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In Plain Sight Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is the transcript of an Interview on April 17, 2012 with Stephen Lang about the USA Network show In Plain Sight.

In Plain Sight

Question:
How did you get involved with ???In Plain Sight????

Stephen Lang:
I received an offer to do it and read the scripts and I felt they were terrific and that's really how it all came about. What I was told by Dan Lerner who is one of the producers and directors of the show and has been with it for a long time was that over the years they've talked on and off about the role of James Wiley Shannon, about Mary's dad and who should play it. And they bandied about ideas, I guess and finally when pushed and shoved they thought that I would be the right person to do it and so I was quite thrilled, you know. I thought it was excellent writing. I think that it's a superb cast, led by Mary McCormack who's terrific in the thing - and so I couldn't see any reason in the world not to do it.

Question:
Why do you think it is that Mary's dad expected her to be more welcoming of him upon his return?

Stephen Lang:
I'm not sure that he does have any expectations along those lines. First of all I'd say that not every motive has been revealed at this point but the only thing he can really deal with or control is his own needs and I guess you just reach a point in your life where he reached to the point in his life where he really has to come to terms and kind of confront some of the consequences of the way he's lived his life. And so, I just don't believe that he has any expectations. Of course you have a fantasy or that after being on the lam for 30 years walking away 30 year ago you're going to be welcomed with a hug and a kiss but I think realistically it's not going to happen and he probably knows that.

Question:
What do you find challenging about your role?

Stephen Lang:
I find a lot of things challenging about the part. When I read it it's an ark over two scripts, just the introduction and the first one, but there's a completeness to it. I find it challenging to first of all to play a character who's been talked about for a long time who I guess the core fans of this show have been waiting for a long time and they have feelings about him and resentments about him as they identify with Mary to try and argue as it were his side of the story, to defend his life, to defend his character, to also be believable, convincing as Mary's father.

Roles have challenges on every level to me and this one fit the bill. You know there are things you occasionally say, ???Well, I can do that in my sleep.??? And those roles don't really interest me that much. This one had some bite to it. It had history and so I thought, ???Yes, this is a good thing to do.??? So there were a lot of challenges.

Just sort of occupying the screen with an actress of Mary McCormack's caliber that's challenging because she really she's formidable woman and totally believable as a marshall to me. It always seems to me that so much of what we see on television the most important thing sometimes seems to be the likeability factor. And it is important because you spend once a week with people you want to be with and she just sort of pissed off all the time and yet somehow there's something very daring about her. So she's got something special I think.

Question:
When understanding the circumstances around James and Mary how did you find a way to trust them to play them effectively?

Stephen Lang:
What makes a good salesman? He has an ability to lie. To some extent his life is a lie but the earmark of a great liar is that he believes it himself and he's very convincing at that. I mean he's been able to do that but like any kind of something bad that you digested, eventually it's going to work its way out and the fundamental goodness which is not even the main part of the guy but it's a reaction against it and he has to kind of deal with it. So I really don't worry too much about whether I trust him or whether he's a good man, whether he's a bad man. I just try and inhabit him and find his point of view and not judge it so much, just as he wouldn't his own self.

Question:
In what ways were you able to give more to the character since it wasn't quite as physically demanding as Terra Nova was?

Stephen Lang:
I liked the idea of playing somebody where a toll has been taken on him over the years just physically from moving about, just from circumstances being tough. But that was all pliable to me and it was all something he's the guy who's quite at the end of his rope but he certainly has reached a point of vulnerability in his life where the options are starting to run out for him, you know. He's taken so many paths and it all seems like it's a big maze in a way. And I think he's just getting very tired of running.

Question:
You've done some real standup guys and some thoroughly evil characters but the vast majority of your roles are somewhere in between. What was it about James Wiley Shannon on the page that suggested what colors that you could use to play him that would make you want to do the role?

