Stephen Lang: Conan the Barbarian is not big on subtext

Illustration for article titled Stephen Lang: emConan the Barbarian/em is not big on subtext

Stephen Lang has become the go-to guy for gung-ho older soldiers, from Col. Quaritch in Avatar to the time-traveling colonist Nathaniel Taylor in Terra Nova. But maybe the most intense role he's played yet is the evil warlord Khalar Zym in the new Conan the Barbarian.


We were lucky enough to sit down one-on-one with Lang and talk to him about what it was like to get his warlord on. And he explained why this Conan is staying faithful to the original books. Minor spoilers ahead...

Lang describes Zym as

a warlord who has been...wronged, and he takes it out on the planet. Years ago I (Khalar Zym) lost my bride, and I yearn to achieve immortality and to bring her back to life. Reasonable objectives. Somewhere along the way I off Conan's dad, when Conan is a mere stripling of a lad, and I take a shine to him in a way. As the years progress, I give him sort of a tutorial in what it means to be a warrior.

This film seeks to reach back to the roots that Robert E. Howard put down for the character. Speaking to the film's attention to the world Howard created, Lang says:

It's great to be part of Howard's universe, I'll put it that way. I think what we're trying to achieve here, and what he have (achieved), is to align ourselves with Howard's vision, as articulated in his stories and novellas. It is a very vivid and lurid world that he has created. It's a world that is absent of subtext, in a way. What you see is what you get — striving to be top dog. A very Darwinian world.

Lang also admitted that he's no stranger to the writings of Robert E. Howard or to the burgeoning days of the Marvel Universe:

I had read some of the Conan books years before when I think I was in my late teens. I hadn't touched them for a long time. By the time the Conan comic books came along in the 70s, I had moved through the comic book phase. I was a comic book guy in the 60s, so I was there for Spider-Man, Sgt. Fury, Thor, and Dr. Strange. [...] It is nice to get back (to Howard) because it feels like what we are doing (in Conan the Barbarian) is so close to the original intent.

Here's Lang talking about why it's time for us to rediscover the greatness of Conan the Barbarian:

Conan, no less than many other roles, is an iconic figure; even much more so than many others. It is time for it to be revisited by another actor (Jason Momoa) with the stature and the chops to do it.


Conan the Barbarian is in theaters on Friday.

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I thought this scene was pretty cool.