The Dominion Post TV Week, TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2009
INSIDE THE MIND OF CRIME A docu-drama looks at one of America’s bloodiest massacres. TV Week’s Julie Jacobson talks to its star.
In character: Canadian actor Adam Wilson immersed himself in research to play Charles Manson, seen in a photograph, right, issued this year.
ORTY years ago this month, a car driven by young mother Linda Kasabian pulled up outside 10050 Cielo Drive, in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. In the car with Kasabian were Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles ‘‘Tex’’ Watson. They had been ordered – ‘‘Now is the time for helter skelter’’ – to kill everyone at the house. The bloody massacre that followed – the scene was described as a human slaughterhouse – is still one of the most talked about in American history. Less than 24 hours later another two people were dead. At the heart of the killings (now referred to as the Tate homicides and the LaBianca murders) was one Charles Manson, a man whose name has become synonymous with evil. Canadian actor Adam Wilson plays Manson in a new docudrama that chronicles the chilling, four-week lead-up to the events of August 9, 1969. Despite not being born at the time of the killings, Wilson, 38, says they had a profound effect on his life, ‘‘as they did on every American at the time’’. His older sister, Sandra, was still having nightmares about them into the mid and late 1970s. ‘‘She’s six years older than me, she’d taken in just enough at an impressionable age to be forever afraid.’’ Wilson had thought having little brother playing Manson might have removed the fear. It hasn’t. ‘‘Now she’s afraid that her brother is Charles Manson.’’ He, too, has had his moments of terror, not the least of which was
IN SHORT WHAT: Manson WHERE: Prime WHEN: Friday, August 7, 8.30pm
It was interesting that when I told people I was going to play Charles Manson, while my sister was revolted, and every other actor I knew was revolted, it was only with jealousy.
having to get inside the mind of a man, variously described as charismatic, manipulative, domineering, passive/aggressive, Christ-like. Yet fresh from starring as a 500-year-old vampire in award-winning short Ending the Eternal (a feature length follow up is in production ) Wilson was happy to be typecast as a baddie. Professionally he relished the role. ‘‘A lot of my favourite actors – the Oldmans, the Nicholsons – are actors who tend to gravitate to those sorts of personalities. I admit I was a bit intimidated by the responsibility of it, because there are survivors, but as an actor it is a pleasure to explore the corners of your mind, the darker territory, that you normally wouldn’t. ‘‘It was interesting that when I told people I was going to play Charles Manson, while my sister was revolted, and every other actor I knew was revolted, it was only with jealousy. They thought, ‘Well, that’s a dream isn’t it? Trying to amplify whatever darkness I can find in myself . . . it’s both challenging and therapeutic’.’’ He was, however, wary about playing a ‘‘real’’ character, and especially one as well known as Manson. He studied old film clips, and immersed himself in research. He grew his hair — ‘‘I definitely became a lot woollier than I normally am’’ — altered his physical carriage, and worked with a speech coach to get Manson’s voice down pat. ‘‘The challenge for me was to try to play him as though I didn’t know where he would get to because we are all so aware of what happened. To try to play through him without foreknowledge of what was going to come
was difficult. The responsibility of wanting to bring as much truth [to it] but to remain sensitive to the people who were affected was pretty daunting.’’
EVERAL of those people appear in the film. Linda Kasabian, who turned state’s evidence in exchange for immunity, talks for the first time since the trial about her involvement, as does Catherine ‘‘Gypsy‘‘ Share, another Manson family member, and Vincent Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor. Says a now 60-year-old Kasabian, who had left her second husband pregnant, and with a toddler in tow, to follow Manson: ‘‘I was searching for love and freedom. I was searching for God. Gypsy told me Charlie Manson was beautiful and would take care of me and my daughter . . .’’ While ‘‘in no way wanting to endorse or justify’’ Manson’s behaviour,
Wilson points out he had not had the best start in life. His mother, Kathleen Maddox, was unmarried and 16 when he was born. He was recorded as ‘‘no name Maddox’’ on his birth certificate, and at one, ‘‘if the stories hold true was traded by his mother for a pitcher of beer in a tavern. So when that’s the beginning, when your life is so bereft of love, there would certainly be doors that opened that wouldn’t be there for the average person.’’ Manson’s adolescence was spent in various youth homes, and was in and out of jail for 17 years from the age of 17, at one stage begging authorities not to release him. Contrast that, says Wilson, with his own childhood: a stay-at-home mum, parents who ‘‘remain happily together to this day’’, a heap of love and positive reinforcement, ‘‘rowdy and confused’’ but law abiding.