For the past 20+ years, Stephen Lang has successfully made a name for himself as an incredibly accomplished film, TV, and stage actor. Having been in such blockbusters as James Cameron’s Avatar (and the upcoming sequels) as well as George P. Cosmatos star-studded Western, Tombstone, Lang has embodied unique characters which have showcased his wide range of talent resulting in performances that leave a lasting effect. Horror fans got to encounter Lang in all his terrifying glory in Fede Alvarez’s 2016 horror/thriller Don’t Breath, and recently as the owner of a VFW post under attack by a relentless army of punk mutants in Joe Begos’ technicolor action/splatter film, VFW.
Prior to the release of VFW, we had the chance to speak with Stephen Lang about his role as war veteran Fred Parras. During our chat, we discussed everything from bringing his character to life, his favorite scene to film in the movie, as well as his appreciation for what the horror genre offers.
You play the character of Fred, who owns the VFW bar where all the chaos and carnage go down. What attracted you to the role?
Stephen Lang: Well, I liked the situation and what he did. There’s a starward quality to him, a renaissance quality to him, but also a fierce loyalty and really deep feelings of friendships for his guys. There seemed to be a lot to play there, you know?
What was your experience like in regards to getting into Fred’s mindset?
Stephen Lang: I think I had an idea, I had a gut feeling of who he was. When we got in the room with the other actors that’s when we began exploring the relationships between these guys. In a way, the character began to fall into place almost in response to the other characters. You find out who you are through the way you deal with the other characters.
Along with yourself, the cast is filled with incredibly talented veteran actors. What was it like working together with the rest of the cast on this film?
Stephen Lang: It was a real pleasure to work with these guys. There is a real wealth of experience between everyone. A lot of strong points of view but also everyone was very gracious in terms of serving each other. What I will say is this is a bunch of strong actors who have done well over the years but at the same time, the ego that was involved had more to do with the collective ego of the group than it had to do with the individual actors. It was interesting, we were to become a cohesive group made up of very, very singular individuals. It was great to work with them.
Why do you think these characters were willing to go head to head with the bad guys?
Stephen Lang: These characters are old guys who get their sparks kindled and find themselves feeling things that they felt when they were younger. The truth of the matter is, there is this VFW hall and their whole life basically consists of sitting around there talking about the old glory days. In some bizarre way, when they get assaulted, those glory days are revisited for a little while. They need to improvise, they need to display bravery, courage, spontaneity, as well as communicate and cooperate with each other. To them, it’s kind of cool for a little while but they’re old guys so it leaves them either dead or exhausted (laughs). It’s kind of a brief shining moment for them.
This isn’t your first foray into the horror/thriller genre, having done films like Don’t Breathe, Manhunter, and The Outer Limits TV series. Is there something you particularly enjoy about performing in the horror genre?
Stephen Lang: Well, I like a good script and I like good characters. In terms of horror, the stuff you do, the stuff that happens, the stuff that you assume is real for the sake of the story, is so outrageous a lot of the time, it’s kind of displaced from reality as we know it. I think it adds its own element of fun to it. Even when it’s incredibly scary and it’s really effective, it doesn’t cost you anything, you know? Ultimately, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s just going to give you a frightening thrill. VFW is a little bit different in terms of scaring people. I think maybe it’s a little more – I don’t know if tongue and cheek is the right word.
In VFW, did you have a favorite scene that you filmed or one that was particularly difficult to do?
Stephen Lang: Certainly all the physical stuff, when there’s packing people up and wracking and smacking and everything like that. Each one of those presents its own challenge to get to learn it and do it. What I really loved was the scenes of banter when I’m just standing around talking to the guys. I love the scene where Martin Kove pulls my hat down over my eyes and I punch him in the nose and I’m sorry the minute I do it, I just love that scene. I think my favorite moment was when Lizard (played by Sierra McCormick) says, “You murdered his brother!” and William Sadler says, “Well, I don’t think it’s murder, I think it might be manslaughter” and I look at him and say, “Walter, what the hell is the difference?!” (laughs). There are quite a few moments like that in the movie and they just tickle me to death.
Lastly, how was your experience working with director Joe Begos?
Stephen Lang: Joe is terrific, he’s right there in the trenches with you, I liked it. When we would do rehearsing stuff he would be right around the sidelines or sometimes right in the middle of it and he’d be listening and absorbing everything that was said so he could go through it with you. In a way, he was a silent participant. He was very much directing not only his vision for how he wanted the film to look but also the scenes coming out of us. He’s terrific and it means you’ve got a good, confident director there, you know?
VFW is now available in theaters, VOD & Digital HD. For more on the film, check out our review here.