AMC is dialing up another high-concept horror series with the long-gestating supernatural thriller NOS4A2, adapted from the best-selling novel from genre "king" Joe Hill. NOS4A2 will bring to life the wildly creepy villain Charlie Manx, a demonic entity whose semi-immortality relies on stealing children and their souls. Going somewhat against type to portray Charlie is American Horror Story and Star Trek vet Zachary Quinto.
Don't go thinking this was just a by-the-numbers gig for Zachary Quinto, either. The actor brought dedication and ideals of legitimacy to the malice-spreading role of Charlie Manx, and his prep work actually helped shape the overall characterization. Speaking with CinemaBlend about all things NOS4A2, showrunner Jami O'Brien had nothing but kind and complimentary things to say about Quinto.
I mean, Zach is amazing, obviously. He is such a pro, and such a thoughtful and focused actor. I just think we lucked out because I can't imagine anybody else playing that role. When he came to it, he had thought through and had such specific ideas about how he was going to play Charlie at each age, and also to kind of bring that all together into one character. His physicality, his vocal work, and also just his emotional characterization...I could just watch him all day long. I think he's amazing.
As viewers will see, and as it's been made apparent in the trailers and promo footage, Charlie Manx's preferred appearance is that of a well-coifed man in his 30s or 40s. However, things start to go dramatically south whenever he's in need of more children to populate his haunted world of Christmasland, where they can be "happy forever." (Anyone dealing with summer heat would also find much solace in winter wonderlands.) Thus, Zachary Quinto gets to play Charlie in various capacities across different timelines, and it sounds like he put a lot of thought into that concept.
Having seen the first six episodes of NOS4A2, I can confirm that Zachary Quinto thoroughly owns the role of Charlie Manx, imbuing the villain with the menace and charisma of a friend trying to get you to get drunk for the first time, or else he'll kill you. It's a performance that works within NOS4A2, but would probably also feel at home in a 1940s production. The timelessness is balanced by Ashleigh Cummings' co-lead Vic McQueen, an of-the-present teen whose tattered home life leads to the discovery of her own supernatural gifts.
Showrunner Jami O'Brien, who cut her teeth at AMC on Hell on Wheels and Fear the Walking Dead, told me there was a specific angle that Zachary Quinto brought to Charlie Manx that helped shape the way O'Brien viewed the villain. Here's how she put it:
Yeah, he came in the door with a really strong idea about what he wanted to do. And really, I was there and we had conversations, and I would answer questions sometimes about what I thought a certain motivation was. But he really led the way. Early on, I think in like the first week he was there, we were having a conversation about who is this guy and how does he relate to the real world, and Zach said to me, 'I think he's an invasion into the real world.' I thought, what a great way to talk about him! And then that kind of shaped the way that I saw the character moving forward. So, you know, in terms of that character, we really took our cues from the novel, from Wraith, which is a graphic novel that is kind of related to the book that's really more about Charlie Manx, and from Zach.
In the scheme of things, it's mightily impressive for Zachary Quinto to get namechecked with Joe Hill's novel and graphic novel (illustrated by C. P. Wilson III) in citing the villain's biggest influences for his TV transformation. The notion is natural enough to glean from watching the AMC series, in which Charlie Manx's invasiveness is akin to that of a horror movie monster like Jason or Freddy, as opposed to him tracking his prey as a kidnapper or serial killer might.
Charlie Manx invades both spaces of the world and spaces of the mind. When he arrives somewhere in his unmistakable mode of transport, the Wraith, he's there to get shit done and to make others aware of the shit he's getting done. Charlie probably wouldn't have made it to the age of 140 years old if he approached situations more passively, although he meets his match in Vic McQueen.
Author Joe Hill, who also executive produced the NOS4A2 TV show, told CinemaBlend that Zachary Quinto was just as invested in Charlie's physical performance as he was the emotional and mental aspects. In Hill's words:
I think Zach was fascinated by the kind of life [that Charlie has]. I think Zach wanted to have a gruesome transformation, that he kind of almost took a sort of Lon Chaney approach to the thing. He wanted to physically act Manx, to be old, hunched, labored. With those fingernails that look like they'd never seen a fingernail clipper.
As bothersome as it is to watch the genial actor's more hideously evil side in focus for NOS4A2, it's awesome that Zachary Quinto was just as committed to getting gnarly on screen, and boy does he look monstrous from time to time. Though never in an over-the-top way, which is a credit to special makeup designer Joel Harlow and the rest of the makeup and effects teams. It'll definitely take some masterful efforts for anyone to lock down a more horrifying role for Zachary Quinto in the future.
Of course, just because Quinto's Charlie is a deadly nightmare sometimes doesn't mean he isn't also shown in different lights. He does claim to be taking only children from broken homes, which basically makes him the Robin Hood of vampires, right? Charlie can also be quite suave and debonaire when the situation calls for it, even if everything is only temporary. During our talk, Joe Hill reflected on this side of the character, saying:
It's interesting, because there's a scene in Episode 4 or 5, and we can get a glimpse of Charlie in the '50s as a young man, as a sort of romantic flame. And it's easy to see how appealing Zach is, how utterly charming he is. I even think old bent and hideous gnarled Manx has a certain old-world charm to him.
Given that Charlie Manx is probably the least sympathetic character Zachary Quinto has ever played, the NOS4A2 ghoul will likely leave a bad taste in a lot of viewers' mouths. But it's a bad taste that his fans won't soon be forgetting, especially if AMC keeps NOS4A2 going for multiple seasons the way Jami O'Brien and Joe Hill are hoping.