Gethin Anthony Interview: ‘Aquarius’ and Playing Charles Manson

Gethin Anthony Interview on Aquarius and Playing Charles Manson
Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson in ‘Aquarius’ (Photo by: Vivian Zink / NBC)

NBC’s set to premiere one of the summer’s most talked about new dramatic series when Aquarius debuts on May 28, 2015 at 9pm ET/PT. Set in the 1960s, Aquarius stars David Duchovny as a Los Angeles homicide detective who agrees to help an old girlfriend find her missing teenage daughter, Emma (Emma Dumont). As he investigates Emma’s disappearance, he learns about a career criminal who’s been collecting free-spirited hippies into his ever-expanding band of followers. The criminal is none other than Charles Manson, played by Gethin Anthony.

Anthony’s best known to television audiences for playing Renly Baratheon on HBO’s Game of Thrones, and during a conference call in support of the upcoming Aquarius premiere, Anthony talked about going from GoT to this series set in the ’60s. Anthony also chatted about researching the real Manson and learning to play the guitar in order to capture the period in Manson’s life when he believed he was going to be a rock star. And Anthony discussed why people were so willing to follow Manson.

Gethin Anthony Aquarius Interview:

Was it the premise of the show in general or your character in particular that made you want to be a part of Aquarius?

Gethin Anthony: “I think my first and strongest reaction 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 John [McNamara’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 that they could have the courage to make a show about sort of such sensitive subject matter with authenticity excites me.”

How much research did you do on Charles Manson before you took on the role?

Gethin Anthony: “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 so I could have almost got sort of snowed under with reading and watching. But it really became about listening to his voice, [that] 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 imprisoned that I found very useful to take me back to the point of the history that our stories take place. So, yes, it was close listening to his voice. And 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.”

After playing Manson do you have an explanation as to why people gravitated to him so much?

Gethin Anthony: “I think that having done the research that I did, increasingly I understood why that might have been the case. I don’t claim to know if there was 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 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 words 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 he was a man who was out of prison at a time when there were a lot of liberation in the air 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.”

What do you say to the critics who feel that Aquarius is glorifying the Manson family murders?

Gethin Anthony: “Well, the first thing I would say about that is we’re not – certainly not in this season – depicting 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 [Duchovny’s] character and everything else that was going on in Los Angeles and the United States in the late ’60s. There’s huge storylines about civil rights and about the sort of way feminism was coming at that time.

Gethin Anthony Aquarius Interview
Gethin Anthony (Photo by Jim Fiscus / NBC)

And as in history, Manson sort of pulled himself to the attention of people by his actions and, similarly, in our story that is necessarily the case. The extremity of his actions pulls himself into the spotlight. I think we’ve been very careful about not glamorizing him.”

What aspects of what you learned about Charles Manson did you pull in and use to influence your performance?

Gethin Anthony: “That’s a really good question. I think the main thing I did was to learn about 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 beings 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, and learn more facts factually or anecdotally about what he had, what his life was like. And there are some surprises in there. I mean, there’s lots of information out there, but the biography is about 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. We are telling a fictionalized version of the late ’60s and of, indeed, the story which is based on 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.”

How did the journey all the way from playing Renly Baratheon in Game of Thrones to Charles Manson in Aquarius happen?

Gethin Anthony: “Obviously Game of Thrones was a huge privilege to be a part of, so I was very grateful for the opportunity and Finn [Jones] and I are both are very excited about the storylines and sort of what actually we could bring to them, you know? And beyond that you start to get a few opportunities to get into a few different ones, an indie movie in Copenhagen and I went back to a role of Shakespeare Company to do a season there doing some Russian and German theater. And 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 and they brought this opportunity to me. And, yes, I guess it was one of those situations where I at that time was able to really engage in the material and process of bringing an audition tape. I was very lucky to have very good friends 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 toyed with the idea of actually corresponding with Charles Manson and have you contemplated whether or not you would ever hear from him after playing this role?

Gethin Anthony: “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 very seriously thought through the implications and thoughts and very sage advice about that because as an actor, especially, I sort of aspire to being able to transform in my performances and be as authentic as I can. And with each opportunity you have to access the pros and cons. This one you know I came to the conclusion, along with good advice from people, that trying to contact him I don’t think it would serve either party. Because if I can meet him in 1966 or ’67 that would be useful, meeting him at the end of his life when he’s been incarcerated for most of it, I don’t think it would serve me in any particular way or [my] performance for the show. I certainly don’t think it would serve him as an individual. So that’s not something I pursued.”

Was there ever any hesitation or concern about portraying such a well-known and notorious individual such as Charles Manson?

Gethin Anthony: “You know what? I guess eight, nine months, 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.’ But 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 McNamara the show runner. He is such a fantastic writer and 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 authentic from the ’60s and things like that.

In my mind haven’t sort of addressed it towards that. But, yes, you do think about it [when] his life pops up in the news because he really is present in a lot of people’s minds. 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 when he’s trying to be a rock star, will we get to hear you sing?

Gethin Anthony: “Very good question. A really good question. So, yes, you will hear Charles sing because 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 initially probably unfair on the neighbors. 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.”

How hard was it to leave the darker scenes and aspects of this character behind at the end of the day? How were you able to do that?

Gethin Anthony: “Watch Disney movies. [Laughing] No. Funny enough that was actually the real challenge with this, was figuring out how to let go of it a little bit. And mainly because it was a performance that I had to sustain over an extended period of time where I was sort of working six days a week. I was working a few days a week and so I had to figure out a way of sort of balancing it, I guess. But I mean, I didn’t do that very well. I think I was probably the only person in LA who was on their own on Halloween this year. Like I just wasn’t that interested in going out being spooked or spooking because I get enough of that at work.

But I mean I just sort of kept playing guitar and trying to find less intense elements and immersing myself in that world and listening to the kind of my style of the music and getting stuff like that. Apart from that I think Finding Nemo went to play.”