Perhaps most recognizable from his role on the hit TV series "Lost," Eric Lange's credits go far beyond the island and now he's creating more memorable moments on FX’s “The Bridge,” which was just renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, when he booked the role of Kenneth Hastings/David Tate, he had to sign an NDA. “So here I am, ironically with the best job of my life, and I can't tell anyone about it,” says Lange. Now that the secret is out, Lange is excited to talk about his role and some acting secrets he's learned through the challenging characters he’s played.
When Lange was shooting “Lost,” he was also working on the Nickelodeon TV series “Victorious.” “It was such a weird transition, but what I always enjoyed about “Victorious” was it became sort of a family for me and it just always reminded me not to take anything too seriously," says Lange. "['Victorious'] kept me young, and I got to do things on that show because the character was kind of crazy. I just used it as a gym, and really tried to stretch and reach and take big risks and make bold choices and just play to exercise the actor part of me that I don't really get to use many other places.”
Do your best and let them find you.
Lange auditioned for two roles in “The Bridge” before getting cast as Kenneth Hastings. But he was convinced he had gotten the other role. “We did it three different times, and I was impressed that they actually had notes, and we would rework things because you don't always get that,” he remembers. “You can go and audition and feel like you're right for it, but you never know what they're thinking and what the bigger picture is about how they see you," he says. "The irony was that after I got the part [of Kenneth], one of the things that [Producer] Elwood Reid told me was 'There was just something so likeable about you.'” And likeability was what Reid wanted for the killer. “Had I known I was auditioning for a killer, I'm sure I would have put some edge or spin or some darkness into it that would have probably screwed up the works for me. So I guess sometimes the motto is to just give it your best shot and get out of the way and let them figure out what they want to do with what you just showed them,” says Lange.
Keep it real.
Lange says it was challenging to keep his identity as the killer a secret. “I'm not a great guy at keeping surprises,” he says. It was also like he was playing two roles. “It definitely makes it a little harder than if you were just upfront, straight-up playing who you're playing,” he says. “When we would do table reads, I would read Kenneth Hastings and then one of the writers or whoever would read the killer part.” In every scene, Lange’s choices were guided by the knowledge that eventually Kenneth Hastings and David Tate would be the same person. “I wanted to make sure as people looked back, they would realize, 'Oh that guy, it makes sense that that guy could turn into this other guy.'” Through his research on serial killers, he learned that they were often charismatic, charming and able to gain people's trust. “Very likeable people… that once they got you home and the door closed, this entire other entity would come out,” he says. He also focused on not drawing attention. “It was like, 'How little can I do with this so that no one even blinks at my being on screen until it's revealed?'” he explains.
Be rigidly flexible.
Lange prepares and gets in character on the outside as well as on the inside. “I typically get a lot of clues from things outside," he says. "Shoes are a really big deal to me for some reason. I just think it changes the way you carry yourself when you walk.” He also carefully reviews and studies the script, paying attention to what other characters are saying about his character. And then he lets it all go. “When you're shooting the thing, trying to be present and trying to listen and trying to just invest in the other actors and trusting that all the work you did is still there and is still going to show," he says. "It's like you need to have a plan, but you need to be able to throw your plan away if it's not working.”
Don't be a caricature.
“The big challenge is not turning into the moustache-twirling evil, which is so hard when they have you written as someone who has turned lights on and off on bridges and does all the crazy, crazy stuff I do,” says Lange. He focuses on keeping Kenneth human and grounded. “He's not a monster and he's not the Terminator; we would have scenes and I would always turn to whoever was directing and I'm like, ‘That wasn't too Terminator, was it?’ I don't want him to be a robot.” Lange was excited to do the scene where his character comes across his wife and son killed in a car accident. “I loved that we were going to get to see that he was at one time a normal guy and it was just horrible, tragic, this thing that happened. The very next thought I had was ‘Holy shit, how am I going to do this?’”
Overnight success takes many years.
“When I moved here 18 years ago I was doing theater and commercials relatively quickly, but it took me eight years to meet the manager that ended up doing anything for me. It was just like any commitment to any relationship. When it gets tough, you can't just bail, you have to work through it….There are so many people who are ‘overnight successes’ who have been out here for thirty years, it's just that nobody knew about them until then. So I like to tell people that, because I think it gives them a different barometer for ‘the wait is worth it if you can handle the wait. ’”