His double life – actor Charley Lang – Brief Article
Charley Lang gets to play down and dirty on two TV series, but he says he gets his real kicks helping gay youth
In NBC’s new searing political drama The West Wing, Charley Lang pops in and out as ultraconservative Republican congressman Skinner. In the highly rated (for UPN) action-adventure series 7 Days, he plays one of the recurring, mysterious “men in black,” who make life unpleasant for time-traveling, disaster-thwarting secret agent Frank Parker (Jonathan LaPaglia). Obviously Lang knows how to play dastardly. But in the real world he seems to be bucking for sainthood. Even with his busy acting schedule, he manages to work as a psychotherapist both in private practice in West Hollywood, Calif., and at the AIDS Service Center in nearby Pasaden. He also speaks at local high schools about homophobia “That all hits me in a place where acting rarely does,” says Lang, sitting in his new, cozy Spanish-style home in Los Angeles. “It’s much more soulful and gratifying.”
Lang, 44, has been a therapist since 1996 and has been doing volunteer work for more than a decade. For much of that time his passion has been EAGLES Center (now Academy), a grassroots continuation school for gay and lesbian kids driven out of the public school system by antigay persecution. In 1994 Lang not only helped EAGLES students create the first school-sponsored gay and lesbian prom in the country, he also put the event on video, the 1995 award-winning documentary Live to Tell: The First Gay and Lesbian Prom in America. A bounty of gay proms have since emerged around the country, while Lang has continued his mission with his high school workshop called Combating Homophobia in the Classroom. And it hasn’t been an easy mission. At one school recently, “the captain of the football team told me he never considered gay people as human before,” says Lang. “I help some people put a face on homosexuality.”
Lang’s ability to inspire isn’t lost on his friends. “What Charley is doing in high school classrooms is God’s work,” says fellow actor Mitchell Anderson (of the film Relax … It’s Just Sex). “It’s a brave thing to face teens who can be hostile.” Adds playwright David Marshall Grant: “He makes the effort to make the world a better place.” Lang puts a simple spin on his impetus: “I get to give them what I never got as a teenager.”
The son of an accountant and a homemaker, Lang was born in New Jersey, where he and his five siblings grew up in a strict Catholic home. “Sex was never spoken of,” he says, adding wryly, “It was more than the closet; it was a safe bolted inside and out.” When he was 8, Lang’s family moved to England, where he spent his formative years in swingin’ ’60s-era London. “That gave me an incredible sense of freedom,” he says (a freedom that emboldened the teenage Lang to steal a swatch of “purple shag carpeting” from Mick Jagger’s nearby pad). Back in the States in the late ’60s, Lang played the lead in a high school production of Oliver! His big break came when he was picked in 1978 to play costar in the Tony Award-winning production of Da on Broadway.
He has rarely been out of work since. (Funnest credit: He played Neurotic Secretary number 1 in the 1988 pilot episode of Murphy Brown, “and I’m still recognized.”) Along the way the always-out Lang has sometimes been confronted by homophobia in Hollywood. He recalls the time a well-known actor, unaware of Lang’s sexuality, told a homophobic joke on the set of a TV show. After taking a long breath, Lang announced before cast and crew that he was offended by the remark and embarrassed for the actor, who quietly slinked off. “It’s important that we speak out,” says Lang, who is particularly angered by other gay public figures who lie about their sexuality. “Just say `My private life is private,’ but don’t lie,” he says.
Lang spends his own private life in L.A.’s trendy Silver Lake area, where he shares his three-bedroom pad with his two dogs, Cheyenne and Dakota, when he isn’t in Vancouver, Canada, shooting 7 Days. Single for two years, he’s quite content with the arrangement. “It’s been a real nice change flying solo for a while,” says Lang, who, according to Anderson, knows how to slow down now and then. “The cool thing about Charley is, he can sit in his psych chair and give great advice one minute and then laugh and be goofy the next,” says Anderson. Well, not too goofy. If there is any trait he shares with his TV alter egos, it’s their drive, says Lang. “We’re eyes-on-the-prize kind of guys.”
Kinser also writes for the Spanish film magazine Dirigido.
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