After a highly successful career, Braven star Stephen Lang looks for some meaning in the films he agrees to do and his latest gave him that in droves. Not only did it allow him to reunite with one of his favorite co-stars, Jason Momoa (recently seen in Justice League), but it presented him the challenge of embodying a character with early onset dementia — an issue that hits close to home for the actor most known for his role as the villain in Avatar.
The Movie Mensch caught up with Lang for an exclusive phone interview where the veteran thespian took us inside the process of crafting a character who is slowly losing their facilities, while still maintaining a tough as nails persona. Braven is an action flick about a man, Joe (Momoa), who is forced to defend his family against an approaching drug gang determined to get their product back from where it was mistakenly hidden in the Braven family cabin, high in the mountains.
Lang, who many will also recognize from his work as The Blind Man in the recent horror hit Don’t Breathe (as well as Hostiles, The Girl on the Train and who could forget him in Tombstone?!), found Braven to be a throwback movie… like the old actioners that permeated the landscape in the 70s and 80s. The actor also extoled the virtues of Momoa in our chat and shared some traits of the tough guy that ought to surprise many who see his impressive physical presence and little else. His Braven co-star even admitted that Momoa is a “goofball” who would do quite well in comedies. Hollywood, make it happen! What else can we learn about the man who is about to dazzle us as Aquaman?
The Movie Mensch: Playing someone with ental or cognitive issues is such an incredible challenge. You must convey so much with saying so little. Was that one of the most appealing aspects of this character for you?
Stephen Lang: It was one of the challenges of doing it. It was something to deal with, to take into account. It’s the condition of the character. Was it an attraction to the role? To an extent, [laughs] there are other aspects of the guy I like more.
The Movie Mensch: When you did read the script, what popped out at you the most about this entire story and this guy?
Stephen Lang: The main thing is to be perfectly frank, I just think a lot of Jason Momoa. We’ve done a picture together previously and I liked working with him. I like his energy and his attitude and the way he approaches things. In the first film, we were adversaries, and that was cool. But, the idea of playing his father was great. It worked for me. It was a terrific experience. The script itself, it was appealing in that no-nonsense way that OK, I know who is good in this script and I know who is bad in this script. It had a bit of a throw back feel to it. I was partial to those kind of films.
The Movie Mensch: I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s like a movie they don’t make as much anymore, like from the 70s or 80s.
Stephen Lang: There is always a space for those movies. They may not have always the same currency or be as prevalent or relevant as maybe they were in the 70s. Back in the 70s, when Charlie Bronson was doing Death Wish, that was a time of real chaos. I remember in New York at the time, it was not an easy place to live. There were all kinds of urban threats going on. Films tend to reflect what is going on and what people are thinking about. In terms of Braven, it may be a harkening back in a way to some form of idealized man, totally self-sufficient.
The Movie Mensch: I like in Braven, his wife can take care of herself too. I mean, she’s bad ass with a crossbow!
Stephen Lang: Well, that’s probably the sign that this kind of action film has matured over the years. You got a female character who is every bit as strong as the male character. That takes a lot of onus off of the dad in the movie because the dad is as tough as an old bone, but he’s also damaged. He’s not going to cop to it. He’s not going to give into it.
The Movie Mensch: You mentioned Jason, and how you’ve worked with him a few times. I think the world is slowly but surely falling for this guy and with Aquaman coming out, about to discover hugely why this guy is so awesome. As an actor, volley partner, what makes him so special?
Stephen Lang: The package you look at there is impressive. He’s a very big, very strong, very striking, very handsome guy. But, at the same time, he’s got this wonderful streak of sweetness. He’s a very sweet guy. He’s got a bit of goofball in him too. Jason could be very adept at comedy. There’s something inherently sparkling and humorous about him. His future is unlimited. He just goes about it the right way. He’s a really hard worker. He puts in the time.
The Movie Mensch: For you, heading into this, any particular scene or moments that you flagged thinking that that might be a bit of a rough day?
Stephen Lang: When all that split wood and I take it in the head, and I’m on the floor and losing my mind (in the cabin)… I knew that was going to be a fairly intense day! I’m pretty cool with the action and the emotion that comes up in the moment. The thing I’m always dealing with is it’s going to be really cold up there [laughs]. Where can I go to get warm? I found myself thinking, “I hope I do this right because I don’t want to do this nine times!” It’s pretty motivating!
The Movie Mensch: One of the things that struck me the most about the entire movie are those moments where you are alone in that top story of the cabin. I know every actor wants to work with a partner, but was those moments tough?
Stephen Lang: Yeah, it was pretty intense. Up in the cabin we’re on high alert there. We’re code red. Also, the moment in the beginning of the movie where I’m wondering down the streets and I left with clear purpose and I just put my finger on what that purpose is at that time. I was watching that scene, and I remember placing myself in that place of dementia, this hits home for me. Having witnessed it in my own family in the recent past over a series of years. You watch someone who was strong sharp and powerful, as they begin to lose their foundation.
As it begins to crumble and then that crumbling accelerates over time, you see the way they deal with it, which is with anger, and defensiveness. That’s where Linden was at, my character, to be treated in a way that is compassionate and soft and kind and almost bordering on pity, is totally unacceptable from his point of view. That only adds fuel to his anger, when it comes from his son. Jason that brings that in spades, that empathy, he wants things to be OK. Those were some powerful moments, working alone. But, working with Jason and the little girl in the hospital — it touches on this bond, this sweetness that was there. That was the ones I’ll remember most.