Salem’s Stephen Lang on Increase’s soul, Mary Sibley, and his own personal hell


In a recent press conference, it was announced Stephen Lang would return in his role as Increase Mather on Salem. Questions were raised at how they could bring someone back from the dead?! This is Salem, and anything could happen. Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) has resurrected Increase Mather from hell to help fight against Countess Marburg, whom Increase defeated in Germany. With the excitement of Increase’s return, Lang sat down and chatted with us.

Nerd Reactor (NR): How excited is it to be returning to Salem, and what can we expect from your character?

Stephen Lang:  I’m very pleased that I returned to Salem, because when you get confined to hell, odds are, you’re going to stay there a very long time. So it’s nice to be among the living. I’m also glad I’m back because I really enjoy working with Janet Montgomery and Seth Gabel. Such a terrific group of actors! I had a good experience for the first season. What to expect? What should you expect? Well, you know, Increase is Increase. He’s been humbled, but I guess that is what happens when your own son stabs you in the back. He’s still pretty feisty. He hasn’t lost his essential core of righteousness.

Fangoria: How was your approach to Increase different now from playing the character postmortem as opposed to when you first approached it?

Stephen Lang: I think what happens is, he learned something. A lot of what he had believed and lived based his life on – his foundation on, he has come to understand it’s not that simple – not that black and white. So he’s been really taken down but on the same token, he’s a very intelligent man and he’s willing to learn. What he experiences and sees, the pain he caused – he observes all these souls in the deepest despair. He observes the people he loves and that affects him as well. He comes back chasm, to some extent more emotionally available than in life. It’s an interesting thing.


Den of Geek: As an actor, what’s it like to see your severed head talk and act?

Stephen Lang: I just want my severed head to do a really good job. You get used to this bizarre thing when you’re working in a show like Salem. Just strange thing just happened. Last season, I did a variety of weird things. But, you just want to make sure that everything – the look is proper. What does a character summon back from hell do? How does one manifest himself physically? How do you carry yourself? How conscious are you? Do you breathe? Does the spirit have to breathe? These sort of questions. You start to make creative choices that is useful for you and useful for the show. I think this is the first time I’m playing a ghost.

NR: With the way that the show is structured, do you feel like you’re the protagonist or the antagonist of the show?

Stephen Lang: Well, I am never the protagonist of the show. I certainly was quite antagonistic last season. The interesting thing about this show is the good is bad and the bad is good. Everybody is descending their vision on what the new world should be. But, clearly, Mary Sibley is the protagonist and John Alden is. You need to have a strong powerful figure opposing them. That’s what Increase was. Of course, by bringing Lucy Lawless as Countess Marburg into this, you create a real and new antagonist. Increase’s role changes so much because in one particular way, he comes an ally. He’s summoned by Mary. And she has him enthralled. He has his own agenda as well. I don’t think antagonist or protagonist really applies to what he really does in this. He is informidable in death as he was in life.

Fangoria: Was it a cool experience to work with director Joe Dante on the set of Salem?

Stephen Lang: It was nice to be with Joe. I think it was wonderful and very casual. Someone with Joe’s stature especially in this genre. I was absolutely delighted to work with him in this episode.


NR: You were described as one of the most missed character on the show by the other cast members on the show. Is there a character you enjoyed interacting with the most?

Stephen Lang: I think they’re all terrific. I loved playing scenes with Montgomery. She’s a splendid actress who carries tremendous power with her. And, there is always this wonderful tension between Increase and Mary Sibley. It’s a tension that never gets explored, but always exist. And that’s a lot of fun. It’s something that Increase would never admit to. He doesn’t pause or know about, but he absolutely adores Mary Sibley and I think she recognizes that and plays upon it. But, I also think she sort of adores Increase as well. I love that. I like working with everybody. Another character I love working with – Seth Gabel brings so much great energy, emotion, and passion to Cotton. I know I’ve always given him a really hard time. Increase loves Cotton to death, but he also willing to kill him, you know. And I had a scene with Isaac the Fornicator. He’s a marvelous actor and I enjoy playing those scenes. We really wailed away with those scenes, but I don’t want to short-change anybody they are all fine actors.

Fangoria: In terms of your character, is this going to be a limited time event or possibly a more permanent role?

Stephen Lang: I don’t know. It’s always up for negotiation. They killed him and now they are bringing him back. So there’s no reason they couldn’t bring him back again. That would be a subject for Brannon [Braga] and Adam [Simon] to decide. A lot of it has to do with where they want the show to go, and some extent, my own availability. I feel connected to this show. I feel like I am part of it. No matter how long it goes, I feel like I’ll always be connected to it. I really like the way the guys write. They know I love words and wrote beautiful stuff for Increase. He inhabited his own place and I hope he’ll come back now and again to haunt Salem. Who knows?

NR: Because he’s been brought back from the dead by Mary to defeat the Countess, will he have his own agenda against all the witches?

Stephen Lang: Well, he’s got his own agenda. There’s no question. I don’t think it’s so much against witches. If you remember in that last scene when him and Mary, which ends in his death, he basically says I can’t lose. Righteousness’ will triumph and ultimately what will happen will happen. As I was saying before, he has discovered things in hell and learns ways which he wasn’t adequate. His agenda has more to do with his son – his son was always a big part of his agenda – but now a question of, in this particular episode, really coming to terms with his son and trying to help his son. Cotton is the most f*cked up character in Salem. He really needs his help, I think. I think that is a major part of the agenda. Before, it was becoming governor and his place in the world, and now it has more to do with his immortal soul.

NR: Because of the past scenes you were in with the other characters, will we see scenes with those people or are you only with Mary and Cotton?

Stephen Lang: If you look back at Salem, I didn’t interact with many of the other characters. I had very little with Anne. I guess I do meet everyone. I’m back for a specific purpose and I’m bound to do that. I’m not allowed to go gallivanting around the town which I’d like to do. Increase would like to have a good walkabout but he’s bound by this glass she’s got. She keeps me in tow. I manage to break free from the constraints a little bit. I will interact with some, but sadly, I will not be interacting with Isaac the Fornicator.

NR: Increase has come back from hell. What would you consider to be your personal hell? An example: stuck in traffic.

Stephen Lang: You’re talking about the Long Island Expressway, aren’t you? [laughs] I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I think probably boredom. Just being bored or unmotivated would be hell. That’s when time just stops and slows down and I think that is what it would be. The thing is it is a difficult thing for me to define. Hell merely is just despair. If you live in despair, in darkness with no possibility of light, then you’d be in hell. I think there are people who are in hell, but I am fortunate that I was born and raised with an optimistic nature. I just got to keep engaged and as long as I am, I can ward off the demons and hell. I don’t believe in it as a religious thing. That doesn’t work for me.

Check out Stephen’s return to Salem this Sunday on WGN America. 

Note: Error in transcription. Mr. Lang did not say spike in snoop. Error in transcription in article. Our apologies. It was removed.

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