- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2016

Stephen Lang is trading in his sneer and his villainous roles to honor the troops. The actor known for his turn as the vile Col. Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s “Avatar” will be in to the District Saturday for a GI Film Festival screening of “Beyond Glory,” a quasi-documentary that follows Mr. Lang as he portrays eight Medal of Honor recipients — a film version of his one-man stage show of the same name.

The film is narrated by his friend and longtime GI Film Fest patron Gary Sinise.

“‘Beyond Glory’” premiered in Arlington at the theater at the Women in Military Service Memorial, so it really is kind of coming full-circle for me,” Mr. Lang told The Washington Times ahead of the screening. “Washington has a deep appreciation for and commitment to the military,” adding that he himself is a longtime admirer of America’s heroes.

Mr. Lang’s work in “Beyond Glory,” screening Saturday at The Angelika Film Center at Mosaic in Fairfax, Virginia, will be part of the GI Film Festival’s closing weekend. Mr. Lang will be on hand to discuss the film and his work, which begins at 5:30.

Despite his good works on behalf of the veterans community and appearing on Broadway in multiple plays, Mr. Lang is undoubtedly best known for the heavy he played in “Avatar.” Mr. Lang laughs when asked what is fun about playing cinematic villains.

“It’s good to be bad, I guess,” he said with a chuckle. “I try not to approach them as villains. I always figure my job is to defend them and to love them. If I don’t love them, nobody else will.

“So many of the great roles in cinema history are villainous roles,” the actor said. “They’re always done in a way that brings out their humanity , their vulnerability, their weaknesses, along with their sort of ghastly behavior.”

On the other side of the cinematic spectrum, Mr. Lang portrayed Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Civil War drama “Gods and Generals” in 2003. The Confederate leader has been near-mythologized for his exploits as a soldier and renaissance man — as well as his admiration by both the blue and the gray armies.

“There’s so much about Jackson that is surprising,” Mr. Lang said of playing the general who died not too far south of the nation’s capital after accidentally being shot by his own men. “To me the things that I came away with is how truly a modern man he was in many ways. He was a total self-improver. He did calisthenics, which you don’t really think of [being done by] guys in the 1860s.”

Mr. Lang said that after attending West Point and before the war among the states broke out, Jackson was known for his rather eccentric macrobiotic diet that veered on vegetarian — rather ahead of his time.

“Jackson was quite cultured; he’d been to Europe,” Mr. Lang said. “He spent seven years in the New York area [including] four years at West Point.”

Indeed, Jackson faced off against many of his classmates on the gruesome battlefields of the Civil War. Mr. Lang did much research on the admired general, who is buried in Lexington, Virginia, near his own home. In the course of learning about him, Mr. Lang began to peel away the layers of myth from reality.

“When you really start doing the research, it always gets richer and richer,” Mr. Lang said of the immensely pious soldier. “To a particular section of the country, he is kind of enshrined in the same mythic way that Robert E. Lee is, which is mythic and is derived from reality but is not reality. And the rest of the country [sees him as] this badass Confederate general.”

Even at 63, Mr. Lang remains in remarkable physical shape and says he works out daily to remain healthy both for his profession and himself. He is looking forward to filming the “Avatar” sequels — in which he will somehow return despite his character having been killed in the first film’s climactic battle — and looks forward to spending time with family in the District and with America’s heroes.

“There are very few cities that are as beautiful in the springtime as Washington, D.C.,” he said, despite the fact that unseasonably warm summer weather is upon us. “Before summer really sets in, it’s a lovely time on the Mall. It’s a favorite time for sure.”

“Beyond Glory” screens Saturday at the Angelika Music Center at Mosaic, located at 2911 District Ave., Fairfax, Virginia, 22031. Tickets are $15 by going to GIFilmFestival.com.

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