When the creator of Salem phoned up Marilyn Manson with the offer of a role on the witch-themed TV series, the shock rocker agreed before even hearing the character description. When it was spelled out to him, though, he was hooked. "He said, 'Well, you'll be a barber that gives autopsies and travels somewhere in between the worlds of the dead and the living, and he has to deal with all of the things that witchcraft has caused and can't fix – basically the alchemical end,'" Manson says. "That's pretty much my interest in regular life, so it would be the perfect fit." Manson laughs.
The character, Thomas Dinley, will play a pivotal role with ties to the Devil on the third season of the show, which premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on WGN America. A trailer for the season shows him treating a patient with leeches and proclaiming, "Most of us die as we are born: in agony." But the singer has already been playing a major role in the show from its first episode, since he allowed it to use his song, "Cupid Carries a Gun" – from last year's The Pale Emperor – as its theme music. The singer co-wrote the tune with composer Tyler Bates, who also scores Salem and is collaborating with Manson on his upcoming album, SAY10, due in February.
Manson, who made his screen debut in David Lynch's Lost Highway and recently had a stint on Sons of Anarchy, spoke with Rolling Stone ahead of the season premiere about how in the case of Salem, art, for him, imitates life.
How did it feel to be on set in your character's barber and surgery shop?
It wasn't too far off from my living room except it was just in an older time period. I have a lot of the same collectible things, like the medical instruments. I've always been fascinated with things of that nature, so it was the perfect fit for me.
What types of medical instruments do you collect?
Straight razors. I have a barber's chair, strangely enough, at home [laughs]. I have different prosthetic limbs, skeletal remains, the usual things that you might expect to find in a person's imagination of what my house would look like [laughs].
How do you pick the roles you play as an actor?
I don't. I snuck my way onto Sons of Anarchy. I wanted that one really bad. This one just seemed perfect and appealing. There's a couple of things in the future I want to do. I watch episodic shows like Hannibal, and there's something in the future of that story line – what comes after Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs – that I'm hoping is going to happen but I won't talk about that yet. What happens when I take roles is I end up fucking myself over because I try to get on shows I like, and then it's a spoiler alert for me because I know what happens on the show if I'm on it. That's the one flaw in my plan [laughs].
Did the Salem setting feel real?
They've built this perfect city, an actual town. It was really like being in another time. … I just remember the first day, I dove right in. I think people will see: It's pretty gory and intense for the format that they're working in. They've really taken it to the extremes. The acting, the cinematography and the story line is as good as any movie that I've seen about that era.
So the gore looks real?
The special-effects people created things that looked very realistic, when it comes to autopsies and things like that. They were very historically accurate. It's the dawn of the creation of new medicine, and my character performs enemas, tooth pulling, shaves and autopsies, so it's a time when they're trying to figure out what doctors and surgeons are. My character comes in and becomes this person that nobody can really figure out. They kind of fear him, I think, because he's pretty utterly sociopathic and emotionless.
You've described your character as the "Devil's best friend." Can you explain that relationship?
Yeah. There's the different elements of the story in Salem, like who's really running the show, and you've got this witch war that begins, and my character doesn't take anyone's side. But when it comes to it, my character has to believe in something. If you go to my office, you usually die [laughs]. And you probably don't end up in heaven; you probably end up in a sausage. … There's some Sweeney Todd in it.
Your character eats a leech in the season trailer. What was that like?
I was a little disappointed that the leech handler wouldn't let me be a little bit rougher with them [laughs]. They don't really have nervous systems, technically. But I remember as a little kid I used to pour salt on slugs. They're probably from the same family. And I have eaten escargot before, so I figured why not eat the leech? It's not that big of a deal.
So that was a real leech?
Yeah. I wasn't technically allowed to swallow it. So we will agree to disagree to agree that there is a leech in my mouth that did not necessarily get eaten.
You "didn't inhale."
Yeah, I didn't. I don't want the leech union to come after me.
You filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana. What did you do with your free time, on set?
I'd seen that movie The Witch about a week into working on Salem, because I'd missed it in the theaters. And the goat in the movie, Black Phillip, became an obsession of mine. I was thinking I wanted to get a tattoo of Black Phillip, and I remembered that my first tattoo is of a black goat's head hat I got when I was 21 [laughs]. So on the last day of the shoot, I requested a black goat to play with, just off set, just for my own recreational purposes. But they brought a red goat, so I sang quite simply – and this will tie wonderfully into your magazine – "I see a red goat, and I want to paint it black." And everyone really got a kick out of it.
There you go.
And I did: They did let me paint it black. It was ornery.