NBC’s Aquarius premieres tonight and takes viewers on a trip back to the 1960s – the era of psychedelic drugs, rock and roll, and Charles Manson. Gethin Anthony portrays Manson and talked on a recent press call about how he took on the role of the notorious criminal mastermind.
Aquarius debuts Thursday, May 28th 9-11pm, ET on NBC.
What was it about the show and the role of Charles Manson that piqued your interest in this project?
I think my first and strongest was – reaction was to reading the script from a Saturday morning back in London last year was I got really strong reactions to the authenticity of the dialogue that had been written for the Manson character and the characters around him in that world. I was aware somewhat of that era of history in U.S. history, but it felt – (John’s) dialogue was really authentic for me and so it made me want to dig deeper into understanding the late 60s. And, yes, I think that excitement they could have the courage to make a show about sort of such sensitive subject matter with authenticity excites me.
How much research and preparation you did into Manson before you took on the role?
Well, I had – when I first got the script I was aware that the process of being cast would probably be about a month or maybe a bit longer so all the while I started to read the biographies that are available. One of the useful things about playing such a notorious man is that there’s a wealth of information out there and I am – so I could have almost got sort of snowed under with reading and watching, but it really became about listening to his voice was a very helpful thing that I did. There’s an interview that he did with a studio engineer in 1967 before he was a part of the crimes and imprisons. That I found very useful to take me back to the point in the story – of the history rather that we – that our stories take place.
So, yes, it was close listening to his voice. And, also we got, you know, once I was into the role we got like a college reading list from our show manager John McNamara. It was a big old list of books and films and music to listen to which is probably the most fun bit. Actually all of it was fascinating, but the music of the era is just fantastic if you haven’t do so. Yes.
Do you have a theory on why Manson was able to influence so many people?
I think that having done the research that I did there – increasingly I understood why that might have been the case. I don’t claim to know if there was, you know, the silver bullet of understanding why these young women were drawn to him, but I think there are a few key factors.
One of the few books that mentioned and said he has read is how to make friends and influence people. That is something he read in prison. He used to – he claims to have listened to pimps in prison as a way of understanding how they got their way with presumably mostly women, but basically control people from there on end. He describes […] in his own word is his kind of schooling in a way. And so he obviously was actively sort of engaging in how to influence other people. It’s way before any of the crimes took place. And then you – he was a man who was out of prison at a time when there were a lot of – there was a lot of liberation in the air with around young people and a lot of young impressionable minds out and about meeting new people with this feeling of liberation. So, yes, I think it was kind of a perfect cocktail of circumstance really.
Do you think that Aquarius glorifies the Manson Family?
Well, the first thing I would say about that is we’re not – certainly not in this season we’re not depicting that. That is not the story that – it should be clear that Aquarius is really about a policemen in the late 60s. It’s not about Charles Manson. The story is about David’s character and a lot of the – and everything else that was going on in Los Angeles and the United States in the late 60s. There are huge story lines about civil rights. I mean, about – the sort of (a way of) the feminism that was coming at that time. Young people. There’s a theme with this, you know, young person’s curfew right going on in LA. So there’s a lot going on. And as in history Manson sort of pulled himself to the attention of people by his actions and in similar – similarly in our story that is necessarily the case. The extremity of his actions pulls himself into the – in that way the character pulls himself into the spotlight. And I think we’ve been very careful about not glamorizing him.
How was it to immerse yourself in the era of the 1960s? What did you do to get in the mindset?
I can tell you very easily that I’m not a big fan of flared trousers. It was really – yes, I mean, music is such a useful thing. […] I started listening. I actually bought a – yes, I bought a vinyl set in my trailer and… so I was listening to the Beatles in vinyl. […] Yes, so, doing things like that and then – and also, you know, it’s like with any period drama is you got fantastic costumes in the set working which we absolutely did, it really helps you do that. This is beyond what’s sort of the reading around the kind of – even just reading off topic books like studio and sort of that studio system back then which is just fascinating to those looking for LA at the time. And watching a couple of movies it’s also like building enough material around it. But it won’t – it was a challenge to reset some or trying to get into a – some of the attitudes and perspectives and that was a learning experience. It’s something I’m – I hope to continue to do, you know, to try deepen that understanding.
What aspects of what you learned about Charles Manson influenced your performance?
That’s a really good question. I think the main thing I did was to learn about his – how he was brought up and how he grew up. Actually what I mean with brought up, how he grew up in institutions around the country, at a prison-like institutions throughout his life and educating myself about how human being who, born as a human being can get to a position in their life where they are viewed so publicly as some kind of – almost a mythological villain really.
So, for me, it was really important to go about and try and understand as much as possible about – and learn more facts factually or anecdotally what he had – what his life was like. And there are some surprises in there. I mean, anyone can read – I mean, there’s lots of information out there, but the biography is about his, you know, his life up until the age of 21, I found fascinating. And no doubt helped me be able to justify the actions as any actors […] are obliged to do.
Then there’s sort of – within our…we are telling a fictionalized version of the late 60s and of – indeed the story which is based in true events, but we fictionalized it for more specific reasons, which the show writers can explain, but then it was just about connecting to the stories that we were telling and the specificity of that.
What was your journey from Game of Thrones to Aquarius?
