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Q&A: Stephen Lang on playing (un)dead in “SALEM” and “THE MONKEY’S PAW”

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While SALEM’s second season offers the incredible addition of performers such as Lucy Lawless, Stuart Townsend and Jeremy Crutchley, one shouldn’t forget some of the incredible dramatic powerhouses who helped anchor the first season, including Xander Berkeley and Stephen Lang. Obviously, showrunners Brannon Braga and Adam Simon never forgot, and in fact created a creepy blast from the past by bringing Lang’s Increase Mather back from the grave just in time for the second season’s witch war. With Lang making his debut on last week’s impressive episode and showing face again this week, FANGORIA spoke to the esteemed actor about Increase Mather, playing undead and whether or not he’ll haunt WGN America’s flagship series in the years to come…

FANGORIA: How has your approach to Increase Mather changed now that you’re playing him post-mortem as opposed to your initial approach in the first season?

STEPHEN LANG: That’s a really good question. I think that what’s happened is that he’s learned something and that’s that a lot of what he had based the foundation of his life on is not that simple. So he’s certainly been taken down a notch, but on that same token, Increase is a very, very intelligent man, and he’s willing to learn.

All the pain that Increase experienced and all the souls he saw in despair, including the people he loved, has affected him as well. So Increase has come back changed, but also more emotionally available than he was in life, and that’s a very interesting thing.

FANGORIA: At the beginning of your career, like in MANHUNTER and TOMBSTONE, you had a penchant for playing these weaker, more vulnerable characters while you’ve certainly carved out a career renaissance in playing more intimidating characters nowadays.

LANG: Well, ideally, you really want to a have a well-rounded career where you can feel that you’ve touched on all the facets of your talent. But what tends to happen, of course, is if you play a role and you’re effective in that role, you get offered variations on that role. When you’re talking about more formidable characters that I’ve played, that’s the kind of effect that they have, and now I get offers for those types of roles and that’s fascinating. And if they’re interesting and varied characters, I’m always happy to do that because I’m always trying to find something within them that’s soft or vulnerable; I’m not just there to be tough, I’m there to be human.

But back in the olden days when I was doing MANHUNTER and TOMBSTONE, I was given characters that the filmmakers didn’t know exactly what to do with a lot of the time. It’s like they wanted to bring someone in who could take a stand on the role, because I’ve always been a character actor and that’s just the way it is. When I think about the actors, and there’s so many that I admire, I always look to Humphrey Bogart. If you look at Bogart, he played everything from a leading man to a really, really shady guys; just look at his character from THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. By that time, Bogart was a movie star, and he was taking on this shady dude that a lot of stars wouldn’t even touch… not to compare myself, by the way. [laughs]

increase

FANGORIA: You previously played a character who returned from the dead in THE MONKEY’S PAW. How did your experience as the returned Increase Mather differ from your experience on that film?

LANG: To tell you the truth, THE MONKEY’S PAW was a lot of fun to do. Again, that process was like, “Okay, I’ve been dead but I’m alive now.” What I came up with for the character was that he initially was extremely confused as to what was going on with him, and then that became interspersed with resentment and delight with being able to function. So he wasn’t really alive, but he was able to function within our world, and eventually all he wanted to do was find some peace. That was my experience on THE MONKEY’S PAW, which was an unexpectedly cool project to work on since one of my sons was that producer on it and another worked as a grip on it.

In any case, I didn’t really consider THE MONKEY’S PAW when I came to work on SALEM because that character was not a ghost whereas Increase is a spirit. The guy in THE MONKEY’S PAW is more like THE WALKING DEAD where he’s a resurrected dead body. Increase is something else entirely, so he’s a spirit but he’s not physically there.

FANGORIA: In regards to your return on SALEM, will his appearance in the second season be the definitive nail in Increase Mather’s coffin or is there a chance we may see you again on the series in the future?

LANG: That’s always up for negotiation! They already killed him, and now they’re bringing him back, so there’s no reason why they can’t bring him back again. That would be a subject for Brannon [Braga] and Adam [Simon] to decide, and a lot of that has to do with where they want SALEM to go and I suppose, to some extent, my own availability. But I feel connected to the show and I feel that I’m apart of it.

So no matter how long the show goes, I’ll always be connected and have such good feelings about it. I really like the way these guys write. The writers knew how much I loved words and they wrote some beautiful stuff for Increase to say. He also inhabited his own particular place, and I hope that he’ll come back now and again to haunt SALEM. Who knows?

SALEM airs on WGN America on Sundays at 10 p.m. EST.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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