- Actor Damon Herriman plays Charles Manson in Mindhunter Season 2.
- He also plays Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
- He excels in the role, though one is significantly larger than the other.
In the world of True Crime, it’s been the Summer of Kinda Manson. After Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood painted a fictional story around the 1969 killings perpetrated by Charles Manson’s “family,” Season Two of Netflix’s Mindhunter also briefly featured the infamous cult leader—though not at all at the center of it’s plot. Perhaps the most interesting detail here, though, is that both the Once Upon a Time… version of Manson—pre-Tate murders—and the Mindhunter version—incarcerated—were played by the same actor: Damon Herriman.
Herriman is a longtime working character actor. In addition to his work this summer with Tarantino and David Fincher (who executive produces and occasionally directs Mindhunter), he’s also done memorable work in shows like Justified and the Australian series Secret City (which also starred his Mindhunter co-star and fellow Aussie Anna Torv). He was just cast in the upcoming adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad, which will be helmed by director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). It’s fair to say Herriman is attracting the attention of top directors.
Fans who’ve already binged through Mindhunter‘s second season couldn’t possibly forget Herriman’s big scene as Manson in Episode 5, when Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Bill (Holt McCallany)finally get a chance to talk to their white whale. After hinting toward him in the first season, the pair’s new boss, Ted Gunn, is able to pull a few strings to arrange for them to talk with the infamous cult leader.
After an exceptional build-up involving a bit of poo-pooing from Ed Kemper (who warns them that Manson is “a talker,” and that he’s “really small (try not to stare)”), Holden and Bill get their face-to-face meeting. He enters the room initially chained up and quiet, but before too long is sitting on top of a chair and spewing his rigmarole in likely the same fashion that convinced so many people to blindly follow his every word.
As Manson, Herriman absolutely steals both the scene and the moment; his presence on-screen is magnetic. He gets a much more significant opportunity to actually portray Manson in Mindhunter than he does in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where his role barely constitutes more than an easter egg. When Herriman’s Manson first enters the frame, it’s hard to not be just a bit skeptical about what’s about to happen. But within a few moments, it’s clear this actor was perfectly cast: he captures the hypnotic, charismatic energy that Manson was so often said to have in a perfect, chilling manner. It’s totally believable that this person could make an impact on impressionable kids.
Manon’s off-the-rails manner doesn’t much phase Holden, who seems to have gotten used to talking to just about anyone, but he really gets under Tench’s skin—Tench ends the conversation abruptly after Manson taunts him once too many times. As they leave, Manson autographs Holden’s copy of Helter Skelter, and asks if he can have his sunglasses (only to later tell other inmates that he stole them, leading him to be assigned to solitary confinement).
There are clearly a lot of reasons why Herriman was cast in this vital role not only once, but twice; his range, persona, and look clearly contributors. The way he plays mind games with both Holden and Bill, but only really irks Bill, is a testament to the work of all three actors; when coupled with Bill’s subplots involving his troubled son, it contextualizes it all even further. Bill is vulnerable from what he’s dealing with at home, and Manson’s poking clearly does exactly what he intended it to do: irk someone in a position of power.
Herriman himself has another idea as to what got him the roles. “You have to be a certain height to play Charles Manson,” he told Australian publication The New Daily. “He was five foot three so I’m tall compared to him, I’m like five seven. But when a casting brief is put out for actor around five six, immediately the physicality puts you in much smaller group of candidates.”
While Manson’s diminutive height was certainly something he was known for, Herriman is being humble to attribute it just to that. Being a damn good Charles Manson probably isn’t what anyone dreams of as a kid, but playing such a memorable and strong depiction of such an important figure is certainly a commendable feat.
Would he ever want to play Manson a third time? It doesn’t sound likely. In a red carpet video from Variety, Herriman told a story about how an unnamed writer friend of his was writing a series that Manson would be a character in—and thought his pal would be the perfect guy. “Are you insane?!? Of course I’m not doing that a third time,” he said he told his friend. “I think two is plenty.”