In the early 1980s, Stephen Lack rocketed to cult fame after starring in David Cronenberg’s sci-fi thriller Scanners. Lack’s explosive performance as Cameron Vale, a scanner with explosive psychic powers, is etched in the minds of horror aficionados. Yet the intense actor seemed to disappear from the screen just a few years later, leaving many fans to wonder – what ever happened to Stephen Lack?
Stephen Lack was born on January 1, 1946, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In college, he first pursued psychology, earning a BA from McGill University in 1967. His creative instincts then led him to get a MFA in Sculpture in 1969 from the Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico. Finding sculpture too expensive, he shifted to painting and drawing which allowed more instant results.
After graduate school, Lack turned to acting. He started off with bit roles in Canadian productions like 1974’s Montreal Main. His breakthrough came in 1977 when he co-wrote and starred in The Rubber Gun, earning Genie award nominations for his performance and screenplay. This dark drama about a dysfunctional family established Lack as a rising talent in Canadian cinema.
Lack displayed an intense, brooding talent that caught David Cronenberg’s eye and cast him as the lead in his 1981 sci-fi thriller Scanners.
Lack improvised extensively during filming as the script was being finished on the fly. He appreciated Cronenberg’s ability to handle his quirky acting style. Lack also faced risky stunt work like driving through real glass and reshooting the exploding head finale when original effects failed.
Looking back on Scanners, Lack cited helping special effects master Dick Smith solve problems with the vein-popping bladder effects as his favorite memory. After some tense moments, Lack gained Smith’s respect by suggesting techniques from his old car tinkering days. They became friends during the demanding re-shoots.
Lack said scenes of him walking stiffly weren’t acting choices, but because he was freezing. He also explained that his unique contract restricted use of his image to just the original Scanners release. So later home media editions lacked photos of him, which surprised even J.J. Abrams when Lack mentioned it. Lack wanted to avoid overexposure that might lead to unwanted public familiarity.
While Lack never reached those heights again as an actor, he continued taking small roles in films like Dead Ringers (1988) and All the Vermeers in New York (1990).
Career After Scanners
Even as he acted, Lack never stopped creating art. He moved to New York City’s East Village art scene after Scanners. Lack became part of the vibrant downtown art community in the early 1980s. He befriended and found inspiration in Jean-Michel Basquiat, an emerging young painter at the time who would soon skyrocket to fame. Lack discussed his experiences getting to know Basquiat, describing him as a “new friend.”
Lack showed his own neo-expressionist paintings alongside Basquiat and other rebellious East Village artists. Though Lack did not reach the massive commercial success and high prices of Basquiat, he earned critical respect and reasonable success selling his works. Basquiat proved that fame was possible for defiant urban artists like himself and Lack. They shared a similar passion for infusing their art with gritty, contemporary themes.
In an interview, Lack expresses feeling humbled by Basquiat’s meteoric rise at such a young age. But he valued becoming part of the tight-knit Downtown art scene. Lack found inspiration both in Basquiat’s overnight success story, and in the creative energy of the East Village arts community. Even as an established actor, Lack embraced the identity of a rising neo-expressionist painter. His friendship with Basquiat and immersion in 1980s New York shaped Lack’s development as a visual artist.
What is Stephen Lack Doing Now?
Even as he enters his late 70s, Stephen Lack maintains an energetic and prolific art career. He continues to create new paintings and drawings daily in his signature neo-expressionist style. Lack exhibits his latest works at galleries in New York and has forthcoming shows in Indiana and Switzerland. Though decades have passed since his acting heyday, Lack remains creatively active.
Lack embraces social media to engage with audiences outside the art establishment. He also supports his son Asher’s musical career as frontman of the band Ravens & Chimes.