Marilyn Manson makes his low-key debut on this week’s Salem season 3 episode “The Heart Is a Devil.” Two short scenes will give a glimpse into a typical day of his character, the town barber. Thomas Dinley’s shop doesn’t have a pole and he’s not cutting heads this time around. He’s checking crushed bones and treating a particularly virulent case of the clap that came creeping from Salem’s new cathouse. Barbers did double-duty as doctors and surgeons in the hazy, crazy days of the Salem Witch Trials.
Dinley doesn’t display any deviltry in his first outing, but all the advance press says The Antichrist Superstar will be in Satan’s corner. Manson’s voice already leads the pounding witch drums of Salem’s theme song and Brannon Braga personally sought the singer, who made his screen debut in David Lynch’s Lost Highway and had a stint on Sons of Anarchy, out for the role.
Manson, whose biography was called The Long Hard Road Out of Hell and whose next album will be titled Say10, is nightmare casting in a world where dreams are had under starless skies. Reverend Marilyn Manson is an honorary priest in the Church of Satan, formed in 1966 by Anton LaVey, credited in the liner notes of the EP Smells Like Children. He already owned original pieces of the ancient medical equipment he worked with on set.
Marilyn Manson spoke exclusively with Den of Geek about his deliciously devilish new role and some things about magic that even the Essex witches don’t talk about.
Den of Geek: I spoke with Brannon Braga earlier and he said he didn’t know you were a priest in the Church of Satan. Did they cast you as the barber for your expertise on hair styles or deviltry?
Marilyn Manson: Ironically enough, I was involved in the church in the past and I was an honorary priest. I have a barber’s chair in my house and I collect straight razors. They didn’t know that. But the other writer on the show, I happened to have one of his books on Alchemy in my house. He had given it to a friend who loaned it to me and when they told me that, the synchronicity was too sick. And also being best friends with Johnny [Depp] and with him playing Sweeney Todd, it all seemed to flow together really well.
The way that they made the character, and the way they developed it over the course of the season, was great because they have a true sense in the writing of show, the era, the authenticity of it. They bend the rules, obviously a little bit, on the fiction and the witchcraft. The character I played, Thomas Dinley, was a childish sort of sociopath who, when looking at a body, live or dead, was curious about what was inside. He was the type of person who just carves it open and looks inside without emotion.
My character is the person on the show who is in between the two worlds, the world of the dead and the world of witchcraft. He is seemingly motivated simply by money. He’s who you go to when you want something bad done or if you want something taken care of that witchcraft can’t or that medicine can’t because it’s an era when religion and science and everything was really in question. He is the guy you can trust with that because he doesn’t really have a side to pick, initially. I think throughout the course of the season he starts to discover there is more between skin and meat. I think the one thing you can always be certain of is: if you go there and you talk to him you’re probably going to end up dead and where you go after you die is probably into a sausage.
Braga said he didn’t know if you cooked any of those meat pies.
I cooked one of them. I cooked one sausage and I really wanted to eat it. I wasn’t really quite sure what they put in it. I’m no vegetarian but I tried to get someone else to eat one. They did let me play with a goat. That doesn’t have anything to do with the sausage. It was separate. I asked if I could play with a goat when I wasn’t on camera because I had just seen the movie The Witch. I was obsessed with Blake Phillips, so I asked for a goat. They brought me a red one, but like the Rolling Stones sang, I saw a red goat and I had to paint it black. They painted it black for me and I played with it. The goat’s owner let me hold it and the ornery fucker dragged me across the entire streets of Salem. I didn’t want to let go of it and it just dragged me going maaaaa. That was kind of amusing. That’s what you get when you play with the devil. When you pull the devil’s horns, you get dragged.
How were the medical instruments on Salem? Braga said you knew your way around them?
Yeah, I have a lot of similar ones. I didn’t get to use all of them as I’d like to. My character is one of the most unhygienic surgeons you ever want to have. There is one episode where I have to deal with what I call witch herpes. Someone has some kind of lesion but I just called it witch herpes because it’s disgusting. Some sort of boils. My character has no problem going in with unclean hands, no disinfectant and extracting them. Then smelling them to try to tell what kind of infection. A really unsanitary character.
How did you treat the other cast and crew? Did you do anything to cement your reputation?
