The Avatar actor looks back at his most terrifying projects.
Stephen Lang
Stephen Lang
| Credit: Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

In director Fede Álvarez's 2016 horror hit Don't Breathe, Stephen Lang played a sightless veteran who terrorizes, and in one case attempts to impregnate, a trio of young burglars. Lang reprises the role in filmmaker Rodo Sayagues' sequel Don't Breathe 2 (out Aug. 13) but in a somewhat more sympathetic fashion as he tries to protect a young charge named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) from a group of violent thugs.

"One of the challenges in a sequel is to not betray the world of the first film, but at the same time to further illuminate that world if you possibly can," says Lang, when asked about the movie, which is co-written by Álvarez and Sayagues. "I think that Fede and Rodo really succeeded in the writing in doing that. They came up with a very good idea that fulfilled the criteria that I just mentioned and that gave [me] a real opportunity to go a bit deeper in the role."

The Don't Breathe films are far from the actor's first experience with the horror genre. In fact, Lang's history with onscreen terror tales dates all the way back to Michael Mann's 1986 movie Manhunter, the first movie to feature a certain cannibal psychiatrist by the name of Hannibal.

Below, the actor reflects on his life in horror.

Manhunter (1986)

"Oh, my gosh. [Laughs] I remember being terrified by Tom Noonan, being terrified by Michael Mann," says Lang. "You know, it was early in my relationship with Michael. I remember being strapped into a chair for basically a 12-hour day and so being ministered [to] all the time, having people bring over sippy cups for me. I felt like Jack Haley as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, absolutely unable to do anything on my own. It was a terrific shoot with some very very brilliant actors. Certainly not to take anything away from Sir Anthony Hopkins, because he's pretty brilliant himself, but Brian [Cox, who played Hannibal Lecter in the film] was of the less-is-more school with that. Brian' s actually a neighbor of mine. Although we didn't work together on the film, I have great admiration and affection for him. It's a moviemaker's movie. I know an awful lot of filmmakers who really really like Manhunter."

The Monkey's Paw (2013)

"That was a low-budget film that I enjoyed making very much," recalls Lang. "We shot in New Orleans and both of my sons, who are in the movie business, were on it — one as a producer, one as a grip. I think it might have been the first time that I was able to work with both of my boys on a movie, so that was outstanding. [Laughs] I just enjoyed it. See, I never thought of Manhunter as a horror film, I'm not sure it is. A thriller, absolutely. But Monkey's Paw, there ain't no doubt about it, that's a horror film. Of course, it's such a famous story and a story that I remembered very very well from reading in high school. It's such an eerie and icky story, the thought of this dead person being reassembled and marching back to see his parents. "

Salem (TV show, 2014-2017)

"Increase Mather was a wonderful role, a very plummy rich role in a very plummy rich kind story," says Lang. "As a matter of fact, I was just speaking yesterday with Shane West, who plays John Alden in that. We were reminiscing. It was a fun set to be on. You're just entering into another period that never really existed because it's sort of Salem through the lens of Hollywood. It was a good experience, I enjoyed doing it very very much."

Don't Breathe (2016)

"I thought [the script] was terrific and alarming and it frightened me in the way that one likes to be frightened as an actor," notes Lang. "What I mean by that is, you know you're going to be required to go to a place that is dark. I learned a long time ago that when I am frightened or intimidated by a script, by a role, it's generally a very very good indication that I should do it.

"On the first film, I was flying by the seat of my pants in a way. I had about a month's preparation time, and probably I was in a state of shock, and not knowing what to do for at least the first week, just the concept of having to do this, to accept the fact that I was going to play sightless," he continues. "And then I figured out a way to go about it, which really had a lot to do with understanding the geography of the house, of the environment. He moves like a shark through his own environment that he knows so so well, and he moves at sort of right angles, which is great for the character. Straight lines, right angles, touching signposts all the time. So he actually was very very effective."

Don't Breathe 2 (2021)

"In this film, I had the proper time to really prepare for this role, to address the fact that I am a sighted actor playing a blind character," says Lang. "Obviously, the responsibility is to do the work. I was very fortunate. I hooked up with the Northeastern Association of the Blind in Albany, and they were just terrific. I worked hard with their director of mobility and orientation, Samantha Gartland. I felt like I did everything that I possibly could do to prepare for it.

"I love the character, I love to advocate for the character," he adds. "It's good serious fun to do this character. 'Fun' is a strange word for it, but I have a history with this character now, so reentering and being able to kind of state his case further, carry him further, was great for me, was a privilege for me. That was a pleasure, but not in any kind of shallow frothy way. It's a pleasure because it's demanding on my resources and my tools as an actor. I like a role that tests me, I like a role that I'm not sure that I can be successful in."

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