In 1969, a cult of brainwashed hippies killed eight people in a seemingly random, unprovoked two-night spree. Charles Manson is normally the boogeyman attached to the Tate-LaBianca murders, but Manson didn't even set foot in either crime scene. He sent his "family" to do the dirty work for him. The Manson Family legend is one of the scariest and most fascinating in true crime, yet the focus frequently is on Manson himself. Writer/director Susanna Lo is set to change that with her film, Manson Girls, which will tell the stories of followers such as Sadie Atkins, "Squeaky" Fromme, Linda Kasbian, and Patricia Krenwinkel.
We chatted with Tania Raymonde (Death Valley, Lost) about her role as Leslie Van Houten, and what sets this film apart from other Manson films.
Tell us about the movie.
Everyone knows about the Manson story. Everyone has seen the movies and read Helter Skelter. This is a very different take on the Manson story. The focus is exclusively on the girls. The focus is on the girls' life before Barker Ranch, how they met one another, and then them living as a family together on the ranch. The movie ends a minute before the first murder. You never see any of the murders. You only hear about Sharon Tate vaguely, but you know it is coming.
Not only that, but you never see Manson. You only hear him off-screen talking to the girls. It is really about the girls interacting with one another, discovering things for the first time. Sexually, emotionally, spiritually. It's about seeing how these girls could be manipulated into going down a path that would lead them to murder someone. It's more of a psychological thriller, showing how the girls got to that point. I'm very excited about it.
Have you started shooting yet?
No, we start in about two or three weeks.
Will you be shooting at the actual Barker Ranch?
We were thinking about it, but logistically there are problems with that. Plus, the actual ranch was burnt down. I think we will be shooting in and around LA for the first week or two, then we are going down to Puerto Rico for the rest. That will be our desert.
That's got to be intense. Manson's manipulation was astounding.
Yeah. You also find out a lot about the girls' personal lives. No one ever thinks of the girls as people. You are so horrified by this awful thing they all did, and it colors your perception of who these girls were. A lot of them came from interesting backgrounds. Weird stuff happened to some when they were young. All that stuff, combined with living at the end of the 1960s, the political movements of the time, really molded them into the women they would become. That was one of the reasons Manson picked these girls. It's interesting to see the way these girls interact with one another. A lot of people just don't know about them, or about peripheral murders and dramas that happened on the ranch. For once, it tells the Manson story but doesn't exploit the murders or rehash the horrible things done to Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. It's just about how these girls were manipulated. It's creepy, but there is something interesting about it.
Did you do a lot of research for the role?
I've been reading everything I can find. The great part about playing a real person is that I can go on YouTube and look up interviews of Leslie when she was young, when she was old, all her court hearings. She is an enigma. There is a lot that I don't think people know about Leslie. I think it will be interesting to play a real person, and get to the core of her. It's scary. The whole Manson thing, the murders and his ideology... it really frightens me. I'm really scared by that kind of stuff, and I think that is why I wanted the part. It scares me.
Apparently the girls stabbed Sharon Tate and her friends like 55 times, then took a shower in their bathroom and ate a watermelon from their fridge, then drove home, had sex, watched TV, and just had a laugh. But they weren't bad girls. Some were abused, but some weren't. They were normal kids. But there was just something about Manson that allowed him to completely brainwash them. It's really creepy. I do wonder what it will be like to get to that point, mentally.
It's going to be especially weird, since in the project I am just wrapping up, my character is very focused, very goal-oriented, and kind of a badass. Then I am going to play a brainwashed, head-in-the-clouds hippie. It's going to be strange. But fun.