Aquarius’s Gethin Anthony Talks Preparation and Playing Charles Manson


One of the most highly anticipated new shows of the summer is Aquarius, NBC’s upcoming drama about Los Angeles homicide detective Sam Hodiak, played by David Duchovny, who, during the course of an investigation in 1967, gets caught up with a career criminal dreaming of becoming a rock star: Charles Manson. Gethin Anthony, probably most famous for his role as Renly Baratheon on HBO’s Game of Thrones, plays the infamous Manson on the series, taking place two years before the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders. This week, TVOvermind joined several other news outlets in a conference call with Anthony, in which he spoke about his preparation for the role of a lifetime while also discussing just how large a part Manson will play in the series.

Note: The contents of the call were relatively spoiler-free in regard to the actual events of the series, but be aware that the call does go into the size of Manson’s role in Aquarius.

Aquarius has an interesting distinction of being a series that features the character of Charles Manson in a lead role while simultaneously keeping the primary focus off of him, instead following the story of David Duchovny’s Sam Hodiak. This is one of the small things about the show that drew Gethin Anthony to the role, along with the care given to the implementation of Manson as a cultural figure.

“I got really strong reactions to the authenticity of the dialogue that had been written for the Manson character,” Anthony revealed, “and the characters around him in that world…John’s [McNamara, the showrunner] dialogue was really authentic for me, and it made me want to dig deeper into understanding the late-60s.”

Anthony spoke a lot about how interesting the time period became for him upon studying for the role. To further help this, the showrunner, John McNamara, gave Anthony what was essentially a college “reading list” of books, films, and music to study in an attempt to understand the world. Along with the materials provided by McNamara, Anthony also discussed his studies of Manson himself.

“One of the useful things about playing such a notorious man is that there’s a wealth of information out there…but it really became about listening to his voice,” Anthony told reporters. He mentioned specifically an interview that Manson did in 1967, before the infamous murders, that he found very useful.

Furthermore, he also discussed how he didn’t feel it was necessary to even attempt a correspondence with Manson today, as he feels it wouldn’t help him very much in trying to tap into the 1967 version of the man. Nevertheless, he does find it interesting how Manson is, in many ways, a theatrical person, pointing out that many of his manipulative methods could be considered a type of acting. Offering his ideas on why people gravitated to Manson so much, Anthony describes it as “a perfect cocktail of circumstance,” due to the time period of liberation and the assortment of impressionable minds at his beck and call.

Anthony did want to specify that he doesn’t believe Aquarius in any way glorifies the Tate-LaBianca murders, because “it should be clear that Aquarius is really about a policeman in the late-60s. It’s not about Charles Manson.” He also offers that, as a story about the late-1960s, there are major themes and storylines about both civil rights and feminism. Even though the series is not necessarily about Charles Manson, Anthony explains that it makes sense for him to be involved in this capacity.

“As in history, Manson sort of pulled himself to the attention of people by his actions…the extremity of his actions pulls himself into [the spotlight],” he said.

Anthony also, interestingly, offers that Manson has sort of become a mythological villain, and he explains that, while Manson is a real person and his story will be fairly true-to-life, “we are telling a fictionalized version of [the time period]…it was just about connecting to the stories that we were telling and the specificity of that.”

Much of the call really covered the same topics, just in more depth, but Anthony did want to include that the time period of Aquarius is during the time in Manson’s life that he was trying to be a rock star. Because of this, you will hear Anthony-as-Manson sing and play the guitar, something that he had to learn to do for the show.

Aquarius begins Thursday, May 28, at 9/8c with a 2-hour series premiere on NBC.

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  1. Jimmy Wiggians