“If you judge your character, you’re done”From the battlefields of Westeros to Flower Power and the Vietnam War, British actor Gethin Anthony talks about his new role as Charles Manson in NBC’s Aquarius
After being killed off by a shadow in Game of Thrones, British actor Gethin Anthony has landed himself a killer role in the new tv series Aquarius, playing famous cult leader Charles Manson. We talked to him at the TV Festival in Monte Carlo to find out if his new role was what nightmare stuff are made of.
THE RED BULLETIN How does one prepare for a challenge like portraying Charles Manson?
GETHIN ANTHONY: Actually, it was quite a short time between the audition and the start date. I read some biographies, watched a lot of documentaries on Youtube. And then I stopped watching documentaries from when he was imprisoned, because I realized our story is set in 1967 and I wanted to go back and learn about him from the day he was born until that point. Try to connect with him as a free man. He wasn’t free for very long in his life. There is an interview recording of him speaking in 1967 and I used that as a kind of way to his voice and his thought process. I also had to learn how to play guitar and then the songs that he played on guitar. So that was a big part of those 2-3 weeks preparation. But I got to live in L.A, so that was nice.
What do you think about Charles Manson’s music? Was it any good?
It’s very well documented that one of the Beach Boys met him and listened to his music. There are one or two songs that you could imagine fitting into that late ‘60s California sound if they were cleaned and tightened up. Then there is a lot of stuff that is musically very hard to mimic, because it doesn’t follow any structure - vocally, melodically and chord-wise. My guitar teacher kind of scratched his head a bit. It was like “How do I teach you this? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Did you have nightmares about Manson?
Yeah, I had a few nightmares. Not specifically about him, but I think it was partly moving cities, changing everything about my life, cutting myself off from my friends and family, and then jumping into these stories. There are some scenes later in the series that involve family members of his actual family. That really messed with my head.
Are you planning to meet Charles Manson in person? He is still alive and in prison.
We spoke about that at length. I thought about it very long and hard. We ultimately took some very good advice from some older, wiser actors and some very smart people, who just pointed out to me that it wasn’t going add anything to my performance. If I could meet him in 1967, that would be valuable. You musn’t forget that this isn’t his story. He is part of a fictional show about the ’60s. As an actor I aspire to great biographically detailed performances, but this is not the context for that.
Is it true that you are trained in African dance?
I want be really clear about this, I don’t know why that is in my official resumé. It is true, in the sense that I took one or two school classes with a real master. He’s called Bode Lawal and he’s a wonderful man. It’s called Sakoba dance music. It was a little thing I did when I was 14! I think one of my high school friends put it up on Wikipedia for fun and it somehow found its way onto my official resumé. But no, I would never claim to be trained in African dance at all!
NBC released all of this season’s episodes at once, was that a good idea?
I think it’s a great idea. Now is the time to test things out and to try different methods of distribution, because we all watch content in different ways. I watch TV four episodes at a time. When something comes out, I wait four weeks and then stream it and I catch up four in a row and then wait four weeks. That’s the way I watch my TV shows.
So you are not really a binge watcher?
I am a mini-binge watcher. Four at a time. But not 13 in a row. That takes commitment. I am impressed by people who do that.
When you portray Charles Manson, do you think of him as a bad guy?
You can’t. You don’t. If you start thinking “Are they good or are they bad?” you are going to get a very narrow performance. And if you judge your character, you’re done. It can be tricky with people like Charles Manson, but I think you actually do a disservice to the story if you judge your own character. I don’t think in good or bad, just about what is needed of me in the performance.
Why did Charles Manson have such power over people? What did they see in him?
I don’t think he is some special guy. There were certain circumstances that lent themselves to him getting what he wanted. While he was in prison avidly read the book How to make friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. It is one of the few books he read. He would listen very intently to pimps in prison, about how they got what they wanted with their employees - vulnerable women - how they manipulated them, or basically got them to do what they wanted them to do.
This is what he was listening to just before he left prison. Then he found himself in San Francisco in 1967, surrounded by young people who had their eyes and ears open and were ready to try out new things. That whole movement was about just trying things and saying yes to everything. So I think in that sense there is no mystery there. He is not magic.
Charles Manson still has fans that idolize him. What do you think about the fascination people have with evil?
It’s something that I don’t share. I think it’s a good question because there is a reason why we are including his story in ours. Part of that is the fascination with not really knowing what happened, and to that extent I can understand people’s curiosity. But as far as writing letters to him now, I mean, come on …
What kind of person would you have been in 1967?
(Laughs.) That’s a really good question! I have never thought about that. Actually I have no idea. I probably would have tried to be a musician and failed miserably. I probably tried playing guitar very, very badly.