Bad Guy Gone Good
MAXIM Australia|September 2019

There was a time when Australian actor DAMON HERRIMAN was begging to play the villain. This month he plays notorious cult-leader Charles Manson in not one but two Hollywood productions — the first being a cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But, after a string of roles on the dark side, he tells MAXIM he’s now ready to return to being Mr. Nice Guy…

John Way

After 40 years on TV and film screens, Australian actor Damon Herriman is looking for a change of pace. From the adorable kid on the hit Aussie drama series The Sullivans in the ’70s and ’80s, to a rogue priest on Foxtel’s four-part gothic thriller Lambs of God, Herriman has run the gamut of character acting like no other. He’s now coming off a 10-year run of playing every low-life and scum-bag in a host of U.S. and Australian TV series and movies, and it’s a journey that’s hit boiling point for the 49-year-old South Australian.

Herriman is currently portraying criminal cult-leader Charles Manson in not one but two separate Hollywood productions. The first Manson installment is a cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which made its Australian debut on August 3 at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Tarantino’s ode to late ’60s Hollywood is a masterwork of violence and old-school pop culture featuring a star-studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and fellow Aussie Margot Robbie.

Herriman says it was a “pinch-me moment” when the news came through from Tarantino’s production team that he’d won the role as the charming, smiling but menacing Manson. “It was incredibly exciting,” says Herriman. “But I also knew at that point that I was playing Charles Manson in another production, which is the Netflix series Mindhunter, and I was only a couple of weeks off from starting that job. I was thinking ‘once he finds out I’m already playing the role I’m going to lose the gig’, but thankfully that didn’t happen.” The first series of Mindhunter was produced by David Fincher and while the filmmaker won’t be helming the project this time ​around, he will direct three episodes which are due for release this month.

The process of getting inside Manson’s skin was an “intimidating” one for Herriman, with hour upon hour dedicated to meticulous research. “He’s certainly one of the hardest roles I’ve ever played,” explains Australia’s next big Hollywood star. “He could change on a dime, so working out which version of Charlie Manson you’re playing was one of the hardest parts.” And as for working with Tarantino, he describes the legendary director as being “incredibly enthusiastic”, “like a kid in a candy store” and at the high end of “encyclopaedic” when it comes to his film knowledge. “Something happens, I think, at that level where the bigger someone gets in Hollywood, there can be more tension, more ego, and the more diva behaviour,” says Herriman. “And then something happens when it gets to the very top, it then goes back to being completely normal again and it’s just like walking onto the set of a short film that you and some mates are making. It’s like a family... they just invite you in.”

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