The combination photo shows book cover art for "The Wheatfield" by Stephen Lang and illustrations by The Bros. Smith, left, and a portrait of Lang. (Applewood Books via AP, left, and AP Photo)

Stephen Lang weaves tale of bonding amid Gettysburg horrors

Stephen Lang weaves tale of bonding amid Gettysburg horrors

NEW YORK — For a guy who has made a career out of playing villains, Stephen Lang certainly has a knack for turning a dark period in American history into a children’s book with a message.

Whether playing Col. Miles Quaritch in “Avatar” or a ruthless warlord in the 2011 remake of “Conan the Barbarian,” Lang enjoys playing a worthy antagonist because he sees the character as someone he could love.

That idea of finding the good in bad situation allowed him to tell the story of “The Wheatfield,” an illustrated book that explores an unlikely bond made during the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. It centres on James Jackson Purman, a lieutenant for the Union Army at the battle and a fortuitous encounter.

“His life was saved by a Confederate soldier. And it just struck me as so incongruous and ironic, I suppose, that in the midst of killing each other, that a man saves his enemy,” Lang said.

Lang believes this story serves as a metaphor in a politically divided nation.

“The common humanity that binds us all, not as Americans, not as red states and blue states or Democrats or Republicans, but just as human beings,” he says.

Because of that message, Lang believes children can handle the horrific subject matter of the battle that lasted three days and caused 40,000 causalities. He says they are already living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re dealing with serious subjects, and they always astound you at how able and willing they are to absorb what’s being told to them if you find the proper way to do it.”

Lang hopes the book, available through the Gettysburg Foundation, can inspire young minds to be a part of the solution in a deeply divided nation. The actor has a long connection to the battlefield, visiting it as a child and playing Gen. George E. Pickett in the 1993 film “Gettysburg.”

Recently, the 68-year-old actor spoke with The Associated Press about his book, his stature as a screen villain, and his roles in the “Avatar” sequels. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: This is serious subject matter for a children’s book.

Lang: Get them when they’re young, when they’re impressionable. Look, I’ve been reading children’s books to my own four children and my grandchildren for an awful lot of years now… This lesson, this particular story, there’s a simplicity to it just in the narrative itself, but also thematically that I believe is well-suited to a young age. You’re never too young to learn about kindness and brotherhood and reaching out.

AP: What do you want your young audience to take away?

Lang: This was such an expression of brotherhood and it seems to me such a humane and compassionate and kind thing to do, that the end — the line between enemy and ally, enemy and friend — just disappeared, and they really just did emerge as brothers.

AP: What draws you to playing villains?

Lang: I don’t know. You play one and you kind of show success with it, have some success with it, and then the next one kind of comes along. And before you know it, you’re being seen that way…. As any actor who plays the villain will tell you, you’re not setting out to play a villain. My theory on the roles I play is if I don’t love them, nobody will. And if I do love them, then some people will.

AP: Are you done shooting “Avatar?”

Lang: For the moment I am. I completely shot on “Avatar 2,” the sequel, and I believe, certainly the bulk of my work on “Avatar 3” is done. But I’m sure there will be more to do. And then, of course, “Avatar 4” and “5” looms in the future as well. Certainly acting in the film is the most intense part of it. But then to get out there at some point to talk about the film is going to be really fascinating. Because it’s been a long time since the first one came out, and we worked so hard. When it comes out, it’s going to be a real red-letter day.

AP: How safe were the conditions shooting the “Avatar” sequel?

Lang: There are always a limited number of people who are always allowed on the set. So, it is not that difficult to maintain the distancing that one needs.

AP: “Avatar” uses a lot of video wall and green screen. Would you feel safe on a conventional set?

Lang: I did a film during the pandemic. I went to Belgrade and I did the sequel to “Don’t Breathe.” That was not a green screen. Not one green screen in that film. So, it was a live action film that went very well. So, you can do live action, practical sets. You just need to monitor carefully.

John Carucci, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

(Advocate file photo).
Six idling vehicles stolen in last 48 hours: Red Deer RCMP

Red Deer RCMP said Wednesday six idling vehicles in the city were… Continue reading

Canadian writer Elan Mastai developing his novel ‘All Our Wrong Todays’ for Peacock

Canadian writer Elan Mastai developing his novel ‘All Our Wrong Todays’ for Peacock

FILE - Cloris Leachman attends the premiere of "The Comedian" during the 2016 AFI Fest on Nov. 11, 2016, in Los Angeles. Leachman stars in the faith-based film "I Can Only Imagine" which has made over $22 million in just six days of release on a $7 million budget. Leachman, a character actor whose depth of talent brought her an Oscar for the "The Last Picture Show" and Emmys for her comedic work in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and other TV series, has died. She was 94. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Oscar-winning, ‘irreplaceable’ Cloris Leachman dies at 94

Oscar-winning, ‘irreplaceable’ Cloris Leachman dies at 94

Toronto father-daughter duo design swimsuit tailored to transgender children

Toronto father-daughter duo design swimsuit tailored to transgender children

Dr. Richi Gill, in grey shirt, a Calgary doctor, takes part in physiotherapy in Calgary, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Gill has gone from performing surgery to being a test subject after being involved in a research study that is expected to to lead to international clinical trials that could help those suffering from spinal cord injuries. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Pacemaker for the spine:’ Study improves quality of life for man with spinal injury

‘Pacemaker for the spine:’ Study improves quality of life for man with spinal injury

The European commissioner in charge of health, Stella Kyriakides, speaks during an online press conference on AstraZeneca at European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP
EU health official blasts slow vaccine delivery, and is consulting with Canada

EU health official blasts slow vaccine delivery, and is consulting with Canada

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada scrambling for smaller syringes ahead of expected Pfizer vaccine label change

Canada scrambling for smaller syringes ahead of expected Pfizer vaccine label change

This electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, in yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in a lab. The Canadian Armed Forces is dealing with a dramatic increase in the number of troops who have been infected with COVID-19 over the past month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP
Canadian military dealing with surge in new COVID-19 infections since December

Canadian military dealing with surge in new COVID-19 infections since December

People line up at a COVID-19 testing clinic, Tuesday, January 19, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Ontario, Quebec keep downward trend in daily COVID-19 cases; variants cause concern

Ontario, Quebec keep downward trend in daily COVID-19 cases; variants cause concern

Most Read