In the summer of 1969, Charles Manson and a number of his followers went on a brutal murder spree across Los Angeles, California, leaving over half a dozen bodies in their wake. Despite the fact that it’s been nearly half a century since the murders, society remains as fascinated by the story as ever. How could something like this happen? How could one man convince a group of young people to kill for him? In an effort to answer these questions, various people involved in the case have published books, most notably the bestselling novel Helter Skelter, which was written by the prosecuting attorney during the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi. Nevertheless, no matter how many books are published, interviews are done or movies are made, people continue to be intrigued by the case, eager for anything that could add more depth to it.
Now, Lifetime is preparing to bring the psychedelic summer of 1969 to life once again in a new original movie called Manson’s Lost Girls, premiering on February 6. Unlike other films about this subject, this movie paints a new picture of Charles Manson’s world by focusing on the stories of Linda Kasabian and the other women who fell under his demonic spell. The movie follows Linda as she arrives at the seemingly idyllic Spahn Ranch hippie commune, where she is embraced with open arms. Seduced by the group’s free love lifestyle, Linda revels in the sisterhood and acceptance. Inevitably, she finds herself becoming infatuated with Manson, who soon draws her into the group’s sketchy activities, including late-night “creepy crawls” to steal from lavish homes. Linda reluctantly becomes an accomplice to Manson’s “Helter Skelter”, a drug-fueled murder spree that included the brutal death of actress Sharon Tate. She ultimately breaks away and turns herself in as a witness for the prosecution and helps to convict Manson.
The cast of this movie includes the next generation of Hollywood stars. Mackenzie Mauzy, who is most known for starring as Phoebe Forrester in the soap opera Bold and the Beautiful, Rapuzel in Into the Woods and Abigail Morgan in the television series Forever, is Linda Kasabian; Eden Brolin, whose film credits include Ruby Sparks, I Dream Too Much and the upcoming films The Dark Rite and Emerald City, plays Susan Atkins; and, Christian Madsen, who starred in the movies Now Here, Refuge in the Storm, Palo Alto and Divergent, portrays Tex Watson. The movie also stars Jeff Ward (The Mentalist) as Charles Manson, Greer Grammer (Awkward) as Leslie Van Houten, Grace Victoria Cox (Under the Dome) as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Isabel Shill (Orange is the New Black) as Patricia Krenwinkel and Garrett Coffey (Battle for Skyark) as Bobby Beausoliel. Talk Nerdy With Us recently had the pleasure of participating in a conference call with Mackenzie Mauzy, Eden Brolin and Christian Madsen, in which we chatted about the research that they did for the movie, what it was like to film some of the darker scenes and what brings out the nerd in them. Check it out below!
What kind of research did each of you do in order to portray these particular characters?
Mackenzie: Initially, I looked at a lot of public forums online. Then, I started looking at documentaries and things like that, and there were a couple of key documentaries that I found on YouTube actually, from Linda Kasabian’s perspective and an interview with her that I used. I read “Helter Skelter”, which a lot of people did. So, things like that. And really, we relied a lot on talking to each other about everything that we found and going from there.
Eden: I think a lot of our answers are the same for this question. We were really lucky to get on the set and go over the research that all of us had done beforehand—and some people came on really last-minute, so it helped those people especially—but we all got to pass around so much information. Every day, somebody had something new to share. A lot of it for me involved watching a lot of interviews and reading as much as I could about her. There’s really not a lot of information that is known about her before the trials.
Christian: For me, I think that I was just fortunate in a weird way to be involved in a popular subject. There is so much online to gather and I think that, like with Mackenzie, I started a lot with online stuff and reading as much as I could. I watched documentaries from each person’s point of view. The guy that I play, Tex Watson, he wrote a book and he was pretty honest about a lot of the stuff that happened and who did what and why they did it. I believe that it’s called “Will You Die For Me?” which is something that Manson actually said to Tex Watson during one of their campfire hangouts. We really had a lot to gather, which was nice. Sometimes you do a project where you don’t have a lot of information to prepare with, but in this case, there was so much out there. So we were really fortunate.
I was wondering, since all of you are involved in social media, are you guys looking forward to the instant feedback that you are going to get for the project?
Mackenzie: Yeah! I’m excited for people to see it. I’m like so bad at social media (laughs) and I’m really trying to get better at it, but it’s really a blessing to have such supportive fans. Hopefully everyone will really enjoy it.
What was it like for you all to replay such a horrible event in American history as a Lifetime movie?
Eden: Well, in the trailers and the promotions for this movie, a lot of it is focused on the murders and all of the bad things that happened, and of course shooting those dark events that really happened was really eerie and really tragic and sad, but the really amazing thing about this story is that it’s so focused on family. It’s focused on these characters and these people specifically, and it goes into depth about them and how they got to where they ended up and how villainized they ended up all being. So, of course it was going to be dark, but at the same time, it was really kind of beautiful, which is strange because it wasn’t a beautiful time for them; it was really an eerie time for them. But it turned out kind of beautiful.
