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 Iíve been given the opportunity to do, Iím either going to be good at it, not so good, maybe Iíll be somewhere in between, but Iím 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, Iíve taken it very seriously, and thatís 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 wifeís.  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.  Itís 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 Iím not a huge sci-fi freak or anything, but Iím 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, Iím still working on music.  Obviously, Iím not a huge lead in the show so I have plenty of downtime too, despite some of the crazy hours we work.  Iíve 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, Iím intending actually to go in and start recording some of the songs live, next month, so weíll 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 whatís 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 itís 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 theyíre helpful to each other for a variety of different reasons.

Iím very grateful to have been given a shot, itís 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 sheís still in the identity of Catherine Weaver, so that in itself is sort of interesting to me because, obviously, sheís physically like a human being, but sheís unable necessarily to bring what is essentially human all the time to the table.  I felt that was kind of interesting, itís 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 Iím on the set Iím trying to imagine what that is like, so thatís been an interesting discipline for me.

Itís harder to be a robot than one would think because you realize they would probably be very economical with their movements, so Iíve tried very consciously to be as undemonstrative as possible, and that has been a challenge in itself.  Being a musician, when youíre 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 sheís 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 sheís just completely on top of everyone and everything.  Itís 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 360į, 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 Iíd had no real training, but then, Iíd 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.  Itís getting a lot easier now, Iím 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 donít 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 itís really funny.

No, I donít think they were shocked.  I think, particularly the terminator, itís kind of coming from a similar place, in some regards, as musicians, subculture and subterranean and itís also coming from a sort of superhero standpoint in the way that comic book superheroís grew out of feeling disempowered, and I think musicians, in some ways, do, too. 

I think in some ways itís 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.  Iíve 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, Iím 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 Patrickís performance affect you as Catherine?

Shirley Actually, no, I didnít 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 ĎDamagesí, because I felt she was very threatening and very powerful in that television show and her performance is incredible.  I think itís rare when you see a woman on screen where you truly believe sheís 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 didnít think very kindly of her, so I thought she was really someone who was a great inspiration for a CEO of a company, who didnít 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.

What are you gaining from your co-stars in terms of watching their performances or working with the cast now?

Shirley: Yes, itís very much like being in a new band, except Iím not the lead singer anymore, Iím the bass player, which in some regards, allows me to sit back and watch and be more of an observer than I have been in my band.

I find it fascinating watching a lot of them work.  They all have their different styles and techniques they bring to their craft and theyíve all been very helpful.  Richard T. Jones, in particular, is sort of my main man on screen because we spend a lot of time together, and heís been incredibly patient and generous with me. 

Heís given me some tips along the way, and I really have been very blessed by having him around because Iím sure it must be very annoying to have some upstart musician come in who really knows very little about the craft of acting.  Iíve been very lucky.

Given how popular the franchise is, how did you handle the pressure of stepping into the show?

Shirley: I just didnít think about the pressure, to be honest.  Iíve been under a lot of pressure situations in my life through being a musician, and a touring musician, and I have just come to realize, in life you just have to block out peopleís expectations and hopes and just try to concentrate on enjoying yourself and having fun.  At the end of the day, thatís really all you have. 

Life is so short and you really just have to engineer having a blast and freeing yourself up, and not being scared to take chances.  Otherwise, I think life can become really boring.

I just decided, this is something Iíve been given the opportunity to do, Iím either going to be good at it, not so good, maybe Iíll be somewhere in between, but Iím 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, Iíve taken it very seriously, and thatís life.

At what point in the process did the song come about?

Shirley: Josh Friedman, the creator of the show, took me out for dinner, wined and dined me, and then after my fourth glass of champagne, introduced the idea.

To be honest, I was a little wary of doing the song because I understood I was really setting myself up for a lot of flack, or certainly, making it harder for the audience to believe my character.

I think that is what is so hard for musicians when they step into acting is theyíre not coming in as a blank slate, theyíre coming in with a real set idea of who they are, where theyíre coming from, what their politics are, what their tastes are.  I didnít really want to remind the audience I was a singer, I knew that would create difficulties for me.  At the end of the day, Josh asked so nicely, heíd given me such a great opportunity in this show that I just bent to his will in the end, and I did it as a favor to him.