From the minute I put my glasses on, I just became a complete deadpan asshole. And if anyone complained I just said I’m in character. So no one complained. Joe Doyle and Shane West are the characters that I didn’t kill, so we can say I just sat back and watched all the other actors sort of interact. I was a fly on the wall and I would just call out offhand comments, let me put it that way. Other than that, I didn’t do anything terrible. Well, other than get them to paint that goat red. That was my only high jinx, and Brannon was responsible for that.
One of the people from Salem’s PR team told me she was a spooked by your Celebrity Ghost Story appearance.
I never watched it but I remember telling it.
You shoot Salem in New Orleans, two beautiful cities with magical history – what’s different about the energy?
It’s close, but it still brings back memories of recording Antichrist Superstar. That’s where I got most of my early illegal oddities. Most of those things people expect me to have come from New Orleans. That’s where the introduction to my cross between Santeria and Voodoo and hoodoo came from. All of those branded things down there. That stuff is scary in that it works. I, myself, was involved when I was in Louisiana, very close to where we filmed. It Is by Carcosa, which you might remember from season 1 of True Detective, one of the amazing things about that show. I also put a hex on somebody while I lived down there 18 years ago. I can say it successfully worked. I’ll leave it at that.
As far as the magic, what are they getting right on Salem?
I didn’t get to read all the scripts. I’m in six of ten. But the ones that I have I generally only read my part because part of me wants to watch it without spoiler alerts. I do know how it ends because I’m in the ending.
I think they’re as accurate as you can get based on the available reading material. It’s well-researched. I know that they’re really in tune with the alchemy of it all. That’s what I like about my character, because he’s basically an alchemist. He’s motivated by gold. He does things that could be considered magic, depending on what you consider to be magic. You have the Indians and their rituals and then you’ve got the witches. Who can say what actually transpired?
I think that the torture devices and that scold mask, the things they put on the girls when they went into the trial, I think that’s all pretty accurate. As far as the rituals, that I couldn’t say. I don’t think you could ever really know unless you were there.
This season is really intense and really violent. I think it’s even scary and I don’t get scared easy. I doubt that it will scare me because I was involved in the score and some of the scenes, but it’s frightening. There are some good frightening things in it.
Do you ever worry that someone might make a voodoo doll out of one of your horror action figures?
Now they’re too hard to poke through. I’ve tried I’ve already tried it myself.
You are the author of The Dope Show and said my favorite line of all time regarding drugs on Bill Maher’s old Politically Incorrect: Drug abusers give drug users a bad name. What are the best drugs for ritual and who is your connection in Salem?
Who is my drug hook up in Salem? My character is the drug hookup. He’s a drug dealer. He has the apothecary. My character invents a certain fluid to imbibe. It’s probably historically inaccurate, but I like that they let my character be responsible for it. It’s not absinthe, because that would be too obvious as far as being historically inaccurate. It’s hard to say.
I don’t ever want to do it acid again in my life. It really attracts demons and the older you get the more demons you have and they all want to shake hands with you. That’s a bad drug to do. Someone gave me this very ornate, modern version of Crowley’s pipe. It has a combination of Indica and Sativa resin in it. It’s silver and black and is working very good on me right now.
Just one blast from the past question, what was it like working with David Lynch?
Strangely enough, I worked with Jennifer Lynch, his daughter, on the best episode I did on Salem. I remember meeting her when I was at David Lynch’s house maybe 20 years ago.
Here’s what it’s like working with David Lynch. A very quick and accurate impersonation. [Manson changes his voice] “Now, Marilyn, you’re going to be covered in blood, naked, and you’re going to fall down.” [in his own voice] Fall down what? “It doesn’t matter. Action.”
You also worked on Sons of Anarchy–
That was great and I got to make a lot of good friends. I think the characters rubbed off on them. They are two brothers and they stick behind me and we are very tight. I enjoyed that. I pretty much coerced Kurt Sutter into letting me kill Juice. He asked me for a favor and I said I’ll do it if you let me kill juice. Sutter wrote that in so I killed juice. And you find out later I invent something that goes with that on Salem. You figure that one out.
Will you be voting for Alice Cooper?
I’m not voting on anything.
I love the theme song you wrote. I love how you record drums in general. Tell me a little bit about rhythm and magic?
I think that would be my Sioux Indian Heritage, the bit that I have from my hillbilly side, my one grandmother coming from Appalachians in West Virginia. I’ve always found the tribalism of drums as being something that could always conjure something magical in and of itself.
