By Susanna Lo
Los Angeles, CA, USA
My upcoming film, Manson Girls, tells the story of how America raised a nation of female serial killers. It’s told from the perspective of eight of the girls in the infamous “Manson Family”, starting from their teenage years, before they met Charles Manson, and ending before the Tate/LaBianca murders. Among the extraordinarily talented women starring in the film are Taryn Manning, who plays Sandra Good, and Monica Keena, who plays Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. One day over drinks, I sat with Taryn and Monica and we talked “Manson Girls”.
Susanna Lo: You're both in high demand as actresses in film and television, yet you chose Manson Girls as your next film. This project involves strong sexuality, nudity and the depiction of real people who are in essence convicted criminals; not to mention a smaller budget by Hollywood standards. What attracted you to want a part in this film?
Taryn Manning: For me, I enjoy doing stories that are a bit different from the normal. I also love true stories and have been fascinated by “the family” and Charles Manson for quite sometime now. I also don't personally mind what size budget a film has as long as there is a great story, amazing vision and an amazing execution.
Monica Keena: I have been intrigued by the Manson story ever since I attempted to read "Helter Skelter" back in college. I never actually finished it because the detailed descriptions of all the murders started to give me nightmares. As soon as I heard they were making a movie about the Manson girls, my interest was piqued. Most people know about Charles Manson, but few know much about the back-story of the girls involved in the Manson legacy. I like telling stories. As actors we are storytellers and the more obscure and original the story the better. I also loved the fact that this was such a female driven film. It's very rare to have the opportunity to work with an almost all female cast. This is an ensemble piece where every role is a lead, each equally well written and amazing, and each starring a woman.
Susanna Lo: Do either one of you find similarities between your personal lives with the characters you will be playing, Sandra "Blue" Good and Lynette "Red" Fromme? In addition, Red and Blue, have a love story all their own. You two are already friends, does the friendship make it easier for you to bring a chemistry and romance to the screen, or is it more difficult to have to be so intimate with someone that is a friend?
Taryn Manning: I can relate to Sandra and her drive and strength in leadership qualities. Also as Taryn, I relate to her intelligent nature and being able to hold court in anything she strongly believes. I also can understand her weak side and wanting to fill a void by surrounding herself with all the other young impressionable men and women in the cult.
Taryn Manning and Monica Keena
(credit: Monica Keena)
I adore Monica as a friend and actress and am thrilled to get to portray such a role with an amazing actress who is my contemporary.
Monica Keena: Red and I are interesting dichotomies. We are tiny, delicate and vulnerable...and speak with childlike innocent voices, and yet are the bravest, strongest, smartest, toughest little cookies around! You don't want to get into a battle of wits with us, because chances are, we will always be more knowledgeable than you on most any subject. And even if we are not, we are much too stubborn to ever back down, so we will fight until you admit defeat, even if we were in fact wrong.
I'm so thrilled to be working with Taryn. I've known her for years as a friend and even longer as an actress. I have always been a huge fan of her work. She is so immensely gifted and brings such nuanced specificity to all of her characters. She was my first choice to play Sandra Good. I was hoping and praying she would be cast and was so overjoyed when I found out she was.
Susanna Lo: Sex is a big part of Manson Girls. I've written in past articles about how Hollywood condones violence and shuns sex. Monica, you are currently on Maxim's Hot 100 List with some sizzling photos, and Taryn, you'll be on the cover of Playboy this April and posing in the issue. As actresses, what are your feelings towards sex in Hollywood films? Do you find the sex in Manson Girls to be gratuitous or do you think it is a necessary part of this story?
Taryn Manning: I personally don't have any issues with sex and nudity in art if its done in a manner which respects the female anatomy and sheds the most beautiful light on the species of the lady. I think the nudity required in Manson Girls is needed to tell an accurate story of how these people lived everyday lives, full of love and open hearts and minds.
