Aquarius, the new summer show from NBC, received some less than positive reviews after screenings of its pilot episode. Many are claiming it is just another cop show made more interesting by the dark backdrop of the infamous Manson murders, but all eyes are on Game of Thrones star Gethin Anthony to see if his portrayal of cult leader Charles Manson matches up to the real thing.
Charles Manson was found guilty in 1971 of conspiracy to commit the murders of no less than seven people. Followers of his bizarre cult, Helter Skelter, all carried out these gruesome crimes under Manson’s instruction. As famous as these atrocities are, Aquarius is set during Manson’s early life, more specifically the onslaught of rape, attempted murder and robbery that occurred two years before the Tate-LaBianca murders for which he was convicted. During this time in the late 1960s Manson’s dream was to become a rock star, a dream that didn’t exactly die with his prison sentence. Marilyn Manson, Guns N’ Roses and White Zombie have all covered tracks written and performed by the notorious villain.
In Aquarius, Sergeant Sam Hodiak (played by established thriller actor David Duchovny) is a World War II veteran tasked with investigating crimes in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles’ free love and plentiful drugs era. Assisted by undercover officer Brian Shafe, played by teen heart-throb Grey Damon, Hodiak finds himself caught up in the misdemeanors of Manson and the loyal cult members he is attracting. Despite the eerie themes of murder, mayhem and manipulation, NBC claim the Aquarius’ series is primarily about Hodiak and his attempts to police a city he no longer recognizes. This does not mean, however, that viewers will not be intrigued by Gethin Anthony’s portrayal of murderous Manson.
British born Anthony, an Oxford University graduate, is no stranger to playing large, controversial characters. His role as Renly Baratheon in HBO’s Game of Thrones saw him fight for his chance to sit on the Iron Throne, hide a homosexual relationship without much success and eventually get assassinated by a supernatural being summonsed by his own kin. After all the fictional bloodshed and debauchery of Games of Thrones, some may say that the 31-year-old actor is no match for the cruel and obscure real life Charles Manson who he is set to play in Aquarius. Gethin Anthony, however, did not find preparing for the show all that challenging.
Commenting on how he read acclaimed works on Manson, such as Jeff Guinn’s Manson and ‘Manson in His Own Words by Nuel Emmons, the actor said there was a great deal of information already available about the character that he found useful, ‘The key was to get behind understanding him as this famous villain,’ he said, ‘…how he grew up, where he grew up, what instances took place in his life.’ Filming Aquarius in Los Angeles, so close to where Manson and his Helter Skelter cult began, was also incredibly helpful, with local people being able to recall the atmosphere and events from the time.
Gethin’s acting skills will really be put to the test as this English Literature graduate from Kingston-Upon-Thames, England, throws himself into the role of a notorious criminal, not least because of the challenge of adopting Manson’s distinctive voice. In preparation for the role, Anthony listened to interviews with Manson from 1967 as well as the now famous recordings of his rock music. He even employed a guitar teacher to ensure his musical capabilities met those of the convicted criminal, something he felt was crucial to understanding the man he would portray, ‘You always want to connect to who this person is as a human’, Gethin Anthony said. Describing Manson as an almost mythical creature, he went on to say, ‘in our story he’s a guy thats been let out into a world full of social liberation. It’s a weird thing to watch develop’.
With the first series of of the new cop drama getting under way this week, it will be interesting to see if this obviously intelligent and cultured English actor can take on the role of a vile and disillusioned cult leader and make it his own. If Gethin Anthony really is a match for Charles Manson, then NBC’s Aquarius may just prove it’s initial critics wrong.
By Alison Klippenstein
The Atlantic – Manson Family Aside, Aquarius Is Just Another Cop Drama
NBC – Aquarius
TVOM – Aquarius’s Gethin Anthony Talks Preparation and Playing Charles Manson
Variety – Gethin Anthony on Becoming Charles Manson in ‘Aquarius’
IMDb – Gethin Anthony
Speakeasy – Music On TV: ‘Aquarius’ and Charles Manson’s Rock Star Dreams
Second Photo Courtesy of DCNerd’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License