Uncovering your true passion and identity as an adolescent and young adult, and reaffirming your beliefs and integrity as you become more settled in your maturity and life, is a vital freedom that all generations of Americans are entitled to, no matter what era they live in. That important search in recognizing and securing your authentic personality is a enthralling theme in the new crime drama, ‘Aquarius,’ which is in the middle of its 13-episode run, which airs on Thursday nights at 9/8c on NBC. The show, whose first five episodes are currently stream on the network’s official website, and entire season is streaming On Demand, proves that during a time of distinct cultural uprising against authority and the societal norms, people value their sense of character more than adapting to what’s considered acceptable in their community.

Set in Los Angeles in 1967, the first season of ‘Aquarius’ follows Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny), a decorated World War II veteran and current homicide detective who barely recognizes the city he’s now policing. The world he and his generation saved from fascism over 20 years ago is now being radically changed through long hair, cheap drugs, rising crime, protests, free love, police brutality and the Vietnam War.

When Emma Karn (Emma Dumont), the 16-year-old daughter of one of Sam’s former girlfriends, goes missing in hippie society, the detective agrees to find her. But he’s continuously faced with hostility, distrust and silence from potential witnesses along the way. So he enlists the help of a young, idealistic undercover vice cop, Brian Shafe (Grey Damon), to infiltrate the new American counterculture, in an effort to find her.

Although the generational gap between the two immediately becomes heated, they’re both dedicated officers who understand that they need to work together peaceflly, so that they can bring Emma home safely. They recognize the sense of urgency when they discover she has joined a small, but dedicated, band of drifters who are under the influence of career criminal Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony). Brian enlists Detective Charmain Tully (Claire Holt), who could pass as a young female hippie, to help him infiltrate the Manson Family, and finally bring Emma and the rest of the girls safely home.

Damon and Dumont generously took the time recently to sit down for a roundtable interview to talk about starring in ‘Aquarius,’ which was recently renewed for a second season, during NBCUniversal’s New York Summer Press Day 2015 at the Four Seasons Hotel. Among other things, the actors discussed how although they both had a general idea about 1960s culture when they first signed on to star in the crime drama series, they heavily researched the era by reading books, listening to music and watching television shows and films from the time period; how working with the rest of the international cast, including Duchovny, Holt and Anthony, was one of their favorite aspects of filming a drama that’s so immersed in hippie American culture; and how they, along with John McNamara, who created, executive produces and writes the show, want to sensitively approach chronicling some of the more heinous aspects of the Mason Family’s crimes.

Question (Q): How much did you both know about this time period, and how much did you have to research it, including the Manson story, before you began filming?

Emma Dumont (ED): I think we knew the fair amount, and had a general idea, about Charles Manson. But we both did a heavy load of research about the time period and its culture.

Grey Damon (GD): Yes, we did a lot of research on Google. I actually didn’t know that much about the ’60s, but I knew about Manson and Vietnam, because my dad’s a veteran. But I didn’t know that much about the time period until I started researching for the show.

So I spent the three weeks from the time I learned that I booked the role of Brian, to the time we started filming, studying about the period. I watched documentaries about, and listened to music from, the time. As soon as I got on the set, all that research went away. (Dumont laughs.) So I tried to keep researching throughout filming, and I hope I did alright.

ED: You did great. It’s funny-the first email we received from John McNamara, our creator, after we spoke to him on the phone, included homework.

GD: It was a long list…

ED: …which included books, documentaries and films about the ’60s culture.

GD: She probably knew all of that word-for-word. (laughs)

ED: Yes, I memorized every book. (laughs)

Q: Speaking of the music of the time, were there any artists or songs that you really began to enjoy during your research?

GD: I fell in love with Otis Redding while I was doing my research.

Q: Have you been able to use any songs from that time period on the show, or have there been any rights issues?

ED: No, we’ve actually had really good luck with securing the music licensing.

GD: We didn’t think we were going to get any music, because it’s really expensive, and a lot of the musicians are still alive.

ED: We asked for music from such bands as The Doors and the Beatles-it was ridiculous whose music we asked for to use on the show.

GD: But when the bands saw the show, they said they’d give us a good deal, because we were putting their music in a good light.

ED: Since our show’s so accurate to the ’60s, the music genuinely fits into the story.

GD: John actually approached Marty Adelstein (who serves as one of the show’s executive producers), and told him, “I think I’m going to write these books about the ’60s.” Marty asked what they would be about, he said it would be a saga about cops in that era. At the time, I don’t think they knew Manson was going to be the main villain, but Marty told John that story couldn’t be told in books. When John asked him why not, Marty said, “You have to hear the music.”

That’s when John realized that Marty was right, and the story had to be told on a TV show or a movie. But I think a television show is the better idea, because you need a longer time period to tell this story. But that’s the case with a lot of series today-like ‘Game of Thrones’ couldn’t have been a movie.

ED: It’s funny how you said that about Marty and John. I was recently joking around with someone, and said, “These two men have been creating this show since the time that I was actually my character’s age.” (laughs) It’s crazy how much knowledge and passion they have for this subject.

