'Avatar,' 'Terra Nova' star Stephen Lang on the four things every young actor should hear

stephen-lang-terra-nova.jpgHe's 58 years old and has been working steadily since the mid-1980s, but Stephen Lang still managed to land a leading role in one of the most cutting-edge films of the new millennium, playing the two-fisted Col. Miles Quaritch in James Cameron's "Avatar."

Lang can next be seen as Commander Nathaniel Taylor, leader of an expeditionary force tasked with colonizing Earth's distant past, in "Terra Nova," the upcoming FOX series from executive producer Steven Spielberg. It premieres in the fall (the two-hour pilot was initially set to air in May, but citing the time needed to polish the visual effects, FOX decided to wait).

"Probably just the depth and the wealth of my experience, the sheer longevity, gives the guys who give out the jobs a certain amount of confidence in me," Lang tells Zap2it. "It certainly doesn't hurt that I have just made it a goal in my life to stay in good enough shape to get the job done, to try to create a niche for myself, because you always need a tough old stud."

And he doesn't mind being the "old man" on the set.

"That's a role I feel very, very comfortable in," he says. "I like being the -- supposedly or theoretically -- sage guy on the set. First of all, everybody kind of pets you a lot and takes care of you, which is nice. But also, it's something that I hope I can do for a long, long time.

"It's good to get old young, in a way, if you know what I mean."

A lot of actors flame out years or even decades before they get to Lang's age. He's got some advice to help them avoid that.

"I could say to them -- I don't know if this is advice or not, but I would just recognize the fact that the world doesn't owe you a living. That's number one," he says.

"Number two, I'd just say, shut up and do your job.

"Number three, be on time.

"Number four, read. Read a lot. Read everything. Read history; read the classics. For a young actor, what you really need to do is understand the extraordinary experiences, both real and imagined, that define the classic themes of what it is to be human, what it is to be civilized, and what it is to be uncivilized. It's easy for younger actors [to] have a concept that the world begins and ends with them, and it's just not true. The world has been going on, the stories have been being told, for a long, long time.

"When you begin to understand yourself in context to that, it gives you a fuller, more realistic perspective on the world and on your place in the world, whatever the hell I just said."

As for the public misdeeds of such stars as Charlie Sheen (who's old enough to know better) and Lindsay Lohan, Lang says, "One of the things that happens in our business is that bad behavior can be rewarded and, if not encouraged, at least tacitly accepted. It goes back to the old studio system. If you can keep people dependent and behaving like children, in a way, to a large extent, it's easier to control them.

"That's a place that some people unwittingly go, and some people maybe more willingly go, but it's really a place that no one should go at all, in my opinion."
Photo/Video credit: FOX