Monica Keena: Of course sex is a necessary part of this story. As is the nudity aspect of it. And no, I don’t think they will be shot in a gratuitous fashion. I've never done a sex scene or nudity in a film before, and I've always said I never would unless the movie was absolutely brilliant and the story really called for it and was necessary to move the piece along and was not shot in a gratuitous way. So there is your proof.
I also like the way that violence is really altogether avoided in this story. I think most people will be going into this movie expecting it to be horribly gruesome and graphic, but I like how it really skirts that issue by telling the story that leads up to that, to the very night of the Tate/LaBianca murders...then ends there.
Susanna Lo: Drugs are another major element in Manson Girls, as it was a daily routine for many of the people depicted in this film. With the drug problems that have plagued so many gifted actresses in this business, do you feel a sense of responsibility when you find yourself portraying a character that is a regular drug user, or being a part of a film that has many drug related scenes?
Taryn Manning: For me, the character of Sandra isn't a part of the heavy drug use. That was actually something that attracted me to that particular role in the film. I do feel a sense of responsibility in my everyday life as Taryn Manning and being out amongst my peers. I am very professional and protective of my personal life. As a character in a film, I don't think about any of that. It’s a movie. I don't like to get tabloids and filmmaking confused ever.
Official Production Logo for Manson Girls.
Monica Keena: I feel that I need to play my character with the most compassion and honesty and truth possible, without any judgment. In that sense, I'm not thinking about what my peers or fallen comrades or friends have become prey to. That would be very distracting and counterproductive to my work. But, I certainly am not going to go out and start taking LSD for "character research " or some such nonsense. As much as I don’t believe in judging the characters you play, I also don't believe in using their experiences as an excuse for me to go out and do something stupid.
Susanna Lo: Let's not leave out rock n’ roll. Music is a major element in this film. Besides being great actresses, you're both gifted in other artistic endeavors, Taryn as a wonderful musician, and Monica as a brilliant photographer. Are you more attracted to films that care about the elements of music and photography as a means of storytelling, or do you find it detracts from the acting?
Taryn Manning: I'm attracted to stories in general. I don't particularly seek out films with rock n’ roll, but music and photography are always part of a film anyway, so I guess maybe that's a big part of why I wanted to do this.
Monica Keena: I find taking pictures very relaxing. It almost puts me into a Zen state of mind. I think the best thing that could happen for everyone is for me to bring my camera on the set of Manson Girls...so I can relax and not start over-thinking everything too much. My head gets in the way of my heart sometimes. Squeaky is already inside of me. I just need to let her do her thing.
Susanna Lo: One of the common threads I found when researching Manson Girls is the fact that most of these girls came from destroyed families. They seem to all be searching for a new family to fulfill a void and found it amongst each other. What do you believe is a family? Are their personal family experiences that you will draw on to portray your character or will your performance be coming from mainly research into who Sandra Good and Lynette Fromme were when they were younger?
Taryn Manning: With this role, I plan to work only from the research I do and what I find about Sandra in my searches. I want to fully fantasize about her and create her in my mind and portray her from a place of make-believe/reality.
I'm not sure there are any traces of Taryn in this woman, except for mere qualities of leadership and protection. And, of course, as humans we are all searching for truth and for the answer to our purpose on this earth. With that question in my heart and my full dedication to depict Sandra “Blue” Good in all her glory, I should be able to capture her truth in this role and soar to my fullest potential.
Monica Keena: A family is group of people any one of who, at any given second, you would die for...without even thinking about it. A family is made up of people you love unconditionally, even though you want to kill them some days. A family is like a wolf pack. You fight and growl and snarl at one another...but you will always be there to lick the other ones wounds...then you all snuggle up together again.
Susanna Lo is an award-winning director and screenwriter. Her upcoming film, Manson Girls, is scheduled to begin shooting in 2011. Her novel, Alma Of My Heart, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in November, 2010.