Obviously, Game of Thrones was a huge privilege of – a thing to be a part of so I was very grateful for the opportunity and Finn and I are both are very excited about the story lines and sort of what actually we could bring to them. Beyond that, you start to get a few opportunities to get into a few different ones and I – [filmed an indie] movie [called] Copenhagen […] I went back to the role of Shakespeare Company to do a season there doing some Russian and German theater at the role of Shakespeare Company. Then along the way, you’re going for a bunch of things and I have the opportunity to come out to the U.S. and meet people working here, work with me, and they brought thus opportunity to me. And, yes, I guess it was one of those situations where I was able – at that time was able to really engage in the material and process of bringing an audition tape. And I was very lucky to have very good friends and help me make kind of the best audition tape I could possibly imagine because I really thought that I wanted to engage in the challenges of playing this character.
Have you ever considered corresponding with Charles Manson or contemplated whether or not you would ever hear from him after playing this role?
I can answer the second question very seriously. No I haven’t really contemplated that […] I really haven’t thought about that. The first question I did – yes. It’s something I – I very seriously thought through the implications and thoughts and very sage advice about that because as an actor especially I sort of aspire to, you know, being able to transform in my performances and be as authentic as I can. With each opportunity you have to assess the pros and cons and this one, I [came] to the conclusion along with good advice from people. I think that – and in trying to contact him I don’t think it would serve either party. And not me because if I can meet him in 1966 or ’67 that would be useful. Meeting him at the end of his life when – and he’s been incarcerated for most of it, I don’t think it would serve me in any particular or rather performance for the show and I certainly don’t think it would serve him as an individual. So I, yeah that’s not something I pursued.
Was there something while working on this project that you found surprising or unexpected?
I can tell you about the very first Monday I walked in the set and some – one of the producers – I think it was suggesting when the actors had organized for a shaman to – I guess I think the word would be bless, but I’m not sure, but to sort of clear my aura in my term. And it’s not an experience I’ve had at all since – but the woman had performed – the shaman – and it was very lovely and essentially just a very nice work so I appreciate that. […] I mean, it’s really sweet that someone thought to do this and apparently they’ve done it for the whole set and all the cast and crew and everyone. Just sort of remove any bad energy from our production which was a nice thing to do and I thought vary on topics. The only thing is, because no one mentioned it, what do we expect to get? And I thought of, what’s going to happen? Yes, you know, I’m part in that.
And there were some scenes later on in the series which I don’t really want to spoil, but – and there’s some interesting family relationship. And with family I don’t mean Mason family, but I mean real family for all the characters. There’s sort of true family drama for every character like kicks in at the end of the show and I think that was pretty challenging for all the actors to get involved in. So very exciting.
How much interaction can we expect to see from your character and David’s character, Sam, in the first season and what’s your experience like working with David?
Obviously I don’t want to spoil it too much, but – and I don’t think it doesn’t spoil too much to say yes we have some interaction, but not – he’s got a whole of other stuff to be dealing with in his character, so – but there is some interaction in the first season. Having met David, sort of not just working way of filming but also around the set […] I hugely looked up to him growing up and still do as an actor so – but he’s just a generous and lovely, very professional presence and a heck of a leader on the set so it’s kind of – yes, it’s very nice to be around. I think I’ve been very lucky in my work to work with some fantastic professionals and I definitely count him in the top sort of that league.
When you were first auditioning for the role, did you have any hesitation or concern with playing such a notorious individual?
Eight, nine months of where we at — maybe a year now — I guess I’d be lying if I say there wasn’t at some point at all like, oh, is this a weird place to be getting into, I guess. But, when I first said, when I first got the role, what I did do was actually want to learn a little about the project and how it’s going to be executed from John the show runner and he is such a fantastic writer and, again, leader of the show. I guess that side of it never really came into my sort of presence at all. It was more about getting excited about how they were going to shoot it. So it looks like, you know, authentic people from the 60s and things like that. I haven’t in my mind haven’t sort of addressed it towards that, but yes, you do think about what went – his life pops up in the news because he really is present in a lot of people’s mind. And also it’s also very sensitive to those – I’m more concerned about the people who were affected by the crimes rather than the people who are committing them if you see what I mean.
Since you’re playing Manson as he’s trying to be a rock star, will we get to hear you sing and will he be hanging around the Beach Boys at this point?
Very good question. A really good question. So, yes, you will hear Charles sing because that – in our story that’s basically what he’s done. He’s just trying to get record deals. Just a guy who spent some time in prison and is looking for a record deal and he goes about that particular quest with some very unconventional methods. But yes, you will hear the character sing. I had to learn to play guitar to play the role as well which is – yes, initially a bit of a – probably unfair on the neighbors, but I can sort of throw a few chords together now, so I’m getting a bit better. But, yes, you’ll absolutely hear him sing …. In history we’re sort of not quite near where he was interacting with any famous pop stars yet. So not in this series. But he’s absolutely doing the things that was recorded in, old biographies that he was communicating and we’ve record executives and meeting them […] but not yet.
If the series does so well and they bring it back, do you think that they’ll eventually take on the Tate-LaBianca murders?
Well I think if we continue to make the show over say a few years, let’s say, that we have that kind of response from our audience which we really hope it will, then I think it would be impossible to get through to the end of the 60s like through to the 70s if you’re…at least considered within the story line. Whether that’s detailed how that would be if that would be depicted is definite but not necessarily a necessary thing because part of – especially my – having come here from London I’m struck by how vivid that atmosphere is in the memories of people who live throughout the city. And the story is about LA. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be one thing on that evening necessarily visually, but we can – the response to everything around it could very well be, you know, a part of our story later on. You know, it’s strange how we get that.