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There's More To Colonel Miles Quaritch From Avatar Than Meets The Eye

It isn't exactly a secret that Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) from "Avatar" hates the Na'vi, the race of blue humanoid beings who populate the planet of Pandora. After all, he calls the Na'vi people "savages" and utterly destroys the tree they call home. So we can only imagine his dismay whenever he wakes up in "Avatar: The Way of Water" to discover he is now one of them (more or less). If that's not situational irony, then we don't know what is.

It turns out that there's more to the colonel than meets the eye. That's why we're going to explore all the things you might not have known about this "Avatar" villain, such as which actor almost got the part instead of Lang, and why Lang doesn't think of his character as a villain. We'll also cover everything we know so far about Quaritch in "Avatar: The Way of Water," including how he might transform in the sequel and how long Lang needed to stay underwater to film his scenes. (Hint: he can't do it nearly as long as Kate Winslet.)

Quaritch isn't dead

"Avatar" had been out for less than a year when James Cameron approached Stephen Lang about reprising his role of Colonel Miles Quaritch. In an interview with IGN, Lang recalled Cameron saying, "You're coming back, you know." We suspect that Lang was scratching his head at this news — after all, the last time he checked, Quaritch was dead. Two arrows to the chest should have probably done the trick.

However, if you consider what has already been established about the world of "Avatar," resurrecting Quaritch doesn't seem like such a stretch. We already know that the Resources Development Administration (aka the RDA) has the capability to transfer consciousness from the human body to a Na'vi avatar. 

Since the sequel is set more than 10 years later, it's easy to believe that the technology has evolved so that the RDA can achieve this even if the person's original body is dead. Empire confirmed that this was indeed how the colonel would return: as a Recombinant, or a human mind inside a Na'vi body. So he and Jake (Sam Worthington) will be in the same boat, though it seems like they will probably be fighting for opposite teams.

The trailer for "Avatar: The Way of Water" even gives viewers a glimpse of the new Quaritch. The Independent pointed out a Na'vi character from the trailer that looks suspiciously like Quaritch, right down to the eagle tattoo on his upper arm.

Becoming an avatar might have changed Quaritch

Judging by what Stephen Lang has said about the "Avatar" sequel, Colonel Quaritch is going to be a new man — and not just because he has a new body. To match his character's physical transformation in the sequel, Lang has changed the way Quaritch moves. "[He] was always a character who moved in straight lines and at right angles," Lang told Empire. Now, however, the character is more agile. The actor explained, "He can move with the same kind of cunning and feral quality that any of the Na'vi can."

It's unlikely that Quaritch's goal has changed. Lang's interview certainly suggests that his character will be out for revenge. But perhaps being in the body of a Na'vi will change how Quaritch views the alien people — or at least make him change his tactics. Lang told Empire that his character might be a little more humble now: "When you take two Na'vi arrows in the chest, that's gonna have some kind of effect on you."

Lang sees "Avatar: The Way of Water" as an opportunity to further explore Quaritch's character and perhaps take him in a new direction. "It's satisfying to have that much more time to discover Quaritch," he told The National, adding that he wants to "hopefully defy expectations that people have for the character, to create new expectations."

Michael Biehn almost got cast in the role instead

It seems impossible now to imagine anybody else in the role of Quaritch. But there was actually a brief moment (or nine whole months, according to some accounts) when another actor could have starred in "Avatar" as the Colonel.

Michael Biehn has a long history of collaborating with director James Cameron on films such as "The Terminator," "The Abyss," and "Aliens." Biehn told The Hollywood Reporter that he had been hoping for a chance to work on "Avatar" as well, but Cameron had already cast Sigourney Weaver, who had also previously worked with Cameron on "Aliens." The director told Biehn that he didn't want to recruit two major stars from "Aliens," lest audiences write off "Avatar" as just a repeat of his 1986 sci-fi classic. 

"I understood," Biehn shared in the same interview. "I'd been disappointed too many times to be depressed for more than 24 hours." This wasn't the first time Cameron had passed over Biehn for a part either: Biehn only got the role of Corporal Hicks in "Aliens" after Cameron's first choice had been arrested, says Den of Geek.

Regardless, Biehn must have been bummed by the news — especially since, by his account, he'd been assuming for nine months that he'd gotten the part of Quaritch. However, Cameron has insisted that this was a misunderstanding, saying that he would have liked to collaborate with Biehn again but never explicitly promised the actor a role in "Avatar."

Quaritch will appear in later Avatar films, too

Not only is Quaritch returning in "Avatar: The Way of Water," but he'll also be coming back for every single film in the saga. James Cameron confirmed in an interview with Empire that Jake will need to face off against the Colonel in "Avatar 3" as well as the two subsequent sequels. "There's not a new villain every time," the director explained. "[It's the] same guy ... through all four [remaining] movies."

