- Actor Damon Herriman played Charles Manson in both Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood and the second season of Mindhunter.
- He talks about how he prepared for playing two versions of the same character.
- One version is set in 1969, while the other in 1980.
How tall was Charles Manson? Oddly, people can't seem to agree. This picture suggests he was 5'2, but the Helter Skelter cult leader claimed he was 5'6.
Whatever the case, Damon Herriman is so good at embodying Manson, the 5'7 Australian actor got to play him not once, but twice this summer: first in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood, and then in season 2 of Netflix's Mindhunter , executive produced by David Fincher .
Herriman's of the belief that Manson was 5'2, since he was once photographed standing next to a height chart. "Unless they've made a mistake, I tend to think that he was 5'2," he said. "And you only have to look at him in any footageI mean, he's considerably shorter than anybody he's standing next to.
"Im not quite as short as him, but thankfully I was just short enough to get to play the role."
So how did Mindhunter manage to make Herriman look so small in his entrance scene? It was simpler than you'd think. The only other person in the scene, outside of the seated Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), was the guard who allowed him into the cell. And apparently, that guard was really tall.
"It made such a difference," Herriman said. (Eli Everett, who's credited in the episode as "CMF Guard #2," is listed on IMDB as 6'6.)
The two projects find Herriman playing Manson in two different eras. Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood features Manson in 1969, before his arrest, while Mindhunter finds him in 1980, bitter, angry, and imprisoned. The change in time periods helped him find a way to make the portrayals feel different from one another; 1969 Manson starts off in a much sunnier place.
"He just sounds very playful, and very much like hes enjoying life. He laughs a lot, and he tells jokes," he says. "When you meet him in jail, he generally is angry and bitter about the fact that hes there, and it did create a nice point of difference for me."
Herriman only found out he would be playing the Tarantino version of Manson about a month before filming began. It happened after he had completed work on Mindhunter, which he'd known about and researched for six months prior to filming. That time cushion gave him plenty of time to learn the story , watch footage and interviews , and learn the accent (which he described as "kind of a mix of things going on").
The key to Manson's speech, he said, was simply watching footage and mimicking the voice. "You just want to get it accurate enough so that when people are watching it, they think it sounds like him," he said. "It may not sound like him next to each other, but people arent watching it like that."
As far as research goes, there were quite a few interviews and pieces of footage from the '70s, '80s, and '90s to draw from. But for the 1969 version, footage was harder to come across. The most useful thing he found was a recording of Manson auditioning for a record contract. "He just sounds very playful, and very much like he's enjoying life," Herriman said. "He laughs a lot, and he tells jokes."
When all was said and done, playing the infamous cult leader in two major projects wasn't something that lingered with him in a negative way. While it disturbed him to read about the murders Manson was responsible for, Herriman said he wasn't disturbed while playing him, mostly because he rarely actually talks about anything violent.
"I think it wouldve been a harder thing to shake if you were playing someone whos known to be a killer, but also having to do actual killing, or talk gleefully, about killing people or hurting people," he said. "He generally doesnt do thathes kind of spouting philosophies about humanity, and the world, and himself, and why he shouldnt be there."
Whether Herriman is jovial in 1969, or bitter in 1980, the way he figured out a way to understand what makes Charles Manson tick is an impressive feat.