Stephen Lang is veteran of both the stage and screen. His performances—which include playing Col. Quaritch in 2009’s Avatar and The Blind Man in last summer’s sleeper hit Don’t Breathe—are memorable for more than just his talent. The 64-year-old is always in tremendous shape and can often be found pushing plates at Equinox at New York City’s Upper West Side. And with four more Avatar sequels in the works, Lang will need to maintain his workouts to join the ranks of Hollywood’s ripped action star elder statesmen, like Arnold, Sly, and Mickey Rourke.

M&F: You’ve played a lot of soldiers. Do you identify with military heroes?

Lang: I’ve always had a bent toward military history—I guess because I was part of the post–World War II generation. At the core of military service are qualities that are really important human qualities, like grit, fiber, and fortitude. Beyond Glory [the play that Lang adapted and performed in, in which he plays eight Medal of Honor recipients] took it to a deeper place for me personally. It’s an examination of why one man is compelled to go above and beyond the call of duty when others are not.

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How did you get interested in weight training?

I was impressed by Jack LaLanne. He gave me an awareness of bodybuilding and fitness. I guess his audience was housewives, but I liked his spirit. I’ve been weight training from ’69, since I was in college. It’s its own kind of meditation. Lifting is a very personal and interior pursuit. And I admit to vanity, but it’s a professional thing, too. I need to look good in my profession. The older I get the more vital it is.

How has your training changed over the years?

I like to stay between 150 and 160 pounds—my body fat is around 10%. When I did Avatar, I needed to be big; I got to 190 for that, bench-pressing 250. That was a lot for me, and that did it for my shoulder. After my shoulder broke down I began to integrate yoga into what I was doing. I did so much the first year I didn’t weight train at all. Of course I overdid it with yoga. Now I’m on this quest to find this balance between weight training and yoga. They can be complementary.

How do you structure your weight workouts?

I tend to do one muscle group a day, and I do three exercises for a muscle. So if I’m doing biceps I’ll do a curl, a hammer curl, and a reverse curl. I’ll do 20 to 30 sets and really get into the muscle. I start heavy and back off as I go. I’ll do one warmup set with a moderate weight and from there go into my heaviest set. I might start with 45 pounds in each hand and then go down to what might be a negligible weight. I might go to 12 1⁄2 pounds for concentration curls and really try to think my way into the muscle. If you do enough reps, it feels heavy [laughs].

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What’s the secret to weight training for older guys?

Work with low weights and high reps. Leave your ego in your locker. I’m not 20, but that doesn’t mean I’m not as strong and fit and energetic as I can be. I eat pretty much whatever I want but I eat consciously. I know that if I eat something bad I’m going to pay the price for it, and that helps me decide whether I’m going to eat it or not. I try to have a protein shake every day. I shove a fistful of kale into every shake.

“I’m on this quest to find this balance between weight training and yoga. They can be complementary.”

Are you worried about being typecast for your physique?

Nah. But if one has to be typecast, there are worse things to be typecast as than a tough, old badass. The guy I played in Don’t Breathe is a badass veteran, but he also happens to be completely blind. I’m playing a character now on Into the Badlands [on AMC]—he’s a badass assassin, but he’s confined to a wheelchair. So I hope I’m not playing the same character with different disabilities [laughs]. I don’t feel like I am.