NOS4A2: Zachary Quinto on his first reaction to the ‘powerful’ story and mastering the Rolls-Royce Wraith - Secrets From the Set
Zachary Quinto reveals what went on behind-the-scenes during filming for the supernatural horror TV series, as season 2 returns to AMC UK exclusively to BT TV customers.
There’s not long to wait until NOS4A2 season 2 premieres on AMC in the UK, and there’s plenty to get excited about.
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes) transforms into vampire villain Charles 'Charlie' Manx in the supernatural TV horror led by showrunner Jami O'Brien (Fear the Walking Dead).
But despite the serious nature of the show, it sounds as though Quinto thoroughly enjoyed his time filming the show on location in Rhode Island at the end of 2018, alongside co-stars including Ashleigh Cummings.
In a BT.com exclusive interview, the Emmy-nominated American actor reveals what went on behind-the-scenes of filming for the supernatural horror TV series, spilling the Secrets from the Set...
*interview conducted ahead of the launch of NOS4A2 season 1*
First reaction to the story: ‘I couldn’t put it down’
Zachary Quinto doesn’t often read horror novels, but there was something about NOS4A2 that drew the 42-year-old actor in and led to him to signing up for the TV project.
After accepting the role of the show’s title character, Charles Manx, and reading the script, Quinto took the time to immerse himself in the novel, written more than six years ago by Joe Hill - the son of legendary author Stephen King.
Quinto explains to BT.com: “I read the script first, and then I read the book. I think the great thing about this project is that, as the season went on, I couldn’t discern whether it was from the script or the book.
“I would think things, or remember things, and be like ‘was that from the book, or the show?’. They’re very closely tied, but yet they each have their own identities as projects, so I felt grateful for that.
“I couldn’t put the book down. It was really well written. Joe’s an incredibly talented writer, so I was grateful to come onto the project, but even more grateful once I read the book, because I was really excited about the power of the story.”
Quinto, who tells us he was a big fan of horror TV show The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, explains that his first day of filming followed a number of special effects shoots.
“It was a slow roll [to filming], because we did a lot of make-up tests," he explained.
"So my first day of filming for the show didn’t even feel like my first day of filming, just doing some special effects shots and stuff.
“There was definitely a real technical aspect to this show, to capture the style. There was a lot of preparation that went into getting ready to film, so it kind of blurs together.
"I don’t know if I could tell you what my first scene to film was, but it was an organic process, so it felt really natural to get into character and to get into the story.”
Getting into the mindset of evil villain Charles Manx
Quinto, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is warm and funny during our chat, but his character NOS4A2 couldn’t be further from his friendly personality.
In the show, Charles Manx is an evil villain who feeds off the souls of children, a dark and twisted character who chills you to the bone every time he comes on screen.
Quinto delved deep into the psyche of Manx, not just reading the NOS4A2 script and book for details but absorbing details of the character from graphic novels.
Explaining how he got into the mindset of Manx, he said: “I think it’s about understanding why he is that way, and really learning about his past, which luckily I was able to do with the novel, and also this graphic novel that he wrote called The Wraith, which is a story mainly about Charlie’s history.
“You know, really understanding that he himself was this abused, neglected child, who was never really able to overcome the trauma of that, until it kind of warped and manipulated himself in him, to make him truly believe that he was helping the kids, which is an interesting part of the character also.
“I felt like there was a lot of unexpected complexity and intrigue in this character, that he’s scary, but he’s also kind of oddly funny, and this opportunity to transform myself into this grizzled, old, husk of a person was really interesting as well.”
There’s no denying he plays the character exceptionally well, in fact it seems that Quinto has made quite the name for himself in Hollywood playing villainous roles.
So much so that he was nominated for an prestigious Emmy award for playing Dr Oliver Thredson in FX’s mini-series, American Horror Story.
So where would Manx place in a top TV villains list, compared to Quinto's other villainous TV roles?
He ponders. “I’ve played three sort of archetypal villains in my career - Sylar from Heroes, [Dr] Thredson in American Horror Story: Asylum, and now [Charles] Manx.
“I think he’s probably number two. Thredson would be number one!”
Learning to drive the ‘temperamental’ Rolls-Royce
One of the big parts of Manx’s role is the car - which he uses to transport children to a twisted place of his imagination where every day is Christmas Day and unhappiness is against the law.
It’s creepy as hell watching Manx behind the wheel, as when the car comes on screen you know what’s coming next for the child in the back seat.
As an American, Quinto had to learn how to drive the Rolls-Royce Wraith in question - an old British car with left-hand drive and manual transmission, rather than the automatic which he's used to.
He tells BT.com: “I got to drive *the* car, which was the 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, which was a really unique experience and really fun actually.
“I had to really spend some time behind the wheel of that car because I’d never driven a British car before. It’s a manual transmission, and the gears are on the different side to I’m used to.