Stephen Lang:
I don't know that I see things so much in terms of colors. I do talk about pallets sometimes when I act and I know what you mean. I'm a father. I have children who are grown - and this circumstance of walking out on your children and the pain that you cause and the knowledge of having caused that pain and the pain that you carry with yourself because of that, that's to me that's very poignant stuff. It's something that's very difficult for me to imagine doing something like that. And so that makes it kind of territory that's worth exploring a little bit, and I can't say I go into it with any pre-conceived notion of I want to paint him this color or that color. Sometimes I think of that wonderful line that Henry Fonda says at the end of ???Once Upon a Time In The West??? and he and Charles Bronson and looks at him and says, ???You good and bad.??? And Fonda says, ???Just a man??? and I feel that way that so many of the characters you play, I try not to put a name on it, you know. Just trying to find the person and then let others be, then they can say whether he's a hero or a villain or somewhere in between.

Question:
Now that you've done the role and people are about to see it, how do you assess what you've done with the role? Do you ever think about that after you've finished? What do you like with what you did?

Stephen Lang:
I'll have to watch the episodes. I haven't seen them. I did watch the first one where I make that first appearance and I thought that was simple and it was honest. And that's kind of what I look for. I do recall as we were shooting it, walking away from scenes feeling that I had kept it simple and kept it honest which is really where I'm at right now, those are major operative words with me. And so, as I think as I watch it all I'll assess it, I think. And as you said, I'm sure I'll see some things where I'll go ???I could have done that better. Oh my gosh, what was I thinking. Why did they let me do that???? But hopefully there won't be too many of those moments, you know.

As long as the story is well served, and I feel that the entire company of ???In Plain Sight??? they have such a long term investment in this show. They've created these roles, this story, this saga and to me their satisfaction is paramount, you know. If they feel if I've brought the Shannon that they had envisioned, then I'm really happy because they've been with this thing long terms.

Question:
After some of the heavy work in Avatar, Conan, Terra Nova, is it a nice change to sort of come in from the jungle and do something a little more grounded to reality?

Stephen Lang:
The first thing I did when I got out there I said, ???Excuse me, where's the green screen???? I can't work without a grain screen. No, it was nice to get back into this kind of century for one thing and wear something that wasn't kind of military and, yes, tell kind of a human story. It's kind of on a different scale, an intimate story. It's a big show and it's all about witness protection and everything but a sense of we're doing a father and a daughter kind of a reunion show, be it not a conventional reunion. And so it was great. It's good to do it.

Question:
You obviously have a long resume as a theater actor, did that help you ease your transition to the CGI heavy work, working with the green screen and did it help your ability to kind of work with that which you can't see?

Stephen Lang:
I think it does. On some level acting is the art of pretend and you have to have a highly cultivated sense of imagination. You have to be able to see things that aren't there no matter what aspect of acting, whether it's green screen, whether it's on stage, whether it's anything else, whether you're working on the radio. And so it's just something that we cultivate. I think for some that kind of work comes quite naturally to us but you want to develop the technique for it, yes.

Question:
On the subject of Shannon real quick. Do you think that might have worked better as a film with a bit of a bigger budget than as not something that had to run week after week with a story that was a little more concise?

Stephen Lang:
I made one statement about Terra Nova a couple of weeks ago and that's all I'm going to say about Terra Nova at this point.

Question:
Is it a particular joy for you to play a character that toe the line between friend and foe?

Stephen Lang:
I think we probably were wondering about this sort of grey area and I was thinking that it's probably a product of having worked with Michael Mann a lot because Michael is the guy who threads that grey area in almost all of this work the distinction between good guy and bad guy. He's so miniscule but if I look back on so many of the things that I really loved so that the characters either real or imagined that I love very often they are characters who it's very difficult to kind of ascertain whether they are good or bad. For example I've always loved the character of Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai, the Alec Guinness role of course. Is he a good man or is he a bad man or someone like Patton who is sort of a wonderful man and at the same time a complete monster it seems to me. So I think that I do have sort of an attraction towards some of these Maverick characters who are kind of morally ambivalent.

Question:
How do you prepare for a role in which there is so much reputation preceding the character?

