Why Stephen Lang Would Be the Perfect Fit as Abraham Lincoln

One of the many actors and actresses who have the potential for a role in To Appomattox is veteran actor Stephen Lang, who could wind up being cast as Abraham Lincoln. While many fans of his two previous Civil War ventures, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, would love to see him involved with this production, there have been comments made on various message boards that he would not be a good fit as our 16th president. The reason cited for this? He is not tall enough. I must admit, when I first read that rationale, I laughed out loud. My, my, my, if that was the biggest problem a production had, they would have the easiest job in the world. Not tall enough? Are there no such things as visual effects and camera trickery? We live in a day and age where Tom Hanks can drink a Dr. Pepper next to John F. Kennedy (Forrest Gump, anyone?), and shake his hand to boot! So I would imagine that those involved can somehow put Mr. Lang’s height aside, and find him a role as Lincoln, who was a very tall man, especially during the time he lived.

There are many great actors that will be involved with To Appomattox, but Lang is probably the one I wish to see the most. Being one of the more versatile actors in Hollywood, it has taken him far too long to get the respect and fame he deserves. He is also an accomplished actor of the stage (which I think is a more difficult setting to perform in), and a member of the Actors Studio in New York City, which is a very esteemed organization. Whenever I talk about him to a casual film fan, sometimes they will try to find who Lang is in their memory. It is then when I mention, “He was in Avatar“, and their eyes light up. “Yes! I know Stephen Lang, and he’s an awesome actor!”. Awesome is most certainly the word to describe his abilities. He went from sick and twisted serial killer Freddy Lounds in Manhunter to the emotional and humorous Gen. George Pickett in Gettysburg, one of my favorite roles of all-time. He was a one-armed murderer in The Fugitive TV-series (which Mikael Salomon directed), and one of the most revered Civil War figures, “Stonewall” Jackson, in Gods and Generals. He is now, finally after 81 acting credits since the 1980’s, at the height of his popularity. How is he not the perfect fit as Abraham Lincoln?
Just take a good look at the picture above for comparison (especially the one in the bottom right corner), and you can see some pretty startling resemblances in their facial features. Both have very thin necks and piercing eyes. Lang is also a master of dialogues, and I can already hear his rendition of Lincoln’s reported high-pitched, country-bumpkin accent playing in my head. Who else can play this part, and in doing so, instill the confidence of both fans and producers alike, knowing the final performance will be right and one for the ages?

EDIT: J.D Petruzzi has sparked some thinking in the comment section below. I just wanted to post my answer to his comment here, on how I feel about Lincoln, and WHAT his character should bring to the film:

I have a very mixed opinion of Abraham Lincoln. As a man, father, and husband, I am absolutely fascinated by him. I think he was a good man who tried his best to run a country and a war while dealing with the death of a child and his wife Mary Todd who was slowly beginning to lose it. It is his job as president that I am mixed about. I believe his suspension of Habeus Corpus was unconstitutional, yet at the same time, it was something that NEEDED to be done, at least from his point of view. I do not believe him to be the evil tyrant that some folks down south paint him out to be to this very day, but I also do not view him as the “Great Emancipator” and Christ-like figure that history books portray him as. I do not know how large of a role Lincoln has in this series, but the character is extremely complex. In getting to what you said about him being the ‘smartest man in the room’, I see him as having a quiet intensity about him– he won’t shout you down, but he will articulate in the most intelligent way possible that you are wrong. The actor would have to play a warrior, father, husband, politician, humorist, brilliant thinker, and “Doubting Thomas” all in one shot. I believe Waterston came very close to this because of how in-depth Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln” was, but Henriksen captured his final 24-hours perfectly. Lang has always had a penchant for historical figures (I believe he was George Washington in a TV series some years ago) and because he can play the anti-thesis, as you said, of what Lincoln is, I think he can reverse that and play WHO he is.

Other actors to play Lincoln in various films over the years include Gregory Peck, Sam Waterston, and my personal favorite, Lance Henriksen. All were terrific in their own right—Peck provided presence, Waterston the accent, and Henriksen had the actual look—but all of them lacked something. I cannot say exactly what it was, but something was missing from each performance. However, I have no doubt that Lang can fill some huge shoes here, and truly hope that whatever needs to happen for him to get involved will indeed happen.

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6 Responses to Why Stephen Lang Would Be the Perfect Fit as Abraham Lincoln

  1. Greg,
    Great stuff. I’m curious about your assessment of Lincoln – how do you see him historically? I envision him as one who was vastly underestimated by his peers. He was likely often the smartest guy in any room. The actor would need to bring such a quality to the portrayal, understanding that Lincoln wasn’t the “life of the party” in that room, but folks who were attracted by his personality and humor soon gathered around him. Others saw him as a buffoon.
    To pull off the portrayal, the actor would need to bring quite a range to it, especially when considering that Lang portrayed the flamboyant Pickett, and the tunnel-visioned hard-driving Stonewall – both the antithesis of Lincoln’s personality (he was anything but flamboyant and often very unsure of himself). So it’s an interesting range for Lang. What previous roles has Lang had that would help give him a background to pull from for the Lincoln portrayal?
    I think he’ll be fabulous, too. So perhaps talk a little about why Lang is perfect for the role – I think it’ll spur some interesting discussions.
    J.D.

    • JD,

      I have a very mixed opinion of Abraham Lincoln. As a man, father, and husband, I am absolutely fascinated by him. I think he was a good man who tried his best to run a country and a war while dealing with the death of a child and Mary Todd who was slowly beginning to lose it. It is his job as president that I am mixed about. I believe his suspension of Habeus Corpus was unconstitutional, yet at the same time, it was something that NEEDED to be done, at least from his point of view. I do not believe him to be the evil tyrant that some folks down south paint him out to be to this very day, but I do not view him as the “Great Emancipator” and Christ-like figure that history books portray him as. I do not know how large of a role Lincoln has in this series, but the character is extremely complex. In getting to what you said about him being the smartest man in the room, I see him as having a quiet intensity about him– he won’t shout you down if you are wrong, but he will articulate in the most intelligent way possible that you are not correct. The actor would have to play a warrior, father, husband, politician, humorist, brilliant thinker, and “Doubting Thomas” all in one shot. I believe Waterston came very close to this because of how in-depth Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln” was, but Henriksen captured his final 24-hours perfectly. Lang has always had a penchant for historical figures (I believe he was George Washington in a TV series some years ago) and because he can play the anti-thesis, as you said, of what Lincoln is, I think he can reverse that and play WHO he is.

  2. Great addition to the post! To quote a cool commercial “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” 🙂

    I enjoy reading others’ takes on historical figures, and I think your read above is spot-on. And that tells us WHY you feel Lang is right for the role.

    J.D.

  3. I meant to add – you’ve done great work thus far, Greg – but when you go deep into the aspects of these characters and reason about their portrayals… well, don’t look now but you’re becoming a writer 🙂

  4. This was an excellent post, Greg! He did provide the voice for George Washington in the PBS documentary “Liberty! The American Revolution” back in 1997, and thought he was exceptional (He also portrayed a doctor in the video made for the Mount Vernon Visitor’s Center, I believe).

    Waterston gave what I felt was the best performance as Lincoln in the Gore Vidal miniseries, though coming in second is Hal Holbrook, who played Honest Abe in three different productions: “Sandburg’s Lincoln,” “North and South,” and “North and South, Book II: Love and War.” In all three instances, Holbrook shows several sides to the character, and there is no question as to why he won the emmy in 1974 for his portrayal in the first miniseries.

    God bless!

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