“There’s a lot of calculations that I needed to do to make it believable that I’ve had a relationship with this car for 75 years. So I spent some weeks driving around with a great team of mechanics on the show teaching me how to use the car. It was really cool.”
However, it sounds as though the experience of mastering the car's mechanics was one of the more frustrating parts of the role, as it would often break down mid-filming.
He recalls: “I was never really a car person, but doing this show made me understand why people are. The car really is an actor in its own right, and it had its own temperamental personality.
“There were times when the car was a bit of a diva! It broke down, and wouldn’t run. I would have layers and layers of prosthetics on and it was a hot autumn day in Rhode Island and the car wasn’t working, it could be a little bit frustrating.
“So this job has really, among other things, really helped me cultivate a sense of patience and discipline, and staying connected to what I’m there to do, and not letting myself get distracted or frustrated. The car was probably the biggest teacher of those lessons for me.”
Spending up to five hours in make-up
The way the show is set up means Quinto doesn’t just transform into one character - in a way, he transforms into five different characters, as we see Manx at various stages of his life.
When Manx is at his youngest on-screen, he looks most similar to Quinto in real life. But his character also ages up into the early 100s - a process which took up to five hours to create in make-up.
Of the drastic physical transformation he had to undertake for the role, Quinto explains: “There’s five different phases of Manx, depending on what age he is.
"The first is closest to me in age, which is late 30s/early 40s, the second phase is 65, then 85, then 105, then 135.
"So phase one takes less than an hour, phase five [below] takes up to four and a half hours.”
So what would Quinto do while sat in the make-up chair every day before filming kicked off?
“[While I’m transforming into character], in the make-up chair, I’ll do emails, admin, I read books, listen to podcasts, I meditate, I sleep. I do all sorts of things in four hours. I can get a lot done.
“There are days where the work is really challenging, or there’s a lot to drop into, I’m really just focusing on the day ahead, so that becomes part of the process.
“It really just depends on what the day’s work is, and how extreme the process is. But it’s a unique experience I’d say. If I’m going to be in one place at one time, I might as well make the most of it!”
Another physical part of the character is Manx’s voice, the old man's vocals sounding croaky, almost pained. This is another aspect of the Manx's character which is creepy to witness on-screen.
Let’s just say it sounds nothing like Quinto in real life - so it must have been special effects, right? Wrong.
Of controlling his voice for the character, he tells BT.com and other journalists: “That’s just me, no gadgets! The physicality of the character was something I spent time figuring out, and developing, and working on my own to do that.
“From that physicality came the vocal choices that I made, to hopefully capture his weakness, and his insatiable hunger, and his age, as he weakens as he gets older.”
Working with Ashleigh Cummings on the ‘open and collaborative’ set
While Quinto is the main draw in NOS4A2, the show has a stellar supporting cast including 26-year-old Saudi-born actress Ashleigh Cummings and Icelandic actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.
Of working with Ashleigh - who’s been described as "the next Jennifer Lawrence" by some TV critics - Quinto says: “Ashleigh’s incredible, she’s so talented, and this is her first big TV gig, so it was wonderful to watch her step into it and do it with such grace and talent.
"She’s this very interesting, colourful young lady and I feel really honoured to have shared this experience with her, and to learn from her, to embark on this journey together is really fun, so I respect her a lot and I really enjoy her company. She’s really lovely.”
The way the storyline pans out means Quinto and Cummings didn’t share many scenes until later in the season, but Quinto spent a lot of time with Darri Ólafsson, who plays Bing [Partridge], below.
Of working with Ólafsson, Quinto says it was one of his highlights of being on the show. He says: “What a generous, thoughtful, talented guy he is. He really is a great spirit, and a great energy, and a really talented actor.
“I think his character is going to be one of the fan favourites of the show, because he’s so childlike, but then so sinister and so scary. There were times when I was watching him on set and I was like ‘ooh, this is going to be good!’”
With the show so spine-chilling, it didn’t reflect on the actual set - which Quinto says had a ‘great vibe’ to it.
He explains to BT.com: “It was a great vibe, really easy. There was a lot of collaborative energy, and a lot of openness.
“[Showrunner] Jami O’Brien set the tone of really wanting to inspire people, and incentivise people to do their best work. She’s just really great and open and collaborative. Everybody felt free to express their opinions, and ask questions.
“There was no sort of tyranny of power. I’ve been fortunate - most of the things I’ve worked on, that’s been true. But this set was very easy.”
O'Brien has said that she’s hoping for more seasons of NOS4A2 if season 1 is a hit. So would Quinto be up for a return to Manx?
“Yeah, I would be up for it! I never get ahead of myself in terms of that sort of thing. It’s like, we made the first season, we had a great time, hopefully audiences watch it, that’s why we’re here.
“I want to get it out into the world, I want to share it with people, and then we’ll have a conversation about the future. But I would be interested in continuing to explore the narrative, for sure.”
NOS4A2 season 2 starts Tuesday, July 7 at 9pm, exclusively on AMC (BT TV channel 332/381 HD).