LOS ANGELES — The prospect of having to put on an extensive amount of special effects makeup has sent many actors running in the opposite direction from a role. That wasn't the case with Zachary Quinto as he had actually been looking for a character to play where he would become completely physically immersed in the job. He found that with the new AMC series NOS4A2 — based on the 2013 Joe Hill novel — which premiered June 2.
A massive amount of makeup work is needed for Quinto to play Charlie Manx, an immortal supernatural villain who feeds off the souls of children. Once done with the child, he leaves their remains in Christmasland, a place where it is Christmas every day and unhappiness is not allowed. He's threatened by Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), a young woman who discovers she has the supernatural ability to find lost things. She looks to defeat Manx and rescue his victims without losing her mind or falling victim to him herself.
"I had been actively pursuing a role where I would have to go through a complete transformation," Quinto says. "One of the first things I said to all the producers is that the only way I feel like we can accomplish this if we can get (acclaimed makeup designer) Joel Harlow. I knew if I was going to undertake a challenge like this it would have to be in the hands of someone I trusted implicitly.
"When you are immersing yourself in a character that exists behind layers of glue and silicon and makeup, you have to be able to trust that your inner life would be expressible."
Quinto was aware of Harlow's skills with special effects makeup having worked with him on Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond. The makeup work on the Star Trek films with Quinto was minimal but for NOS4A2, the work the Oscar-winning Harlow does takes Quinto from his youthful self to a decrepit 135-year-old man.
Getting the right look was only the start for Quinto as he dove into this purely evil character. The next step was finding the right way to take on the role from a psychological level knowing he's a person who harms children but in his heart doesn't see himself as being evil. Quinto's approach to every acting job has been the same, whether it be Skylar on Heroes or Eli Rubin in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: The point of entrance always has to be rooted in compassion, understanding and love.
"So, when you are playing a character that's as reprehensible as some of the characters I have played, that exploration becomes a little more challenging," Quinto says. "But, the origin of it, for me, is going back to find what is the source of trauma that set this character on a path. That leads him to where he ends up.
"So for Manx, his childhood was marked by unfathomable trauma and I was really fortunate as an actor to have the novel and the graphic novels as guides into that trauma and that childhood. On some psychological level he thinks he's giving these kids a better life than they would have had otherwise."
What Quinto gets to do while playing Manx leads to some very dark moments. At the same time, Quinto found a few occasions for humor, especially dealing with Manx being 135 years old but living in a modern world. One such scene has Manx at a gas station buying a massive amount of air fresheners for his car that he has been driving for 80 years.
The work Quinto did to become Manx impressed his fellow actors. Ashleigh Cummings recalls being blown away the first time she had to do a scene with Quinto in full makeup calling his work "incredibly chameleonic."
Cummings adds, "I remember the first time I kind of did a scene with Zach, and I was really astonished at both the physical and vocal transformations that really added to the character, alongside the prosthetics, and the way you kind of integrated the car into your breathing and this idea of the engine and so on. It's been really inspiring to watch that transformation."
As for her own process of becoming the hero of this dark tale, Cummings relied heavily on the original book, which she found rich with complex psychology. One of the main reasons she wanted to be part of the show was that despite their being a heavy supernatural element to the tale, the stories were all grounded in emotional truth.
Having the book made the work process easier for Cummings. In past acting jobs such as Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries or Westside, Cummings would create a backstory for her character. That wasn't necessary because she had Hill's novel to fill in the character holes.
"I love working with books for that reason. There is a world that already exists there. Any given scene that correlated directly with the book, I would go back and try and implement the thought processes that Joe Hill described so I could honor the character he created as well," Cummings says.
NOS4A2 airs at 8 p.m. Sundays on AMC.
Style on 06/11/2019
Print Headline: Zachary Quinto dives deep into NOS4A2 role