Exclusive: Stephen Lang Talks Hunting Witches in Salem, A Good Marriage, and More!

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Exclusive: Stephen Lang Talks Hunting Witches in Salem, A Good Marriage, and More!There’s no denying one of the biggest surprises all year is how crazy good WGN America’s “Salem” is. To say it’s boundary pushing is a bit of an understatement. So we sat down with Stephen Lang to get the skinny on his character, Increase Mather. Read on!

Dread Central: I don’t have cable so I’ve only just managed to catch up on the last few episodes at a friend’s house. I must say, I am really impressed! The show looks and plays like a mini-movie… Is that one of the things that attracted you to take on the role?

Stephen Lang: I chose to become part of “Salem” for a number of reasons. First of all, I thought the writing was very strong; it has the correct tone, a fluid combination of contemporary and antique language which is unique and pretty hip. Also, I had a very good experience working with producer/writer Brannon Braga on “Terra Nova,” and that ended way too soon, so why not try again? The production elements are superb – Joe Poros’ costumes are marvelous (Joe and I worked together on Tombstone years ago). The art and prop and make-up departments are precisely accurate and very creative. And, of course, the role itself: Besides having the best name around, Increase Mather is just about as much badass fun as you can have as an actor.

DC: I’d love to know how you sort of approach playing a villain, who does not believe he is a villain.

SL: I approach Increase as a man who has been through the fires of hell, literally touched the flames of Satan. His sense of self-righteous mission has come at a high personal price, setting self-imposed and repressive constraints on his own life: his willingness to love, to feel joy, to be free. He battles within himself the deadly sin of lust, and the deadliest sin of pride. He does fight a losing battle with the lesser sin of vanity – he is incredibly vain. Those are a few of the elements that go into playing him.

DC: In the course of your research, or in reading scripts, what’s one of the more interesting things you learned about the Salem Witch Trials?

SL: Although I knew that the historical Increase Mather was a powerful and revered figure in early American history, I did not realize that he played such a key role in the politics and diplomacy of the time. He really was responsible for negotiating the charter for the Massachusetts Colony which began to divide the Colonials from the British Crown. In this respect he represents a foreshadowing of the thought and actions of the Founding Fathers 50 or 60 years later. It’s odd to think of him as progressive, but to that extent he was. Historically he was far less sanguine about the witch trials than as portrayed in Salem.

DC: Have you ever been to Salem, and if not, would you like to go? And how do you feel about the town being very kitschy and touristy in regard to its tragic history? I mean… we don’t see cute little bumper-stickers being sold at Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor tchotchkes…

SL: I visited Salem as a boy – there is probably a photo of me in the stocks somewhere in the family album. I think I also tried the stocks in Plymouth and Williamsburg. I have no problem with the town capitalizing on its history – selling t-shirts does in no way lessens the historical import of the town. I must say that I fail to see the comparison between Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor. I might make a comparison to Gettysburg, a place of far greater historical significance than Salem. They sell a lot of t-shirts in Gettysburg, and it makes perfect sense to me. But I would no more sell or buy a t-shirt at Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor than I would at Ground Zero. Those are places of sober reflection, not tourist attractions.

Related Story: Visit our “Salem” Archive

DC: As the show goes on, how do you hope to see Increase Mather progress?

SL: Whatever happens with Increase as Season 1 of Salem concludes, I think it likely that he will continue to be a strong influence and presence.

DC: Janet Montgomery is great on the show as your adversary, Mary Sibley. What’s it like to work with her in such intense scenes?

SL: Janet Montgomery is a peach! You could not ask for a better leading lady. She is a gifted actress, and a caring and strong leader. She is very beautiful, smart, and funny – and just profane enough! Acting with her is an altogether rewarding experience. Can you tell that I enjoy being part of Planet Janet? She is a great lady and a great dame.

DC: I understand you’re in a Stephen King movie, A Good Marriage. There’s not much info online, but what a cast! Please tell us more about the story, who you play, and anything else… we love Stephen King!

SL: A Good Marriage is a very good movie. I just watched it last week, and was terrifically impressed by the work of Tony LaPaglia and the great Joan Allen. I love Stephen King’s work – he is a master. I play a broken-down, ailing, but determined former investigator. He’s an old dog chewing on an old bone. Very nice role. The film has been sold, so I expect it in theatres not too far down the road.

DC: Do you see yourself getting into directing films someday?

SL: I would love to direct film or TV if the opportunity presented itself. Hey, maybe Jim C. will let me direct Avatar 11!

“Salem” airs on Sunday nights on WGN American at 10 PM.

“Salem” explores what really fueled the town’s infamous witch trials and dares to uncover the dark, supernatural truth behind them. The series stars Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley, Shane West as John Alden, Seth Gabel as Cotton Mather, Ashley Madekwe as Tituba, Xander Berkeley as Magistrate Hale, Tamzin Merchant as Anne Hale, Elise Eberle as Mercy Lewis, and Iddo Goldberg as Isaac Walton.

WGN America's Salem

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