Stephen Lang:
It's helpful that I wasn't aware of any of it, okay. I didn't know what I was I walking into. With great and all due respect I only learned about the kind of the meat of this show after they asked me to do it and then I was told that and learned that he was a very important character. Well there's not a lot I can do about that but also I can't say that I'm particularly daunted by it. I played Babe Ruth. I played Stonewall Jackson. I played Ike Clanton. I played a lot of people that people have opinions about and expectations about and what I've learned is that you can please some of the people some of the time. You can just do your best and just try and keep it honest and who knows you might turn some people around. People have preconceptions and maybe go, ???Wow, I never thought that's who he was but that's who he was.??? But maybe you can do that.

Question:
Was it hard walking into a cast that was so established because they have been on it for so long?

Stephen Lang:
I know it can be sometimes but everybody was real very gracious to me and it made it very kind of clear that they wanted me there and they gave me a nice place to live and I said it was easy. It's not an unfamiliar situation to come into a thing. I would say it was a certain poignancy to it for me because here I was coming into a show there and they're in their fifth and they know it's their final season. So, everything they do is the last time. You know, five years is a pretty good run, certainly in show business. It was nice to be a part of. I can't tell you it made me envious because I've been very happy doing whatever I've been doing but I really could appreciate the value, the commodore, the family atmosphere of how that emerges when people work together over a long period of time and I certainly was hoping for that for my own self for the immediate future but that wasn't to be so if it is sort of interesting to see it and it was nice to be part of it and to kind of be an important part of it too because it's interesting. I'm entering into the life of a show that's been established and right away you become kind of central just because of the fact that you're on the father that's been on the lam all this time. But everybody was great and it all starts with McCormack because the show radiates from her.

Question:
Do you enjoy more of the dramatic play acting or the action scenes or maybe find one more challenging?

Stephen Lang:
I like them all. I mean I like to try to get a good balance of them. I love scenes that are just emotional give and take. By the same token action sequences are great to do. They have their own unique demands and requirements. So I take it as it comes and hopefully you can get a good balance of all of that stuff. What I rarely get to do is to do anything of a comic nature too which is unfortunate because I'm very funny.

Question:
Are you going to try to go after that comic role in the future?

Stephen Lang:
We'll see if it comes to that. My agent's sitting up there saying, ???Lang, he's not funny. He kills people. He's not funny.??? You go, ???He is. He's really funny. He is.??? And then they go, ???something funny??? and I can't be funny then.

Question:
With all the movies you've done over the years is there any role you were offered that you were turned down and you regret turning down?

Stephen Lang:
I think there were projects, but I tend to put them out of my mind and I can't think of any one project that I turned down. I've had a good eye for things as a rule. Occasionally just because of time because you can't be in two places at once. Although now you can digitally I suppose. You know, there have been things I haven't been able to do although - to be honest, I can't think of them right now. There have been things I've done haven't had success that I felt bad that I wanted to do more of but that's always going to be the case it seems to me. But no I'll tell you man I feel like I'm very happy where I am and you know it's that old butterfly effect thing. If you change one job even 20 years ago I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you right now the entire trajectory would have been different.

Question:
I also noticed looking back at your biography year, you are one of those actors who oddly spin on multiple incarnations of Law and Order playing multiple characters?

Stephen Lang:
I've done each Law and Order once. Then that's it. I never sought to do a Law and Order. Any one that I did was because of a friend, either the director or star called me and said that you've got to come and do this. And then I'm happy to do it. But I've done three of them, each one of them once. I think there's lots of folks that have done multiple roles on them probably.

Question:
Do you have anyone in your own life that has Mary Shannon's qualities in them?

Stephen Lang:
My dad and siblings, they all have a toughness to them. There's a resilience to them. They're strong people. One of my children is in law enforcement and is pretty much I'd say as tough as Mary Shannon is.

Question:
Does it help to have people in your own life that can kind of prepares you for a character you're working with?

