'Terra Nova': Stephen Lang commands the past

Today's cuppa: airplane coffee (just got back from the premiere of National Geographic Channel's "Rocket City Rednecks" at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., -- pictures to come -- which makes its small-screen debut on Wednesday).

Stephen-Lang-Terra-Nova.jpgStephen Lang may look very familiar, especially If you saw the megahit film "Avatar," and also were one of the 9 million folks who tuned in Monday to see the premiere of Fox's big-budget prehistoric adventure "Terra Nova."

In both projects, the silver-haired actor/playwright is playing tough military leaders, but his outer-space "Avatar" character, Col. Miles, Quaritch, is rather more crazy than his "Terra Nova" role of Commander Nathaniel Taylor.

On the other hand, Quaritch was battling with rebellious aliens in faraway deep space, while Taylor is merely coping with rampaging dinosaurs as leader of an expedition aiming to survive a dying Earth by escaping into its past.

Easy peasy, right?

In my syndicated feature story on "Terra Nova," I was only able to include a bit of my email interview with Lang -- we tried to talk on the phone, but Australia is FAR, and the connection wasn't good -- but my loyal Cuppers deserve the full Lang.

And here it is (questions in bold) ...

How did your experience on Avatar help you deal with the special-effects aspects of this show?

Working on AVATAR very emphatically demonstrated the necessarily collaborative nature of building a character in a digitally created environment. If a character is defined by actions, and it is, when you are acting in an imaginary location, perhaps surmounting imaginary obstacles, fighting imaginary beasts -- well, your dependence on and understanding of what and relationship to the artist/technicians who are responsible for the actualization of location, obstacle, creature, becomes crucial and intimate.

It is crucial that we all are in the same place, seeing the same thing, feeling the same heat, making all the elements gel into a reality. So it is a matter of collaborative imagination, focus, and energy. The experience of working on AVATAR has stood me well on TERRA NOVA.

How much of a physical challenge has the role been?

The role of COMMANDER TAYLOR is physically very challenging. As the leader of the colony he must not only project an image of strength, determination and skill, he must be able to deliver the goods. He's got to walk the walk. While the world of TERRA NOVA is lush and beautiful, it is also raw and unforgiving. Taylor climbs craggy heights, jumps off cliffs, crawls through primordial mud, pummels insurgents, faces off against snarling dinos - gets slashed, pecked, thumped, and generally whacked around. My body is an atlas of bruises, nicks and welts. It's a helluva lot of fun!

How is the relationship developing with Jason O'Mara's character?Stephen-Lang-Jason-OMara-Terra-Nova.jpg

Very interesting relationship developing between Taylor and Shanon (The Great O'Mara). Both alpha males. Is there room in the colony for two? Have shifting measures of respect, affection, and wariness for and of each other. Shannon is a family man, surrounded by love. Taylor is a loner, having lost most of the people he loved. Both hard guys, but both have big hearts. Both are totally committed to the vision of Terra Nova, a brave new world.

What is your take on Taylor - good guy, grey guy, bad guy, none of the above?

Fundamentally Taylor is a very good man. He daily tries to live up to his responsibilities as leader of the colony. He has his flaws for sure: he is prideful, stubborn as a mule, not very forgiving, and emotionally locked up. He can also be quite Machiavellian. But he is also loyal to a fault, maybe blindingly so at times. He is a man you want in charge in a time of crisis. Good? Bad? Yes. In the end, he is just a man.

What's been the most fun so far?

It is all fun. The physical challenges. Working with such a sterling set of actors and directors. Receiving the scripts and learning how the saga unfolds. Battling the elements. Breaking for lunch! Wrapping and having a beer in the make-up trailer. 

I've seen you more cerebral roles and action roles, do you have a preference?

Well, there is a physical life to every role, no matter how cerebral. Perhaps there is no more cerebral person on earth than Stephen Hawking. Imagine the physical challenge of playing him! But I understand what you're asking.

Basically, when you have a physical challenge in front of you, say, staging a fight -- punch here, kick here, duck, weave, punch again -- the acting takes care of itself, you know? I love working with motorcycles, trucks, stunts. But I love the quiet scenes as well. Just playing chess and talking. I prefer a mix.

How much of Taylor's backstory do you know?

I know a good bit of Taylor's backstory even as it continues to evolve. It will evolve as necessary to the story. I am in a pretty continuous conversation with the writers about it.