Quickly judging a person just on their appearance is a misguided trait that many people take on, as they fall into society’s trap of not placing value of appreciating others for their personalities first. Swiftly being placed in dangerous situations that reveal people’s character as they struggle to protect themselves ultimately proves whether or not those instant intuitions are indeed accurate. Director Fede Alvarez, who co-wrote the script for his new horror film, ‘Done Breathe,’ with Rodo Sayagues, stunningly proved that people’s natural reactions in times of despair offer the most accurate insight into their temperament. Actor Stephen Lang plays one of the main complex characters in the thriller, which Screen Gems will release in theaters on Friday, who epitomizes the idea that a seemingly innocent victim isn’t always as virtuous as they appear.
‘Don’t Breathe’ follows Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) as they struggle to survive in Detroit. They break into the houses of the wealthy and steal possessions that they either keep or sell to make quick cash. They’re able to bypass their targets’ security systems because Alex had the ability to garner inside intel; the people they target are customers of his father’s security company. While he’s reluctant to take part in the heists, he agrees because he has romantic feelings for Rocky. He also wants to help her because she’s determined to gain extra funds in order to protect her young daughter and leave their current living situation behind. The at-times aggressive Money, meanwhile, who’s dating Rocky, tags along on the heists just for fun.
Money then discovers that a blind military veteran (Lang) who lives alone and may have cash stashed away in his house, after he won a major settlement when his only child died in a driving incident. Alex is apprehensive about the idea of stealing money, however, because if they get caught, they would receive a harsher sentence. But Rocky readily agrees, as she’s thrilled at the idea of securing funds quickly. So the group decides to continue with the plan, which initially appears to be easy because The Blind Man’s house is the only one that’s occupied in his immediate neighborhood that’s otherwise abandoned.
But the trio’s seemingly well-planned idea is quickly foiled, as their target proves he’s not as helpless as he appears. Alex, Rocky and Money discover that The Blind Man is hiding something that’s more sinister than they ever would have expected. The thieves seek refugee from their unexpected predator in a locked basement, where they find something that explains his harsh attitude toward intruders.
Lang generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Don’t Breathe’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the performer discussed how he was drawn to portraying The Blind Man in the horror thriller, because he had never played such a unique character with such harsh suppressed emotions and motivations before. He also praised Alvarez, as well as Levy, Minnette and Zovatto, who he described as a splendid filmmaker and intelligent performers.
The actor began the interview by discussing what interested him in portraying The Blind Man in ‘Don’t Breathe.’ The actor explained that when he read the script, he “thought it was original and intriguing. I’ve also never seen, or played, this kind of character before; The Blind Man touched my heart a bit.”
However, Lang also felt that “there was tremendous sadness in his story, but there was also violence and suppressed rage and anguish in him. So I thought it would be a really interesting process to unleash all of these emotions that he has kept bottled up within the confines of his own heart.
“These emotions are symbolized by the darkness of his own house, which is in this desolate urban landscape. In a way, it’s the only life that’s around him,” Lang noted. “What a strange life it is. There’s something so exotically perverse and twisted that’s going on in his life.”
The actor then explained the experience of shooting ‘Don’t Breathe’ in The Bland Man’s home, and the process of creating its eerie vibe. “They built the house completely, including every room and the facade of the house, in a studio in Budapest. What they built was an absolute image of the house they chose in Detroit,” Lang divulged.
“So my first exposure to the house was on the set in Budapest. I got to know all of the rooms, as well as the layout of the house. We shot a few exteriors in Budapest, but they were mainly lighted urban areas that could be in any city in the Western world,” the performer revealed.
“It was only after we finished the principal photography on set in Budapest that we went to Detroit to shoot the exteriors for a week. It was a strange experience, because the world was already established on the sound stage,” Lang noted. He added that in certain circumstances, it can be beneficial to be on location.
But when a movie mainly takes place entirely within one house, building the home “creates opportunities in which you can completely decide what you want to do with the camera. You can also change the space, which you probably wouldn’t be able to do if you were in the confines of a real house. So for me, there weren’t any negatives about filming the principal photography in the house in Budapest.”
Once the principal photography began on the thriller in the Hungarian city, Lang truly connected with the physicality of The Bling Man. “One of the things that initially attracted me to the script was the scarceness of dialogue by my character,” the actor revealed. “Most of the time, I play characters who have quite a lot to say, and I enjoy that. But in this film, my character has almost nothing to say.” So the performer thought he had a “great opportunity to create almost entirely through his physical life, like the way he moves and breathes. So my job was to express the character through my movements.
