Q&A: Actor Gethin Anthony talks Charles Manson and “AQUARIUS”, Season OneMovies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley No Comment
There’s few real-life figures that must be as intimidating to portray as notorious cult leader Charles Manson, whose psychological and physical torment lead to some of the most graphic murders of the 20th Century. Yet few tackle the chilling character with the gusto of one-time GAME OF THRONES star Gethin Anthony, who embodies Manson in all of his wicked ways on NBC’s intense and dark series, AQUARIUS. With AQUARIUS now making its way to home video, now with more violence, sex and foul language that was cut from broadcast, FANGORIA caught up with the versatile actor to talk Manson, music and the grim eventualities that await AQUARIUS…
FANGORIA: Upon joining AQUARIUS, how did you personally prepare in taking a role like Charles Manson?
GETHIN ANTHONY: Well, I was lucky that I had a bit of time and when you play anyone based on a real person, you have the opportunity to go into biographical information. So I did a lot of book reading, watched clips of Manson online and watched any documentary footage that I could get a hold of; I even literally just listened to his voice a bunch of times. So then it became about trying to put the role around him since I had to put myself in the ‘60s, so I listened to different music from the era, watched videos and documentaries from that time so I could get my head as much into that period as possible.
[Series creator] John McNamara also gave us all a our own homework sheet, which had a big book, music and video list on it to help us get our heads into that of our characters. As an actor, that’s really fun as we get to delve into much of what’s canon in that er. As for Manson, it gave me more opportunities to listen to his voice, play the guitar- which I’d never done before- and it all probably sounds pretty dull when I put it like that but it really was a lot of fun.
FANGORIA: As a performer, were you more concerned with playing Manson as a fully-rounded fictional character or as realistic as possible?
ANTHONY: Well, I think those two things go hand-in-hand. By virtue of trying as much as you can to understand where someone has come from, what experiences they’ve had and what life they’ve been exposed to, as well as marrying that to the writing created by the writers and producers, you hope that out of the work comes the most honest portrayal as possible within the confines of what you’re doing. In that sense, both of those methods worked together, since I only know how to play the character the way I would play the character. I just tried to pursue the character and hoped it would be worth watching.
FANGORIA: What was the experience of being in the headspace of Charles Manson? Was it a taxing experience or is it one you’re accustomed to as an actor?
ANTHONY: Well, getting into his head was something I had aspired to do when I took the role. I went in and auditioned for the role, and you get what you ask for. Yes, it was challenging and it took me to a lot of dark places, but I had a lot of good advice from people to get to those places. But as an actor, you challenge yourself to see the world through other people’s eyes and to walk a mile in their shoes, and it’s inevitably going to be difficult.
Actually, some of the hardest stuff to do was to put myself in that historical context, as in what that behavior actually was like in terms of the attitude towards sex, drugs, trust in people and the liberation movement at that time. That was quite tricky because it literally was “a different time.” That work was a little harder to do, but the music was very helpful to get me there.
FANGORIA: Speaking of music, what was that element like on AQUARIUS, especially considering you’d be taking on Charles Manson’s music?
ANTHONY: Terrifying, really! [laughs] As I said, I’d never played guitar before so just trying to get that basic sound was scary. I was lucky, I guess, in that Manson’s music isn’t the most complex in terms of chords you need to learn or anything like that. But trying to get my head around the exact rhythms that he was playing was trickier because he didn’t really abide by any rules, so it was harder to try to be great at it.
The amazing part of it was getting me to sing in front of people. Even when I was growing up, I don’t know why but I was nervous to sing. So out of all the things in my career, that was actually one of the things that was more nerve-wracking, actually.
FANGORIA: When you first got to the set of AQUARIUS, what was your first reaction to seeing everyone in ‘60s garb and in character?
ANTHONY: It was really frickin’ cool, and I’ll tell you why: when you go to set and everything is already there for you, it becomes clear that you can be in the moment and feel natural. That’s a privilege because it’s essentially make-believe; it’s not like when you’re a kid and you pretend a cardboard box is a spaceship because the spaceship is actually there. Actually, when I came on set, I saw some footage that they’d already filmed and it was a riot scene, so there was the iconic LAPD white helmets and everything. Seeing how well they pulled that off was really exciting, but that wasn’t really reacting to the set as much as it was watching that they had on a monitor and going, “Wow! This is great.”
The location they found for the Spiral Staircase compound was extraordinary because it really was away from everything. It was relatively away from L.A., but it really captured the feeling of being away from the city; it’s actually based off of a real location in Topango. But the way the crew dressed and lit that location was perfect and in terms of research, that was a big help.
FANGORIA: Was there anything about Manson outside of the scripts you were provided that you found particularly fascinating or interesting?
ANTHONY: Yes, and there was much about Manson that I learned about. AQUARIUS was such a journey of discovery since I had only known about as much as anyone else about Manson before taking on the role. Then by delving into the research throughout the season and verifying what he said in his work and in his testimonies during the trials, it was really eye-opening to me. I think what I was really surprised by was the fact that he spent most of his life in prison; I know it’s a simple thing and most people might know that about Manson, but to me, it was news that this 32 or 33-year-old man spent most of his life in a prison cell up to that point. That was a useful piece of information because that’s not that close to us all, and that was a great starting point for understanding the character.
And then there were the little pieces of information that were really interesting, like how they would dumpster dive. You see, since they were all out there and didn’t have any jobs or food, they’d often go through dumpsters outside of a marketplace and get the thrown-away food. Their day-to-day routine was quite fascinating since there was so much that was just outright alien to my life experiences.
FANGORIA: Considering AQUARIUS was renewed for a second season, and obviously the Charles Manson storyline is only going to get darker and more visceral, have you prepared yourself to take the character into those despicable places?
ANTHONY: I’ve been basically taking the character situation by situation, and considering there is so much material on Manson that we’ll get into, I tried to focus on the early stuff first. But I will go to where I’ll need to go to in terms of research, and I’m lucky that I trust John McNamara and the people making the show implicitly. But in terms of those stories with that type of subject matter, I look forward to seeing what we’ll get.
AQUARIUS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, which features extended, unrated never-before-seen versions of each episode, hits DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, September 15th from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. Check back for more on AQUARIUS here at FANGORIA.com!