The new Fox television series Terra Nova is an epic family adventure that, as part of an experiment to save the human race, follows an ordinary family on an incredibly journey back in time to prehistoric Earth. In the year 2149, the world is dying and the planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The only hope for the future survival of mankind is in the distant past, so when scientists unexpectedly discover a fracture in time, they construct a portal into primeval history and attempt to resettle humanity in the past, for a second chance at rebuilding civilization.
During the Fox Television portion of the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, show star Stephen Lang talked about playing Commander Nathanial Taylor, the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement, how he’s a flawed man with righteous intentions and working with all of the special effects. He also talked about his experience as the very evil Khalar Zym in Conan The Barbarian (due out in theaters on August 19th) and the impact of Avatar on his life. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
STEPHEN LANG: I like it. It’s just another aspect of what we do. It’s no harder than galloping on a horse or wielding a sword, or a lot of other things. It’s just different.
Do you draw a lot on your own imagination for that?
LANG: That’s exactly right. You go back to your primary tools. Your primary tools, as an actor, are observation and imagination. You can pretty much get everything you need from that, and you do. It brings back that element of pretend. I like to understand, very specifically, what it is I’m seeing, and where it is and where it’s going, and a lot of that is just hitting the mark and following the dotted line. But, that’s good too because there’s concentration and focus that’s involved in that. Brando once said, “It really don’t matter what you’re thinking about, as long as you’re thinking about something,” because the audience will project. It’s not quite that simple.
When you’ve had such success as evil characters, do people just expect that that’s what you’re going to be?
LANG: I think probably that does factor in a little bit.
Is it then a struggle to fight against that?
LANG: It’s not a struggle. I’m not struggling. I just want the character to have integrity and righteousness and goodness, and if he’s feeling bad, be bad. Over the arc of a television series, as ambitious as this one is, there is no way that Taylor could be, should be or will be a black and white character. He’s not Lex Luthor, or something like that. His reasoning is righteous. But, he’s a man and he goes through a lot of stress and takes a lot on his shoulders. That’s going to have impact on him. If you asked me, “Tell me, is he a good guy or a bad guy?,” I would never personally think in those terms, ever.
Does he think of himself as a good guy?
LANG: That doesn’t matter to me. That’s not relevant. In his mind, Joseph Goebbels thought he was a good guy too. I don’t give a shit, what somebody thinks in their mind. What he is, is a decent man. He is a true hero. But, like every hero, you ain’t a hero without flaws. I think he’s probably got his own share of hubris and that’s what’s going to go towards making him, hopefully, really interesting.
What kind of character are you playing in Conan The Barbarian?
LANG: In Conan, I’m playing an evil, evil, evil warlord. He’s wonderful. I am Khalar Zym. I am Death.
What was the experience of making that film like, and how is this incarnation different from other versions of the characters?
LANG: We shot Conan in Bulgaria, which was the perfect place to shoot it. It’s real rugged and very colorful and very low-tech. Every department head was just top notch. I was very proud of the make-up and wardrobe and the look of the character, which to me is very important. And, there was the work with the weapons and the horses. We had the 300 fight team there. Of course, we had a very good, imaginative director with Marcus Nispel. And, I’ve got to say that Jason Momoa, who plays Conan, was just spectacularly good. He was terrific. He did a great job and was a real stud, and I enjoying beating the hell out of him. That was fun. You better have fun when you’re in Bulgaria, or you’re not going to have any fun at all.
How do you tap into an evil character like that?
LANG: Oh, boy. My job, professionally, is tapping into stuff. We’ve all got it. But, I just am fortunate enough that, beyond the age of 11, it’s what I do professionally.
When did things start turning for you, with these evil roles?
LANG: That’s a good question. Years ago, I was the original Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men, and I never knew he was the villain. He was not, to me. That created something. Since then, there have been many, many villains, but there have also been other things too. I love them. If you have to go down as something, there’s worse things in the world. I’d rather be that than the druggist in the corner.
Can you be in the Avatar sequels?
LANG: Yes, I can. We’ll see. What do I know?
What’s it like to be a part of film history that will always be remembered?
LANG: Oh, it’s a dream. It’s an absolute dream. It’s a wonderful validation. I’d love to think that my great, great grandchildren will see Avatar.
For more on Terra Nova, here’s a ton of new images.