Shirley Manson interview: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Scottish musician Shirley Manson was cast as the cryptic CEO Catherine Weaver in the Fox hit series, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

Manson is the lead singer for the rock band Garbage, and will return to the recording studio next month to record solo material she’s been working on for awhile.

Manson portrays Weaver, a high-powered CEO with a secret.  Think along the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick – she’s been sent from the future to kill John Connor.

“I just decided, this is something I’ve been given the opportunity to do, I’m either going to be good at it, not so good, maybe I’ll be somewhere in between, but I’m not going to let my own fears, or the judgment of others to stop me from doing it.  I jumped in and just have tried to do my best, I’ve taken it very seriously, and that’s life.” Manson says, sharing her thoughts about taking the leap from music to acting.

Already a ratings juggernaut, Fox’s “Connor” premiered on September 8, and was seen by 6.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. 

Monsters and Critics was part of a round table that interviewed Shirley Manson about her first foray into acting. 

Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, airs Mondays at 8:00 on FOX.

How did this role come about, and what did you think about when you found out you were going to be playing a Terminator?

Shirley Well, Josh Friedman contacted me; I was a friend of his wife’s.  His wife had mentioned to me that Josh was interested in putting me in this show and had jokingly asked me if I was interested in participating, and I jokingly said that of course I would be. 

Then later on, it turned out he was interested in me playing a terminator, at which point, I got very excited and jumped at the opportunity, I went to some of the auditions, got the role, and here I am.  It’s very, very surreal.

Are you a science fiction fan?  Were you familiar with the Terminator mythology?

Shirley Absolutely, I was a big fan of the Terminator movies and I’m not a huge sci-fi freak or anything, but I’m interested in the genre, but specifically, I was a big Terminator fan.

Will you have any time to continue to work on music with this role?

Shirley Yes, I’m still working on music.  Obviously, I’m not a huge lead in the show so I have plenty of downtime too, despite some of the crazy hours we work.  I’ve been working all year on stuff and continue to do so.

Can we expect an album anytime soon?

Shirley: I hope so.  I have a lot of material, I’m intending actually to go in and start recording some of the songs live, next month, so we’ll see if I manage to pull it off.

How do you think acting will influence your music at all?  Vice versa, how has music influenced you in doing the show at all?

Shirley: Interesting, musicians in general tend to be quite sensitive, I think, to the environment around them, which I think helps when you are trying to interact with others on screen, to be aware, to be sensitive, and to try to understand what’s going on in the scene. 

I think being a musician has been helpful in that regard. Obviously, from the experience you get from making videos, you understand where the camera is and how some of the actual technicalities work and so on and so forth.  I think it’s helpful in a variety of ways, it would probably take me longer than a quick answer in response to get into the nitty-gritty of all that, but I do think they’re helpful to each other for a variety of different reasons.

I’m very grateful to have been given a shot, it’s very exciting for me, actually.

Can you talk about Catherine as a character, and how you plan to play her?

Shirley: With regard to the character, she is embodying a human being, so she’s still in the identity of Catherine Weaver, so that in itself is sort of interesting to me because, obviously, she’s physically like a human being, but she’s unable necessarily to bring what is essentially human all the time to the table.  I felt that was kind of interesting, it’s a sort of rumination on what it is like to not have emotions and not have necessarily a logical thought.  I suppose the whole time I’m on the set I’m trying to imagine what that is like, so that’s been an interesting discipline for me.

It’s harder to be a robot than one would think because you realize they would probably be very economical with their movements, so I’ve tried very consciously to be as undemonstrative as possible, and that has been a challenge in itself.  Being a musician, when you’re on stage, or at least I am, very demonstrative, so it has been quite a challenge.

I find it fascinating; this is a woman who is truly unassailable, because she’s a terminator who is sort of the head of a company, and a CEO of a very successful company.  I find it very amusing in a way that she’s just completely on top of everyone and everything.  It’s really a lot of fun to play.

Talk about the CG preparation you go through to shoot the special effects scenes

Shirley: I basically, act physically, the scene out and then I have to go and stand in a flesh body suit and have my entire body and face scanned 360°, and they take, essentially, digital photographs and compile a digital manifestation of my physicality, and then they can do with that what they will.

Were you nervous to act?

Shirley: It was pretty intense, it was a real challenge in large part because I’d had no real training, but then, I’d never had any training for being a singer either, so I decided I was just going to throw myself in and see what I could do. 

It was very intimidating and I really had a hard time keeping my heart rate and blood pressure down, I was really pretty freaked out and somewhat overwhelmed.  It’s getting a lot easier now, I’m feeling much more relaxed on set, and being able to have a lot more fun.  It was a challenge.

I was having a really hard time, like I said.  Being a singer, being a performer, I think you have tricks, somehow, to calm yourself when things feel a little overwhelming.  I don’t do breathing exercises, per se, but I definitely have to have a sort of internal word with myself before things got completely out of hand and I fainted on the floor.

Have your rock star friends called you up and commented on your acting?  Were they shocked?

Shirley: I suspect my friends have found it really amusing. Butch  wrote a very quick e-mail saying, f**king awesome, I loved it, Queenie.  I think he loved seeing me play a terminator.  I think everybody thinks it’s really funny.

No, I don’t think they were shocked.  I think, particularly the terminator, it’s kind of coming from a similar place, in some regards, as musicians, subculture and subterranean and it’s also coming from a sort of superhero standpoint in the way that comic book superhero’s grew out of feeling disempowered, and I think musicians, in some ways, do, too. 

I think in some ways it’s a natural fit, even though it seems, maybe to the casual onlooker, something very peculiar.  It makes sense to me.

Is there a reason you picked “Connor” over Dr. Who in Britain?

Shirley Well, this is the first thing really that came along that captured my imagination.  I’ve been offered quite a few acting jobs over the years and for some reason, I just really connected with the Terminator franchise.  Since I was young, I really was a huge fan of Terminator 1 and Terminator 2, the movies, so for whatever reason, I guess, I’m not 100% sure, why it connected with me so, but I jumped at the chance when I heard it was the Terminator franchise.

How did Robert Patrick’s performance affect you as Catherine?

Shirley Actually, no, I didn’t want to try to replicate his performance, I think that would have been the most obvious thing to do.  My two muses really, were I thought a lot about Glenn Close in ‘Damages’, because I felt she was very threatening and very powerful in that television show and her performance is incredible.  I think it’s rare when you see a woman on screen where you truly believe she’s capable of unworldly deeds, so she was a muse.

Also, for some inexplicable reason, I also thought of Margaret Thatcher.  She was really a very powerful and seeming unassailable character when I was growing up, and I really didn’t think very kindly of her, so I thought she was really someone who was a great inspiration for a CEO of a company, who didn’t have the kindest and warmest of hearts, so I looked her up on YouTube.

My performance is nothing like these two characters, but they certainly informed me.