Early this year, Zachary Quinto was hungry for an acting challenge and keen to find it in a television vehicle that would let him roam familiar genre ground after his previous small-screen success with villain roles both in sci-fi (as the diabolical Sylar on NBC’ s Heroes, 2006-2010) and in horror (his Emmy-nominated turn as the unforgettable Dr. Oliver Thredson on FX’s American Horror Story).
When Quinto first heard about role of Charlie Manx, the ghoulish wheelman from NOS4A2,he wasn’t instantly sold on the idea. But, more Quinto kicked the tires the more Quinto found to like about the baleful Manx, an 18th Century immortal who glides through night in a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. Adding to the anachronistic sight, the sinister car has a vanity license plate that lends the series its somewhat vexing title, NOS4A2; the eye-chart jumble actually spells out “Nosferatu,” a word that instantly conjures up feral-looking vampires of yore.
Quinto was swayed by the complexity of Manx, who defies the obvious black-hat fiend tropes with his motivations and backstory. Yes, Manx may snatch children from their homes and, yes, he feeds on their life force — but somehow he also views himself as a devoted champion of the neglected or abused children that he targets exclusively. He builds a candy-cane haven for them, too, called Christmasland, where the young victims become shreiking undead nightmares themselves.
It’s not the typical approach of television horror and that’s been a good thing. AMC just announced the series will be back for Season 2 during a raucous cast and creative team visit to this month’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. Next week, actors and the writing room will meet to get the business of Season 2 underway.
“We’re about a third of the way through the novel at this point, ” Quinto said. “And it’s been a great experience, the entire acting company is amazing. It’s exciting to see where this ride goes next.”
This past Sunday, NOS4A2 delivered a scorching finish to Season 1 with a two-episode finale that climaxed with a fiery showdown between the epic’s two supernatural rivals: downtrodden Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), a Massachusetts teen with a baby on the way, and Manx, a 19th Century immortal is a “man out of time” in the modern-day world, as Quinto puts it, but savagely effective when it comes to dark deeds.
On Sunday night, however, it was Vic (it’s short for Victoria) was the one who managed to walk away from the fiery encounter but at a terrible cost (Craig, the father of her unborn child, died horribly in the battle). Manx, meanwhile, was grievously injured by the gasoline-fueled blaze that torched his prized vehicle, which is both a sinister source of Manx’s power and his major vulnerability point as well.
Like Voldemort with his Horcruxes or Dorian Gray and his portrait, Manx is magically tethered to his vintage vehicle in mysterious but profound ways. Manx was never in direct contact with the fire that consumed his car, for instance, but his skin began to broil and blister when the car’s tires and upholstery felt the flame.
After the showdown, Manx is singed, shriveled, and comatose, but he snaps to life in his hospital bed when his charred car is resurrected in a local garage with a few life-giving jolts from a pair of jumper cables in a nearby garage. Reconnected with the revived Wraith (which is the show’s title character, arguably), the scabby Manx looked positively giddy — he knows his chance for revenge is waiting just down the road.
“There’s a lot of things ahead that I’m eager to explore with Manx, who really is one-of-a-kind, I’ve found,” Quinto said. “It’s been quite a lot of fun, it’s what drew me to the experience in the end. It’s a unique landscape and it brought together a lot of things I wanted. I had played villains before, I had done supernatural stuff before but I had never done anything that put it all together in one combination and do it with a character that also allows me to really immerse myself in role and disappear into it this way.”
The actor best known for portraying the logic-driven Mister Spock in three Star Trek films was won over to the idea after meeting with series creator and showrunner Jami O’Brien (Fear the Walking Dead) and delving into the source material, the writings of novelist Joe Hill, who is also an Executive Producer on the series. In short order, Quinto saw the true potential of Manx as a bundle of character opportunities that came wrapped in a tangle of craft challenges.
“One of the compelling aspects is the heightened psychology of the character because he’s aging in this specific way with this fundamental emptiness and this void that will never be filled,” Quinto said. “He isn’t just getting old he’s getting hollowed-out and desperate and hungry and reaching for some sense of purpose for some sense of vitality that’s being drained away from him and diminished as time goes on and he gets older in his experience.”
With his vampiric nature, Manx is depicted in various stages of vitality throughout Season 1. Pinning down the changing face of Manx was a challenge that went far beyond the actor at the wheel of the Wraith. Joel Harlow, the prosthetics savant who worked closely with Quinto on his Spock portrayal, was an essential figure in the process. The Manx make-up would eventually adhere (literally and figuratively) to a five-stage aging guideline that Quinto paired up with complimentary sets of physical attributes (with variations in posture, breathing, brio, etc.).
Finding the performance choices that would express Manx best was a moving target given the character’s sliding scale of vigor. The character is creeping up on his 140th birthday as the story begins and he looked every day of it in the premiere episode — until he claimed a new victim and, like a ghoulish version of Benjamin Button, began reversing in appearance to a man in his 30s.
Determining Manx’s voice was just as challenging as getting a fix on his visage.
“I spent a lot of time developing a physical life of the character and then coming up with voice choices that supported that,” Quinto said.”It was part of the preparation because it’s such a heightened character. He’s definitely a man out of time and so I looked for choices that supported that idea, using the old kind of vernacular, and the relishes of language, and then all the age stuff that comes into play as way, the impact of aging on his expression. All of those things were definitely conscious choices that took a fair amount of time before we went into production to figure out the best way to construct the character.”
Quinto is also in the process of constructing his career, of course, and now he sees in the Manx role a sense of interconnected heritage for his most noted television work. There’s a round-trip quality to the ride Quinto is mapping out with his Rolls Royce duty.
“I do see this role and experience as part of a transition for me,” Quinto said. “There’s something about this that makes me feel as if I’m closing a chapter. The first job that I had that lodged in people’s minds was playing a villain on Heroes and then with American Horror Story there was some shared traits there. Now with NOS4A2 I really see them as a triumvirate of these archetypal and powerful villains. I’m really interested as an actor in exploring other territories and consciously pursuing that and that’s a goal I’ve set for myself when I’m done this job. How can I diversify my experience and subvert people’s expectations and do things that might surprise them? That’s where I’m headed when Manx is done with me.”