Avatar actor Stephen Lang explains how his dead character returns for the sequel

Stephen Land in Avatar
(Image credit: Disney/20th Century Studios)

The return of Jake Sully and Neytiri in Avatar: The Way of Water always seemed inevitable. After all, they were the leads in the original blockbuster. What was less certain was the future of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) – after all, the head of security at the human settlement of Hell’s Gate finished the movie with two massive Na’vi arrows sticking out of his chest. Nonetheless, he’s become a reminder that in sci-fi, if death really does spell the end for your character, you should probably have a word with your agent...

"I’ve been aware of the sequels and my role in them since when we released the original Avatar," Lang tells SFX in the new issue of the magazine, featuring Violent Night on the cover. "For so many years, I was forbidden to say a word, but then all of a sudden the cat gets out of the bag and everybody sees that Quaritch is in a Na’vi body, that he’s 12-foot tall and he’s blue."

It turns out that, in the years since the original movie, the RDA and the military have developed new technology that allows them to embed the memories of deceased soldiers into "Recombinant" (or Recom) avatar bodies.

"Quaritch’s DNA had been banked," Lang explains, "and obviously in the process of building the avatar, he goes through the same thing that they did with Jake or with Grace Augustine, to become Na’vi. But there’s no going back for him, because he’s dead and there’s no body to go back to.

"He’s not resurrected, he’s reconstituted, and what emerges is very much the DNA of Quaritch. But there’s also this addition, this Pandoran lifeforce, which I think ultimately is traceable to [Na’vi deity] Eywa. That means he’s got a lot of Pandora inside him now, and that’s a very, very weird thing for Quaritch.” He may be bigger and bluer than we remember him – and slightly more in touch with nature – but that doesn’t mean Quaritch has significantly changed from a guy who was so focused on his mission that he ran out into the toxic Pandoran atmosphere without a mask to take down a Na’vi threat.

"He’s still as relentless as ever," Lang confirms, "but there’s something that’s been added to the mix. As written, the original Quaritch is a right-angle character. He moves in straight lines, and that’s the way he thinks as well. But I’ve always thought of Pandora as an extremely curvaceous place, as a flexible place, as a place with a lot of life, a lot of movement. And I think he is a canny enough warrior to know that he needs to change his style to fit the type of war that he is going to fight."

That's just a snippet of the long-read on Avatar 2, available in the Violent Night issue of SFX Magazine, available on now! For even more from SFX, sign up to the newsletter, sending all the latest exclusives straight to your inbox.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.