NBC travels back to age of ‘Aquarius,’ Charles Manson

Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson, who is a petty criminal and aspiring musician in the era depicted on Aquarius.
Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson, who is a petty criminal and aspiring musician in the era depicted on Aquarius. NBC

Gethin Anthony’s first day of work on Aquarius, NBC’s back-to-the-’60s crime drama, included an experience that was out of the ordinary.

Very far out. As in outta sight.

“One of the producers arranged for a shaman to come and cleanse my aura,” the actor remembers. “It’s not an experience I’ve had before or since.

“Apparently they did it for the whole set and all the cast and crew, just to remove any bad energy from our production.”

Anthony has no way of knowing if the ritual was effective. But given that he was portraying the infamous madman Charles Manson, he welcomed positive vibes any way he could get them.

“It was a nice thing to do and very on topic,” Anthony says.

The time-tripping thriller, which also stars David Duchovny as a Jack Webb-style straight-arrow cop, premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Anthony, an English actor best known for playing Renly Baratheon in Game of Thrones, is quick to point out that Aquarius is not “The Charles Manson Show.”

Aquarius is really a story about David’s character,” Anthony says. “It’s about everything that was going on in Los Angeles and the United States in the late ’60s: civil rights, feminism, young people.”

Duchovny — who will follow this series with a reboot of The X-Files in 2016 — plays a fictional character named Sam Hodiak, a decorated World War II veteran and homicide detective who barely recognizes the city any more during this time of social upheaval.

While looking into a case that involves a missing 16-year-old girl (Emma Dumont), Hodiak and his long-haired, next-generation partner (Grey Damon) follow the trail to Manson, a charismatic career criminal who is just beginning to build his “family” of followers.

At this time, during the summer of 1967, the shocking Tate-LaBianca “Helter Skelter” murders of 1969 are still two years away. For now, Manson aspires only to become a rock star.

“In our story, he’s basically just a guy who spent some time in prison and is looking for a record deal,” Anthony says. “But he goes about that particular quest with some very unconventional methods.”

Suffice it to say that Manson will kill — literally — to get his big break.

Given the cultural importance of music in the ’60s, it’s fitting that music, as much as an extensive reading list of Manson biographies, helped Anthony prepare his performance.

“Music is such a useful thing to get into a certain mood,” he says. “I actually bought a record player and would listen to the Beatles on vinyl. With any period drama, doing things like that helps you.”

The actor briefly contemplated the merits of meeting or corresponding with Manson in prison, in the name of research, but he ultimately decided against reaching out.

“I aspire to be as authentic as I can, but I came to the conclusion that trying to contact him would serve neither party,” Anthony explains. “If I could meet him in 1967, THAT would be useful. But meeting him at the end of his life, when he has been incarcerated for most of it, wouldn’t serve my performance.”

Looking back, Anthony thinks the hardest part about channeling Manson for television was getting the character out of his head once his work had ended.

“It was a performance that I had to sustain over an extended period of time,” he says, “so I had to figure out a way to sort of balance it and let go.”

How did he lighten his dark frame of mind?

“Listening to music,” he says. “And watching Disney movies.”


▪ 8 p.m. Thursday

▪ KXAS/Channel 5