Some people thought for sure that I made it rain the other day on our tour in Phoenix, Arizona. I had sprained my ankle the night before and I wasn’t particularly in the mode to play. It only rains seven times a year in Phoenix. I was pounding the witch drum I had since I was a kid. I’m not saying I control all the weather but when it came down it was a torrential downpour. There was more rain than they’ve had in 20 years. The show got cancelled.
On the last record, the one that “Cupid Carries a Gun” is on, I have a song called “Birds in Hell.” That has the rhythm and witchcraft. The way we recorded it you can hear it because I’m singing but I’m also hitting my hand on my legs. My drummer is playing it also. It also has an additional set of toms. I think he played another set of toms over it because I like to layer. That comes from my early love of rock and roll like Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow, things like that. I also play the tambourine, naturally. My Indian background could be related to witchcraft, of course.
The song wasn’t written with the show in mind, but since Tyler Bates, my musical writing partner, was scoring the show, he decided to toss it in because it said “witches drums” and they loved it. But I had never really seen the show at that point. It hadn’t been out. That was synchronicity happening there.
Have you seen any films that accurately portray left hand path magic?
I like The Witch. That movie was very solid and it takes place in a similar era that Salem does. I think that there is a heart of magic. Part of the whole idea is that is it the imagination and where it can go. I think there are a lot of times that people look at rituals in the literal sense. Some people are just born with a natural ability to make things happen or a determination to make them happen. Or there is some element that is electric or something that you can’t quite describe. If you could, you wouldn’t want to tell people what it was because you wouldn’t want to let people know what really is magic.
You’ve got magicians and the whole ability to fool people, whether it be with snake oil or tricks that has been around since the dawn of psychiatry, all of these things are various elements of what could be considered witchcraft. It’s just men’s ability to understand things and other men’s ability to control it. Or women, I’m speaking from my point of view.
Did you see Eyes Wide Shut? What did you think of the reverse intonations in the ritual chants, do you think Kubrick studied up on Crowley?
That’s an interesting question. I never looked at it that way. After I get off the phone with you I’m getting the Crowley Star tattoo, another synchronicity for you. It’s hard to say, I only saw it once in the theater. I wasn’t particularly fond of it, so I didn’t look into it too much. Maybe after a second watch it I’ll have more. But I see what you’re getting at, from what I remember of it.
Both Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out were released in 1968, a year before the first two recordings of a satanic mass were released. There were devil parties in the late sixties, do you think people are more accepting now of the dark religions than they were then?
I’m sitting on the couch from Rosemary’s Baby, ironically, one of my valued collectibles. Knowing from what Anton LaVey told me in the past, it was a mixture. I could write a book in the tradition of that, what would happen nowadays with the crowd that I hang out with in Hollywood. People like to come over to my house and take in the oddities I’ve collected over the years. Some are the ones La Vey had at his house. He had Crowley’s pipe and he let me hold it, which was exciting.
I think it was a combination of the summer of love ending and the darkness coming and there was rock and roll taking shape with the Rolling Stones and The Doors. I would have to say maybe it’s time for more of that. It’s time to bring back that Eyes Wide Shut element that you were talking about and I don’t think could be anyone more appropriate to handle that in Los Angeles and myself than myself.
[LAUGHING] Who scored the most points, TV, movies or music?
I’m going to go with music starting with the Stones. You can go back further than that but I think they, and I think Led Zeppelin, were more conscious of it. Music has a different impact. Like you said it’s got the rhythms and also the frequencies, the tritones, the different chords that I go back to pre-rock and roll times. They can’t simply be for no reason. It wasn’t like nowadays. Someone was trying to ban rock and roll as a political move or an attempt to keep people from straying from their flock, or their monetary income, if it affected a televangelist or whatever. I think it was a genuine concern.
Music breaks up the language virus of religion and makes you not think about it. It has that kind of impact. We don’t have the attention span it requires, today, necessarily. But certain things like television make it travel faster and adapt to the mind which is going a lot faster nowadays. The flood of information that they’re getting.
I think that’s one thing about Salem. It is episodic. It keeps people wanting more and that’s part of the lure of witchcraft and Satanism. Always leave them wanting more.
Do you think Robert Johnson got a good deal at the crossroads or should he have held out for publishing shares?
I think he got the fame and fortune, his forever. His Mephistophelian/Faustian deal still lives on. So I’d say he might not have gotten the deal he wanted but he got the deal that was right for him. Sometimes men don’t know exactly what they want.
Salem season 3 airs every Wednesday, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on WGN.