Stephen Lang:
The answer's yes. I mean, look, but those are automatic associations that you make. You know, if somebody's playing my daughter I don't spend a lot of time thinking, ???Well, how is she like my daughter???? sort of. But I know what it is to be a father to a daughter, you know. And so, that experience I think is just there. You're drawing on it one way or the other. If you learn anything you know it's not easy. You know, it ain't easy. No relationship is going to be. There's going to be periods of calm and there's going to be storms.

Question:
With ???In Plain Sight??? is there a chance that you're going to reappear on the show at a later point and also going forward, are you looking for other TV projects would you want to join something that is already in motion or would you want to start with scratch with something again?

Stephen Lang:
I believe it's a matter of public record that this is the show, ???In Plain Sight's??? final season. So I won't be joining it except for ten years down the line when they do the ???In Plain Sight??? reunion show and then perhaps I'll be here for that. But as I don't anticipate every playing James Wiley Shannon again. I love television. I love working at that intense speed that one does work in television and I love the opportunity to create a character over a long period of time.

So yes, I look for television projects. I never say, I don't say no to anything so I'll read anything that comes along whether it's an existing series or whether it's a new series. If you want to be there at the moment of inception and do something that's completely startling and completely different.

Question:
Throughout your career you obviously put some of your figures are a lot of soldiers, warriors. What is it about those kind of roles that really appeal to you, other than the fact that you keep getting offered them?

Stephen Lang:
I think that if you look at a career probably more in retrospect from what's happening you'll probably be able to identify scenes that happen in an actress' career. I mean you look at Nicholson's career and very often you'll see that he's playing an outsider, you know. Maybe at Ted Dustan's career is somebody who is an underdog and compensator. I've been interested for years on a lot of the themes that military stuff, the nature of courage, the nature of duty. Either the whole concept of humility and selflessness. All kinds of interesting stuff and so much of the time military figures and military stores are basis for drama just because of the nature of the conflict it seems to me. Maybe it's a thematic thing as much as anything but as you pointed out asking the question, these are the roles you get offered. That that counts for a lot of it because I'd love to move outside of that as well I feel like I've got a lot of range.

Question:
Is there anything you learned about yourself after working on ???In Plain Sight?

Stephen Lang:
I don't want to be flip. I want to see if I have learned anything about myself. I learned about Albuquerque. I learned I like Albuquerque a lot. I wish I could give you a better answer to that. I'd really have to think about it. I'd probably kick myself two hours from now and I'm learning the guitar, so I practiced a lot while I was there.

Question:
Who's someone you'd like to work with that you haven't yet?

Stephen Lang:
I always wanted to do a film with Martin Scorsese, just because he's great. And just so many of the lions that I'd like to work with. I've never worked with Jack Nicholson. I'd love to do that I suppose. I have worked with Meryl Streep but I'd love to work with her again. She's just the greatest. It's a pretty long list to be honest. There are so many talented and brilliant people out there that I see and you want to work with people who are doing stuff that you can possibly do that you're really going to learn from it. I would have to say the director that I'd like to work with is Scorsese.

Question:
After playing a different father in "White Irish Drinkers" what appealed to you about this type of father figure and his relationship to his two kids?

Stephen Lang:
I like the idea of playing a guy on the lam. I like the idea of dealing with the problem of being a father who was a miserable father but he wasn't a father by absence. A father that was drinking. He was not a great father but he was there, you know. I just loved the idea of trying to - I thought the idea of showing up after 30 years at your daughter's door and saying, ???Hi honey, here I am??? was so bizarre and I mean, inexplicably a difficult thing to do that I wanted to do it, you know. I wanted to see what that was like and I mean, I just thought that playing him was very easy because it's all on Mary, you know what I mean. All I had to do was say, ???Hi honey, I'm home.??? And the look on her face it's priceless. I mean, she just nailed it I thought.

The idea of playing a circumstance that is not part of your life but is imaginable to you and that you never played that's got an appeal to me, so that's why I would say that I was attracted to this guy.

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