Stephen Lang’s career hasn’t been short on glory. He’s starred on Broadway, television and in the movies. As the villainous colonel in James Cameron’s classic “Avatar,” he’s etched his spot in pop-culture history.
But Lang’s toughest challenge as an actor, which is one he created for himself (rather than waiting for his phone to ring with a casting opportunity), is what he’s bringing to Buffalo this weekend.
Lang will be showing his new feature film, “Beyond Glory,” Sunday as part of the Buffalo Niagara International Film Festival. The movie is based on a one-man play Lang developed more than a decade ago. The play, and in turn the movie, is an adaptation of the journalist Larry Smith’s book, also called “Beyond Glory,” which tells the true stories of eight Medal of Honor recipients.
Lang has performed the live version of “Beyond Glory” for civilian and military audiences around the world. He’s been to the demilitarized zone that buffers North and South Korea. He’s performed on the floor in Congress, with the now-late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye – a Medal of Honor winner – in the audience. (Afterward, a weeping Inouye told Lang that he wished his own father could have seen the show.)
“Beyond Glory,” Lang said, is “acting at its most difficult.”
He portrays the stories of his eight subjects – a mix of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans – in a performance that digs deep into heroism in the face of death.
“I did it in order to do something I wasn’t sure that I could do,” Lang said. “It would challenge me constantly.”
Three years ago, Lang started working with director Larry Brand to capture “Beyond Glory” on film. He’s been showcasing the project at film festivals since October and is hoping to soon finish a distribution deal for an official release this summer.
Here are excerpts of a recent interview with Lang:
Question: How has this enlightened people?
Answer: The qualities that this thing examines are not exclusively military qualities. We’re talking about things like fortitude and perseverance, courage, overcoming panic, behaving rationally in extremely dire and stressful situations. That could describe a lot of things. But when it’s put in the context of a moment in war, there’s a lot of clarity. The choices are very, very clear and they’re very, very split-second. They’re very mysterious in a way, because why does one man cower in a foxhole and another man go over the top flinging grenades? What’s the difference? It’s not a lot. It’s really not a lot. It may be just a question of adrenaline. It could be all kinds of things.
Q: How has it developed you as a person?
A: It allowed me to take control and responsibility for my own career and life. Acting is a very reactive profession. I spent a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring, and I’ll tell you something, my career was always good enough so that the phone did ring. But sort of a lethargy set in. Because of the relative success I had, I was able to wait. I was able to remain passive, and in so doing, it kind of allowed certain other facilities and talents and faculties that I have to atrophy – which is to say my ability to write and actually create something, to initiate something. When I did “Beyond Glory” … it showed me what was possible. I started this just by myself. In a word, it empowered me.
Q: Beyond your Senate performance, have you done “Beyond Glory” for people in power?
A: Sure. Back in the 2004-06 period when I was doing it in Washington, the joint chief (Chairman Richard Myers) saw it several times. A lot of policymakers – (Paul) Wolfowitz came a bunch of times. A lot of the pols, like (Sen. Rick) Santorum. I didn’t want to do photographs, not because I don’t like them, but I didn’t want this play in any way to be perceived in political terms. This play is for everybody. When I did it in the Senate, it was jointly sponsored by Harry Reid and Bill Frist, who at the time were the majority and minority leaders. I’ve never wanted this to be a political piece in that respect. I don’t want it to be co-opted in any way by any party. I’ll do it for everybody. Everybody. The military belongs to all of us. It’s our country. It’s not red, and it’s not blue.
Q: What’s your ultimate hope for this project?
A: My ultimate goal is to just continue with it in some form as long as I keep going. I started working on this since 2003. One of the things I like very much about it is that dealing with war the way this piece does is both timely and timeless. It never ages out, and I’m never going to age out of doing it.
What: “Beyond Glory” screening and Q&A with Stephen Lang
When: 3:30 p.m. April 17
Where: The Tonawanda Castle, 69 Delaware Road, Tonawanda
Part of the Buffalo Niagara International Film Festival
Cost: $10 (individual film pass) to $200 (VIP pass)