Mackenzie: I mean, it was horrible. I think we were all really lucky in that we got along and there was a high level of trust among the cast, which I think was really important as we got into the most intense scenes. But I do agree with Eden regarding the beautiful comment. I think what we filmed and what the movie is about is what the family was like before they turn to violence, so I think what was really important especially was to make sure at every turn that the story was grounded in the truth and that we were keeping true to what the characters really felt. So, I think we had that responsibility for sure since this is such an iconic, true story. But I do think that we were blessed and lucky to have the cast that we had and the director that we had and the producers because everyone was just rallying around telling this story truthfully and respectfully.
Christian: I think I agree with both points. It’s a weird balancing act when you do a movie that’s a real event. In a weird way, it’s kind of nice to know that we’re going to go here or going to go there in the story. I don’t think that it’s our job to agree with their choices; I think it’s our job to understand, to some degree, why they did them and explore that. If you watch the movie, in my opinion, Mackenzie does a great job at playing it in a human way where we see that she’s not just a murderer; we’re able to see a lot of different sides of Linda. And with Eden, there is a vulnerability there with Susan. A lot of these people who we’re seeing, they started out with the hippie movement and a lot of it was centered around love for Charlie and for themselves, and the lack of the family that they had before. I think the movie depicts a lot of that stuff first, and in the long run, thank God that Lifetime was able to go there because this is what happened. This is their story. I think there’s just so much undiscovered still. I guess we just wanted to explore that more.
Mackenzie: Yeah, I think it was important to explore how something like this happened and why it happened. I think that a lot of the stuff in the media tends to focus on the fallout and the trial, but in reality, this was the next generation and for all intents and purposes, these were kids, which I think is really scary. So we just wanted to explore how something like this happened, which is the intention that I think we all shared.
Mackenzie, do you still talk to any of your “Bold and the Beautiful” pals and even though your character is dead, would you still want to come back?
Mackenzie: You know, I think that ship has kind of sailed (laughs). I always think about the lengths they will go to in order to bring back a character on soap operas, and they’ll be like “People come back in soaps all the time!” and it’s like “But I was decapitated!” (laughs). I just think it’s so funny! But I do love that family. I do talk to them every once in a while. I learned a lot on the show and I’m still very thankful for getting to work with those cast members. They’ve really been so supportive of me all around, so I have nothing but love for them.
I remember reading “Helter Skelter” in high school and it kind of gave me nightmares (laughs). Did any of you have nightmares and have trouble dealing with it?
Mackenzie: Some days were harder than others. We were just kind of inundated; our schedules were crazy for months, and we didn’t get a lot of days off. I think on certain nights it was hard to sleep, but it wasn’t like any of us were home long enough—it was more of a get home and go right back to work kind of situation, but yeah, every once in a while when I was alone, I would get kind of freaked out, but for the most part, this journey was about telling the truth and bringing life to these characters. It was definitely creepy, especially when we got into filming the night of the murders and stuff like that. Thankfully, though, those scenes were done toward the end of shooting, and by that time, like I said, we had already established a strong sense of trust between us, which carried us through because we were all so supportive of each other.
Eden: I found that before all of the filming started, I was getting nightmares and in the middle of the day, I would get creeped out because I was reading “Helter Skelter” and all of these interviews, and get chills running over my body. What was interesting though is that, as creepy as some of the stuff that we were filming was, the nice thing about filming is that we were filming, going home and then going back to set very quickly, so when we started filming, you started to detach yourself very quickly, especially when you start to go home, but when you’re just doing your research about the event and who you were playing, I thought it was a lot creepier because you can’t detach yourself at the end of the day, you know?
Mackenzie: Yeah, that’s a good point…
Eden: Yeah, But it’s definitely such an eerie thing, even if you’re just reading about the good stuff, it’s still such a strange time.
Have you watched the entire film yet and what’re your thoughts about it?
Mackenzie: I’ve seen it! I’m really proud of everyone. It was kind of weird to watch myself in it, but I’m excited to see it again. I’m honestly really proud of everyone and how it came together. As scary as it is, it’s also a very human look at what happened in a way that doesn’t support any of the violence. It’s really just exploring the truth of it all and how something like this can happen. So, I’m proud of it and proud of everyone.
Eden: I haven’t seen it yet and I’m really, really looking forward to it. It was such an interesting and wonderful time on set with each other and we’re just all so lucky to have gotten such a smart group of people and a truly dedicated group of people who are lovely, lovely to be around. I think we’re all proud of what happened there and how it ended up but I haven’t had the chance to see the finished product, and I’m really looking forward to it because I’m really proud of the way that this story was portrayed from all of us individually.
Christian: I did watch the movie, and I nitpicked every scene that I was in (laughs), but aside from those scenes, I thought it was great. I think that when you shoot something and you have so much passion and you are surrounded by so many talented people, you envision how it’s going to end up, and it ended up great. The music was great; I was surprised how many great songs there were in it. I just thought that it was a nice, great movie. I really enjoyed it.
Can we talk about the music? Because I really enjoyed it and Eden, you sang really well and Mackenzie, you have a background singing; I used to watch you sing all the time on “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Since you both have that musical background, what was it like doing those scenes?
