTER
1. TOMBSTONE

Up Next

With Fede Alvarez’s DON’T BREATHE now topping the box-office, Lang’s having himself that long-delayed star moment. He’s been outspoken about how much he wants to play Cable in DEADPOOL 2, posting photos of himself hitting the gym and looking every bit the part. Will the success of DON’T BREATHE allow this to finally happen? One thing’s for sure - the fans would approve, but even if it doesn’t, expect Lang to show up in tons more stuff including - naturally - a whole slew of AVATAR sequels (once they finally get made).

Source: JoBlo.com

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9:42PM on 08/29/2016
I just watched Gods and Generals for the first time a couple weeks ago, and was really impressed with Lang's work. As Stonewall Jackson, he's like a complete opposite of his military guy from Avatar. I think he'd be a great fit for Cable.
I just watched Gods and Generals for the first time a couple weeks ago, and was really impressed with Lang's work. As Stonewall Jackson, he's like a complete opposite of his military guy from Avatar. I think he'd be a great fit for Cable.
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7:43PM on 08/29/2016
Good choice, guy has always been a solid actor playing either coward, everyman, or bully.
Good choice, guy has always been a solid actor playing either coward, everyman, or bully.
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1:29PM on 08/29/2016
Honestly I have no idea who Stephen Lang was prior to Avatar. But looking back now, he was awesome in The Hard Way.
Honestly I have no idea who Stephen Lang was prior to Avatar. But looking back now, he was awesome in The Hard Way.
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12:53PM on 08/29/2016

Stephen Lang is one of those reliable character actors

who always bring their A game no matter what the project. He first caught my attention as the gay strike-line foreman in LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (1989's feel-bad movie of the year), and I've alway wondered why he could never find that role to catapult him into the big time. I'm glad to see he's finally having his breakout year.
who always bring their A game no matter what the project. He first caught my attention as the gay strike-line foreman in LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (1989's feel-bad movie of the year), and I've alway wondered why he could never find that role to catapult him into the big time. I'm glad to see he's finally having his breakout year.
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11:18AM on 08/29/2016
Glad to see old Ike Clanton get some love. Sure, folks are more likely to remember Kilmer's Doc, Biehn's Ringo, or Powers Boothe's Curly Bill. But Ike Clanton makes a perfect foil to Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo. And 2009 was a good year for Lang, where he not only made arguably the biggest impression of anyone in Public Enemies and was the best part of Avatar, but gave some great comic support in Men Who Stare at Goats. I'm glad with Don't Breathe he's got another winner, since his post-Avatar
Glad to see old Ike Clanton get some love. Sure, folks are more likely to remember Kilmer's Doc, Biehn's Ringo, or Powers Boothe's Curly Bill. But Ike Clanton makes a perfect foil to Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo. And 2009 was a good year for Lang, where he not only made arguably the biggest impression of anyone in Public Enemies and was the best part of Avatar, but gave some great comic support in Men Who Stare at Goats. I'm glad with Don't Breathe he's got another winner, since his post-Avatar career hadn't panned out quite as well as expected (probably due to his preference for genre material).
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