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Tobias Menzies talks about a serious death, Abe Lincoln Friendship




Tobias Menzies talks about a serious death, Abe Lincoln Friendship

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers for the “Manhunt” finale, now streaming on Apple TV+.

The seven-episode historical miniseries “Manhunt” has ended in dramatic fashion. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies) has brought several of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators to justice for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, resulting in numerous hangings. Legally, he was unable to prove a grand conspiracy, leaving him somewhat dissatisfied in his efforts to find justice for Lincoln. Still, Stanton has his next fight almost immediately after the verdict, as new President Andrew Johnson aims to have him removed from office — prompting the Secretary of War to barricade himself in his office in protest.

Reflecting on the series – and especially the trial that takes up most of the final episode – Menzies talks about how his animated facial expressions guide the audience through the highs and lows of the prosecution of Lincoln’s assassins.

“You respond to other actors and what they give you,” he says. “But part of Stanton’s job within the story is to be the audience’s compass. A big part of the show is him riding the different waves of this disaster and trying to process that. A big part of it is trying to navigate situations while dealing with the loss of a friend and his fears about what will happen to the country he serves. You get that with a combination of mind and heart.”

Eva Sørhaug, who directed the last three episodes of the series, says she facilitated the directing work together with the actors to create the emotional depth that underlined ‘Manhunt’.

“It’s all about performance and I want to capture that with the right tools,” she says. “When it comes to what dances your way, I try to be very open. We come up with the shot list, but then we see what the actors are doing and we can just throw that plan away and come up with a new plan that’s better for the story, and maybe more efficient. You can’t see it until you shoot it. It’s just a lot of theory. So we try to position the camera so that we feel that experience.”

One of the most critical elements of the show — which echoed during some key flashback scenes in the finale — was the friendship and trust between Stanton and Abraham Lincoln (Hamish Linklater). According to Menzies, it was natural for the actors to get into a rhythm that felt genuine and appropriate to the period.

“It was very instinctive,” he says. “Hamish and I obviously got on well, so it’s quite a good relationship between him and I as people. We didn’t plan it massively or talk about it much. In these flashback scenes we had to capture the warmth and feeling between these two men. To understand the loss Stanton faces, we needed to do so not only politically but also personally. It is very easy to like Hamish, he is a very charming person.

Thanks to Apple TV+

When the show started with Lincoln’s assassination, it ended with Stanton’s death as a Supreme Court nominee, who died before being sworn in. Menzies says he approaches death scenes from a practical point of view.

“The boring answer is rooted in the specifics of the way they die in relation to the circumstances in which they die,” he says. “I think with death… it’s probably not very lifelike, but less is more. The story does a lot of the work for you.”

Sørhaug also says that it is crucial that the visual design of the death matches the emotional weight and complexity of the death in the story.

“I think it depends on the way you approach it,” she says. “You have to have a delicate hand and not be so specific. Maybe it’s better to have it from behind than just watch him fall over. Or like we did… some paper falls on the floor. It’s also about the state of mind with which I do everything: who is the scene? How does it feel to be the character in this scene? How is this meant to visually represent him feeling? Then you shouldn’t be too clueless when it comes to suffocation.”

Menzies acknowledges that Stanton probably felt that he had not achieved everything he had wanted to achieve at the time of his death.

“He struck me as a very idealistic and ambitious politician who was not easily satisfied,” he says. “I think if he had been given the choice he would have liked to have more time. The viewers are moved because we all know how long it took to achieve those voting and land rights. It took another hundred years for the civil rights movement of the 1960s to take off. It would have broken Stanton’s heart if he knew that.’

Looking back on the series, Menzies – who has had roles in historical fiction projects such as ‘The Crown’, ‘The Terror’ and ‘Outlander’ – says he has always been intrigued by stories from another time.

“Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and I was amazed by the specifics of this story,” he says. “Just go back to the beginning…Lincoln was murdered in a theater in front of hundreds of people, but then that person jumped on stage. It’s strange and vibrant and all of that makes for very interesting territories, characters and worlds to step into.”