But Quaritch might be more than just a villain in the upcoming films. Stephen Lang has told IGN that he's hesitant to call Quaritch a villain, though it's unclear whether he simply means that Quaritch likes to think of himself as the hero or if the Colonel is actually going to have a change of heart in one of the sequels. 

We know this much: Quaritch will certainly change. "He has evolved, definitely," Lang told The National. "We're making four more films, so if he doesn't evolve, we're in some kind of trouble." Of course, that doesn't necessarily guarantee the Colonel will completely redeem himself. Most likely, Quaritch's arc across all five movies will involve ups and downs. Lang assured ComingSoon.net that audiences should expect to see "some areas of extreme growth in the character; and then probably areas of regression ... as well." Either way, we know that Quaritch has a long, satisfying character arc in store.

There's a story behind Quaritch's scars

When Jake asks how Quaritch got his distinctive scars in "Avatar," the Colonel offers a casual war story about his first day on Pandora. He tries to make light of the incident, but it's clear that this moment had a huge impact on him and scarred him in more ways than one.

Lang discussed developing this backstory in more detail in an interview with Den of Geek. As he tells it, the whole scenario must be a bit embarrassing for Quaritch: he survives three wars unscathed back on Earth, only to be blindsided on his first day on Pandora. Disoriented and still adjusting to the new planet, Quaritch lets his guard down for one second — and that's when an inhabitant of Pandora gives him those scars. Even worse, explained Lang, "he never saw what got him. And that's what he sees every morning of every day." Ever since, Quaritch is convinced that the entire planet is out to get him, and he warns his soldiers never to get comfortable on Pandora.

The first time Quaritch speaks to Jake alone, he says, "You get soft, [and] Pandora will s*** you out dead with zero warning." At first, that sounds like pretty typical macho talk from a colonel to a rookie. But in light of Quaritch's backstory, it takes on a different meaning. When he mentions soldiers getting "soft," he is probably not referring to Jake but instead his own younger self.

Lang says Avatar is a huge commitment

Knowing that "Avatar 5" has a tentative release date of Decemmber 22, 2028 (per Good Morning America), Stephen Lang is keenly aware that he's involved in the project for the long haul.

According to The National, James Cameron has been filming the "Avatar" sequels since 2017, which means that Lang has been playing Quaritch off and on during that time. He might take a break for a year to work on other projects, as he noted in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Or he might get only three months to shoot another film before he needs to slip back into Quaritch's shoes, as he told toofab

Lang likened the process to a fitness program. "I can't really fall out of shape for 'Avatar 5,'" he explained in the same interview, "so it kind of gives you great incentive to stay in shape." In other words, Colonel Miles Quaritch will always be with him. As Lang also remarked to toofab, "Avatar is just a constant."

Quaritch is a bit scared of Grace

In "Avatar," Colonel Quaritch doesn't interact very much with Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), aside from a scene in which he tells her, "Shut your piehole!" At a glance, it seems like that line of dialogue tells you everything you need to know about his relationship with Grace. However, according to Stephen Lang, there's a bit more running beneath the surface.

In an interview with HeyUGuys, Lang explained his character's complicated feelings toward Grace. According to Lang, Quaritch is only rude and dismissive toward Grace because he feels slightly intimidated by her. "He doesn't quite understand her. He's a bit threatened by [her, yet at the same time] he thinks that she's full of it." She makes him nervous, so the colonel takes aim at Grace in the only way he knows how: with harsh words.

But maybe there's also a bit of attraction involved. Although Lang was probably joking when he said this, he made a remark in a 2010 interview with MTV that seems to indicate that he thought it would be entertaining to see Quaritch and Grace as a couple. After mentioning the notorious deleted sex scene between Jake and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) that showed up in a re-released extended edition of the film, Lang added, "There's no sex scene between Quaritch and Grace or anyone else, which is unfortunate." To put it mildly, that would certainly be an unlikely pairing.

Avatar 2 will push Quaritch out of his comfort zone

We think it's safe to venture that "Avatar: The Way of Water" will probably involve a great deal of the title substance. In fact, the teaser trailer seems to depict the Na'vi preparing themselves for a battle on the water. Conflicts like this one might present a challenge for Colonel Quaritch.

The character will certainly need to adapt to his new situation. "The world of Pandora ... begins to affect him quite deeply ... and it gets under his skin," Stephen Lang said. Not only will he be stuck in the body of a Na'vi, but he will also need to step outside of his comfort zone: Quaritch hates water, Lang revealed in an interview with toofab. Which means that, for much of the movie, Quaritch will be out of his element. "A lot of times if he's in the water," explained Lang, "he's trying to get out of the water."