Mackenzie: I think that everyone was really musical. Eden is incredible and so talented. I think that everyone either played an instrument or sang or both, and we kind of discovered that along the way. It was fun to play around with guitars and sing in between shots. But I think that everyone had a musical background of some sort, which is kind of fun, especially since the Family—the real Family—sang together, so I think that it was a really cool thing that we discovered. I don’t think that it was intentional on the casting director’s part; I think it was more like we realized it once we were there.
Eden: You know, the day before we shot that scene, the director like frantically e-mailed me “Do you know how to sing and play guitar?!” and I was like “Yes, yes I do, but I don’t know what I’m singing” so I had the lyrics right below me when I shot that scene. I think you both [Mackenzie and Christian] remember that I was awful with the lyrics that day. But, it was lucky that I had a little bit of skill on the guitar and singing! It’s funny how that all worked out.
Since we’re on the subject of music, I have to ask Mackenzie: what was your “Into the Woods” experience like?
Mackenzie: Oh, um, awful. Like the worst experience ever (laughs). No, it was amazing! Getting to work with those people was incredible. It was nothing short of amazing. I just felt really, really fortunate to be a part of it and it was a cool product of my experience in New York. So, yeah, it was unbelievable!
When I was watching “Manson’s Lost Girls”, I noticed that the movie really fixates on Linda and her experiences. Mackenzie, do you think this is because she is the character people can empathize with the most?
Mackenzie: Well, I don’t know if the whole intention was empathy so much as—First of all, this is a part of the story that not many people know; I mean, most people who hear the story have never even heard of Linda Kasabian. Instead, you have to explain it. I do think there is a more observable level of sanity in her based purely on the fact that she couldn’t go through with taking a life, which is an obvious point. But I don’t think the intention was really to get sympathy so much as it was to show the story from this perspective, a different perspective, and tell her story and how she tried to fit into the family. I think it’s mostly about what it was like before everything happened: how people got attracted to Charles Manson and the idea that the Ranch originally represented, and then the fall-out from there, you know?
Yeah, I can totally see that. On a more light-hearted note, what books, movies, television shows, etc. bring out the nerd in each of you?
Mackenzie: Oh my gosh…I’m such a nerd. My nerd doesn’t really go away.
Christian: I was going to say that I watched that soap that Mackenzie was on but I’ve never seen it (laughs). Nerd-out…I don’t know. I know that Mackenzie reads a lot and I read a lot, and I watch TV shows but I don’t know about nerding out. Maybe when I was a kid I had stuff that I enjoyed a lot…
Mackenzie: I guess it depends on how you define “nerd.” We probably all have certain qualities that could be said to be nerdy but to us seem perfectly normal. But, you know, I always have a few books going at the same time and I know that you guys do, too, so maybe that’s a nerd quality…I’m reading a really awesome new poetry book right now so that’s pretty nerdy. Richard Siken—he’s amazing, so there’s that. And then I’m reading another book called “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,” which is super nerdy. So, yeah!
I love Richard Siken so it’s really cool that you’re reading him!
Mackenzie: Oh, he’s amazing! I just can’t get enough of his work. I try to stop myself and I just can’t. I’m a huge fan of him!
I noticed that a lot of you come from families where there is a lot of acting. Famous parents, shall we say. Did you guys bond over that?
Mackenzie: That is not a question for me (laughs).
Christian: Mackenzie has left the conference…(laughs) But did we bond over it…
Yeah, like did you guys ever talk about what it’s like to have famous parents in this business?
Christian: I don’t think we ever did…
Eden: I think any discussion that we had about it was very brief and just in passing, but it was never a really big part of the bonding process at all. I think it was more that we connected with each other on a personal level.
Christian: Very true. I don’t think that we had a lot of time during shooting and having so much that we wanted to gather. I think we were just thrown into the Manson world so quick. A lot of us would drive into town to where we shot the movie and then go home. We didn’t really have a lot of time to talk besides being in the Manson world, so maybe it was a blessing (laughs).
Over the course of making this movie, did any of you listen to any of the music that Manson produced?
Eden: Oh yeah, oh yeah!
Eden: I did that a lot. I listened to his music and then the Family album. I think music was a huge part of their lives, obviously, from the music that they were making to the music that he would let them listen to, which is very interesting…
Christian: It was also part of his whole brainwashing tactic, a part of his psyche and brainwashing, especially his own voice, which would be very prominent regardless of what they were doing. It was sort of a Jim Jones thing to just sort of blast it throughout the Ranch and a way to immerse everyone into his world, I guess. I think he made an album in prison or something and I listened to that pretty much during every drive up to set to get myself into that world. But, music itself was very important.
Mackenzie: It put me in the head space of it all, especially how he manipulates concepts and all that, but also part of our jobs as actors is to investigate everything. There was an interview with Linda in the 1980s and she talks about how remorseful she is about the murders and stuff like that, but when she talks about Charles Manson, she still smiles. I felt like it was my job to really understand the attraction to him and the love that they had for him, and part of that was due to his music.
Manson’s Lost Girls premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, February 6 at 8:00 pm ET/PT.