Iím pleased, it was a challenge for me because itís a kind of music I havenít ever really investigated, it was a folk song, and it was five minutes long, so it required some kind of emotional act to it; it was an interesting challenge for me.

Are there going to be lots of scenes of you torturing your underlings in upcoming episodes?

Shirley: I am the boss from hell, but thereís a really nice surprise coming up with my character, which I obviously canít reveal right now, but I am just a woman from hell, letís put it that way.

I think there is a mild play on that concept of the CEO perhaps being a Ė there being some duality to that figurehead, and the idea of the power they may choose to use or abuse. 

Yes, Iím sure itís not accident, necessarily, but I guess those are questions that youíd really have to pose to Josh Friedman because I canít really speak to his intent as a writer.  Me personally, as an actress, I thought it was an interesting and amusing idea.

Do you expect to do any kind of stunt work, any kind of fighting like the other terminators on the show?

Shirley: I hope so, although I fear that I am so sophisticated that I donít even need to fight.  Thatís my problem, thatís the problem with being at the top of your series, a top of the range model, I donít know if she needs to get her hands dirty, which might be the only downside to my character.

Do you have any other expectations for your character?

Shirley: I havenít really stopped to think about it because Iíve enjoyed where theyíve taken my character so far, and I feel like Iím in good hands. 

I think, funny enough, I have noticed that all the terminators on the show want to meet the other terminators, weíre always making hints that it would be great fun to have us all take our super powers against each other. 

I have noticed that all three of us seem to be making little hints like that, but other than that, Iím perfectly happy with where theyíre taking it.  Iím just trying to concentrate on my job, never mind everybody elseís.

Would you be excited to do a car chase, shoot a gun, or get into some kind of a fight?

Shirley: Yes, of course I would.  Iím sort of Ö action and I would love to do something like that, but whether Iíll get to, I donít know.  I do know my trainer has started having me box a lot more in the off chance theyíre going to ask me to do some stunts.  Who knows?  I would like to do something like that for sure.  Weíll see.

As you pursue acting, are you looking to shed the music image of Shirley Manson to create a new identity, or does that factor in at all?

Shirley: I donít think once youíve been in a successful band you can ever truly shed that image.  Weíve joked about this many times, in the music industry, being in a band is like being in a minor mafia, you never really get out alive, one way or another youíre scarred in some way, and you carry that baggage with you forever.

Even during my Garbage years, I was haunted by my very first band in Scotland, Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, so itís not something Iím interested in shedding, and I feel it has been a very important part of my life, and hopefully will continue to be.

I also would love to do more acting, and I see no reason why I canít.  I know there is a lot of criticism whenever a musician steps into acting, and whenever an actor steps into music and I understand where that comes from.  Iíve certainly been guilty of being very suspicious myself of people who have done crossovers.

But at this point in my life, Iím 42 years old, and I feel like being an active musician on the road is a tough life, and I donít know if I want to necessarily want to continue that kind of existence.

I want to be continually challenged and excited and acting has provided that for me at a time in my life when I felt very confident in the music realm.  I knew I could go out, play shows, I could write good songs, and I could put on good shows and get on well with my band.  I canít say it was boring, but it didnít frighten me anymore.

I feel like in some ways, to keep life exciting, you have to push yourself towards things that scare you a little, and thatís exactly what Iím finding on the show.  Iím scared, Iím excited, challenged, and Iím being pushed, so that feels really good.  It makes me feel like Iím alive and I like that feeling.

Obviously, there are some people who have successfully made the transition from music to acting.  Is there anybody in particular that you maybe look to as a little bit of a role model, or someone you wanted to emulate a little bit in the way they were able to crossover?

Shirley: Thatís an interesting question, I canít say thereís anybody Iíve ever wanted to emulate their career, necessarily, but obviously, there have been some musicians that I think have done an amazing job. 

I think Tim McGraw does an amazing job every time I see him on screen, funny enough.  I thought Courtney Love did an amazing job in the life and Larry Flynt movie.  David Bowie, obviously, I think did an incredible job in ĎThe Man Who Fell to Earthí.  I think there have definitely been actors who have done some great work on screen.  Itís very different, obviously, for me, but I think itís possible.



Further Reading on M&C

Shirley Manson Biography - - Shirley Manson Movies -