“We were dealing with a situation where he was inside his house, he’s in an environment that he’s the master of. He knows where everything is, and how many steps it is from the kitchen to the bathroom. He knows the house in a way so that he can operate comfortably and efficiently,” Lang explained.
“S when that order gets disrupted, and people move things around, that creates a sense of chaos for him. When you get that going, you can get great drama,” the actor also noted. “So there’s this combination of this guy who has a disability, but he has managed to create a world in which he can operate with maximum efficiency, even with his condition.”
Lang’s discussions about the development of The Blind Man with Alvarez were ongoing, the performer also noted. “While we were filming the movie, we were talking constantly. Between takes, we would discuss variations. Fede would let me know what he wanted to achieve, and what he felt were the right tones, emotionally, psychologically and even technically,” the performer explained.
The actor added that Alvarez “is a really splendid filmmaker. He created this world, so he really knows it. What I thought was really wonderful about him is how truly collaborative he is with everyone. There were times when he said, ‘I just learned something new about The Blind Man that I didn’t know before, just by something you did.'”
Lang also appreciates being able to build trust with the directors he works with. He revealed that was something that happened the first time he began speaking with Alvarez on the phone, before they even met. That trust “only increased and grew the more that we worked together, and it never faltered.”
In addition to enjoying the time he spent working with the director, the actor also appreciated collaborating with his co-stars on ‘Don’t Breathe.’ The cast had time to “rehearse and choreograph our scenes, to a certain extent, because we were doing very physical stuff. I have physical encounters with all three of my main co-stars.” He laughed as he added, “you want to be able to walk away from these encounters in one piece, and feel as though you’ve done work.
“I found that Jane, Dylan and Danny were superb. They brought their intelligence, and they’re also physically agile. They were willing to work hard, and that was required,” Lang also noted while further praising the three other main actors in ‘Don’t Breathe.’
“It goes without saying that when you make a film like this, you’re going to get some bumps. But in a way, all of that contributes to the reality and integrity of the scenes. I had great confidence in all of them. When we were off screen, they were vibrant and terrific people,” the performer added.
In terms of talking about their characters, Lang revealed there wasn’t much discussion about the roles between the cast. “The motivations and needs of my character were quite private, so they weren’t really a matter of discussion,” the actor also revealed.
Further discussing the perceptions that go along with The Blind Man, Lang added that Alvarez “wrote a multi-layered character. No matter what kind of face The Blind Man presents, in the beginning, he must be perceived as a victim. He’s clearly been victimized in a number of ways, and now he’s having his home intruded on.
“But of course, that gets turned around when they realize that they’re in much deeper than they ever thought that they would be. So who’s the hero and who’s the victim isn’t actually a question that struck me as being particularly relevant to anything,” Lang explained.
“Everyone has their own agenda and needs. Some of the characters are more righteous, while others have more morals to stand on. But none of the four characters are flawless and without sin. There’s a moral ambiguity to the entire situation,” the actor added.
“I think the movie takes morality out of the story. I think when you have a story that has a clear-cut hero and villain, it is a morality tale. But I don’t think that’s the case in this film. No matter what each character may feel, especially about what the world owes them, this house is in its own dark universe,” Lang also noted.
When ‘Don’t Breathe’ premiered at SXSW this past March, “I heard the reception was extraordinary. I couldn’t be there, because I was shooting another project.” But the actor first saw the horror film “with an audience, but it was a particular audience. I recently went to a screening of it in New York, because I hadn’t seen it yet. Sony screened it for about 50 or 60 online critics, so I was sitting with people who were going to write about it.”
He added that if he wasn’t so interested in watch the film, “I would have been very interested in watching the audience’s reaction. But I would say it was a spellbound audience. As a I was leaving the theater, many people had positive things to say about it.”
Lang added that the second time he watched ‘Don’t Breathe’ was at the same time as Alvarez. “But he was in California and I was in New York. We were recording a commentary for it. I look forward to seeing it again, because he has made such an excellent movie. This is an easy movie for me to promote, because any expectations that I had while making it have been surpassed. I think Fede has made a genre-transcending picture.”
Watch ‘Don’t Breathe’s official trailer below.
Written by: Karen Benardello