It seems like many native species on Pandora feel right at home in the water, including the Na'vi from the Metkayina tribe, the whale-like tulkuns, and the skimwings that the Na'vi ride in the trailer (per Empire). So if the Colonel and his fellow Recombinant soldiers are uncomfortable in the drink, that might give the Na'vi an edge against their invaders.

Stephen Lang is a bit tired of playing bad guys

Ever since he played the antagonist from "A Few Good Men" on Broadway, Stephen Lang has been typecast as a baddie, he told Metro. While "Avatar" was not singlehandedly responsible for creating the image of Lang as the ruthless military officer, the immensely popular blockbuster certainly amplified it. Lang admitted in an interview with MTV that his character from "Avatar" made such a huge impression that fans have approached him to tell him how much they hated Quaritch. It's difficult for audiences and filmmakers alike to look at him and see anything other than the archetype of the hardened colonel. So of course he gets a lot of job offers asking him to play villains.

Much as he enjoyed playing Quaritch, Lang would like a chance to shake things up. If filmmakers are only casting him because they want him to do another Quaritch, he explained, it will quickly grow old. "I don't want to repeat myself," he told MTV. "I don't want to do a pale reflection or imitation of myself." Lang knows he is capable of much more, and adds that it would be refreshing to try a different kind of character. For instance, he wouldn't mind being a romantic lead. "I'd really like to get the girl," he shared in the same interview. "And by 'get the girl,' I don't mean kill her!"

Stephen Lang can hold his breath for four minutes

Although holding one's breath sounds more like something Gru would put on his resume in "Despicable Me," it's actually an important part of Stephen Lang's job.

Never one to take shortcuts, James Cameron decided to have his actors film underwater, rather than simply relying on wire harnesses and CGI magic. "It could only be done in water," he told Empire (via Deeper Blue). So all of the cast members had to put on their motion-capture gear and then take the plunge. 

According to Cameron, many of the actors (including Lang) needed to hold their breath for a few minutes at a time (per Deeper Blue). Lang told IGN that whenever he's completely still, he can hold out for as long as four minutes before he needs to come up for air. Of course, for most of his scenes in "Avatar 2," Lang obviously won't be standing still. The actor explained, "If I get into acting a scene, I'm good for maybe a minute and a half before I start turning as blue as a Na'vi."

Regardless, he certainly can't beat his co-star Kate Winslet, who once held her breath for seven minutes, according to Zoe Saldana in an interview with IMDb – a skill that could have come in handy for Winslet's character from "Titanic."

Lang didn't play Quaritch as a villain

Colonel Quaritch is an iconic and charismatic villain. If he had a mustache, he would twirl it. But funnily enough, Stephen Lang didn't approach his character that way at all. "I didn't play a villain," Lang told The Los Angeles Times. "I played a man who is doing his job the best way that he can." It just so happens that his job involves slaughtering innocent Na'vi. Lang pointed out to Den of Geek that Quaritch wasn't always so ruthless. The colonel fought in conflicts back on earth — "the dirtiest of dirty wars," Lang calls them — and these wars eroded the humanity of a once-idealistic soldier. The bottom line, said Lang, is that "Quaritch has cauterized some aspects of his own soul."

It's the same for any character he plays, no matter how contemptible the character may seem. Speaking of his role as the cunning, violent blind man from "Don't Breathe," Lang told Metro, "I have no alternative, when I take a role ... to be anything but an advocate for the character. I have to defend the character, as it were." After all, most characters view themselves as the hero of their own story; nobody actually believes they are a villain. The only way for an actor to portray their character convincingly is to immerse themselves completely in that character's point-of-view.

Stephen Lang knows how Avatar 5 ends

One of the perks of being a major actor involved in the "Avatar" franchise is that you get a sneak peek at the script of the final film. Stephen Lang was blown away by what he read: the script for "Avatar 5" left him weeping. "I just thought it was so beautiful," he told Collider. "I was just incredibly moved by it. I hope ... that audiences will be, too."

Although Lang knows what will become of Colonel Miles Quaritch in "Avatar 5," he's very tight-lipped about it. The only clue we have is something intriguing that Lang mentioned in an interview with IGN. Lang said that he didn't think of Quaritch as a villain per se, and only when it was pointed out to him that Cameron had used a "very mean word" to describe the character — most likely calling him a "motherf***er" in an interview with Empire – did Lang defer to Cameron's assessment.

Perhaps Lang said this simply because he never categorizes the characters he portrays as "hero" or "villain." But maybe Lang knows something that audiences don't, and he accidentally let slip something about "Avatar 5." It's possible that Quaritch is no longer a villain by the final movie. Maybe he and Jake will become grudging allies. Or maybe, like Jake, he will gradually come to accept and be accepted by the Na'vi. Perhaps the ultimate challenge for Jake will be to change Quaritch's mind. That would certainly make a fitting ending for the "Avatar" saga.