Stephen Lang has been a veteran of Hollywood for over 40 years but will always remain grateful for being part of James Cameron's masterpiece Avatar. The film holds the global record for the highest-grossing film at $2.9 billion at the box office. In the 2009 film, Lang played Col. Miles Quaritch, a military commander behind a terrestrial mining operation threatening the planets inhabiting the N'avi. Despite the character's death during the film's climax, Lang is returning at least for its sequel, The Way of Water. While promoting his upcoming thriller, Old Man, the actor spoke to Bleeding Cool about what he knew entering the sequel, how The Way of Water will push special effects, performance capture, and expectations.
Bleeding Cool: Did Jim tell you when you wrapped on the first Avatar that he was planning to bring your back, given your character's seemingly conclusive fate? What went through your head?
Lang: Early on, I knew there were plans to bring [Quaritch] back. Jim told me that a long time ago [following the original's film release], and he reiterated it in January 2010, saying, "You're coming back." What I didn't know was the extent that I would be coming back to. I didn't know that Quaritch would be as centrally enmeshed in events. I didn't know he would be either responding to events in such a significant way or that he would be responsible for events happening. He really is a key player in that. To say, "I was unprepared," I don't know. I was thrilled, absolutely delighted to be part of it.
How did the storytelling and technology compare working on these new films compared to what your back before when the original 2009 film came out?
In terms of the technology in the first film, Quaritch is almost exclusively a live-action figure. The only performance capture I did was in the final suit with the final fight between Neytiri [Zoe Saldana], Jake [Sam Worthington], and myself. In the sequels, I'm doing almost nothing but performance capture. It was great getting involved in the technology in the first place. It's advanced like crazy because [Cameron] had to figure out a way to do performance capture underwater. That was a huge obstacle set for himself and solved that was not part of the first film. Fundamentally, the performance capture hasn't changed in a way. It is still as liberating as it always was and still has as many obstacles as it always has. Acting is always difficult. There are always obstacles, right?
Was there a pressure on set with filming the sequels back to back? Pressure to top the original one, or is it business as usual?
We all aspire, and we all know the extent of the success that the first one had. Certainly, we have hopes, aspirations, and wishes for the second one. The best thing to do, and this is what we did: put one foot in front of the other, keep grinding it out, and make the best movie possible. Then do everything you can to ensure that the success, which is why I think the rerelease of 'Avatar' was a very smart thing to do, and it didn't necessarily have to pay off. If it had not done the business it did and not met with the almost universal acclaim, I think that would have been a downer [laughs] in terms of the sequels. The fact of the matter is it seems it has been embraced by people, which fills us all with hope and expectation.
Avatar: The Way of Water, which also stars Worthington, Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Kate Winslet, Michelle Yeoh, Bailey Bass, Jemaine Clement, and Edie Falco, comes to theaters from 20th Century Studios on December 16th. RLJE Films' Old Man, which also stars Marc Senter, Liana Wright-Mark, and Patch Darragh, is currently in theaters, digital and on-demand.