Q: Besides the music, were there any cop television shows from the ’60s that also inspired you?

GD: There were some shows that did have some influence on me. I watched as many shows from that era in the three week period between the time I was cast to the time we began filming as I could, including ‘Howdy Doody’ and ‘Dragnet.’ But for authenticity reasons, I didn’t want to completely put myself in that environment, and be weary of how I spoke and carried myself. I didn’t want to be too influenced by that style.

ED: It’s interesting that you say that. Something really cool and special about our show is that it is a ’60s period piece, but it’s very much a 2015-made television series. It’s set in the ’60s, but when you look at, the cinematography and visuals are very contemporary.

GD: We definitely took measures to make it feel authentic. But it was authentic for real life, and not for television.

ED: Yes, so we’re not making a ’60s TV show-we’re making a series that’s set in the ’60s.

GD: What I also think is amazing about it is what these cameramen were able to do. (Cinematographer) Lukas Ettlin is a master.

ED: He’s also a film DP (Director of Photography).

GD: Yes, absolutely. They were so smart with the (camera) filters and the lighting. We didn’t have any idea how pretty it was going to look.

ED: We were shocked by the contrast between the hippie elements, which had this amber color, and the cop scenes, which are so cold and blue.

GD: Those scenes are as noir as you can get without the show being in black and white.

Q: What was your favorite thing about being a part of the show’s cast?

ED: We have such a cool cast…

GD: …which is probably our favorite thing about the show.

ED: David’s great, as is Gethin Anthony, who plays Manson, and Claire Holt, who plays Charmain Tully. I love that we have an international cast-we have an Australian (Holt) and an Englishman (Anthony).

GD: He’s actually a Welshman-he’s from Wales. (laughs)

ED: But our show’s all about American culture during that time in the ’60s, so it’s great that we have such an adverse cast.

Q: Were there any adults in your lives who you spoke to about the ’60s, to help you connect with your characters and the story? Did you speak to David about the time period?

GD: Well, we spoke to John McNamara…

ED: …but David was a child during that period (the actor was born in 1960), so he wasn’t able to give us that much information. I’ve gotten more facts from people we meet, and who I tell about the show. They’ll always tell us stories. They’ll be like, “Oh, the Manson girls! I knew them-they used to come into my store.” There was one guy, who I think Gethin met, who said, “Oh, Charles Manson? My friend Charlie!”

It’s interesting to meet the people who knew and remember the people who are featured on the show. We film the series in L.A., and since we’re shooting a show about the city in the ’60s, there are still people who live there who were in L.A. at the time of the Manson crimes.

GD: One of my television agent’s fathers was actually the head prosecutor on the case. My agent has all these photos in his office of his father prosecuting the case.

There’s also a guy in the cop department who was actually a real undercover cop in the ’60s. So he has these amazingly awesome stories. John’s been working with him forever, since one of his earlier crime shows. He has journals amongst journals that contain stories of him being undercover, and the horrendous things he saw. I couldn’t be a real cop-I’m too sensitive, and not strong enough.

ED: I could probably do it-I’m tough. (laughs)

GD: In one of the scenes that we filmed during our first days on the set, which I think is in the second episode, a girl gets bludgeoned with a brick. No one told me that that was what I was going to be walking up on. The camera was rolling, and as I walk around the corner, I was like, “Oh, sh*t.” (laughs) They said to do it again, but they just wanted to see my reaction. But there was this poor girl who looks very dead, and there was blood everywhere.

ED: There were great special effects in that scene. But when it’s a little too real, it scares everyone.

GD: I think that’s an awesome aspect of our show-they still use practical effects.

ED: Oh yes, there aren’t a lot of special effects that are done in post (production). Everything’s done by hand on the set.

GD: That aspect really feeds to that time period and genre-I think you need that grittiness, and if you put too much CGI in there, it won’t work as well.

ED: It does look real. There are parts of the show that I do need to look away from as I’m watching them, because they’re too much for me. Even though I was on set the day it was filmed, I don’t want to see it.

GD: There would be a guy with a (prosthetic) gun wound in his head on the set, and he’d be eating lunch with us. I’d be like, “Come on, man.” (laughs)

Q: How closely does the show stick to the facts of the time period and the crimes, and how much creative license does it take?

ED: It’s hard to say, because we weren’t there. (laughs)

GD: Yes, so we don’t really know for sure. But I’ve been reading that it is a bit accurate. John, who also writes for the show, has always said it’s historical fiction, and I think that’s true in every aspect of the show. I think a lot of the Manson material is hearsay, because he’s hard guy to trust-well, except for the Manson girls. (Dumont laughs.) I think the best way to put it is that’s half fact and half fiction. I think we do try to be accurate, in terms of aesthetics.

ED: Yes, I would say that anything that doesn’t have to do with Charles Manson is pretty much 100 percent accurate. It’s not totally accurate in terms of characters’ names, as we’re fictional characters. But in terms of such things as the costumes and the events that were happening in the world, I would say we were 100 percent accurate.

Q: Speaking of the costumes, did you both take any outfits from the set that you liked?

ED: We wanted to take everything! I’m all about the ’60s wardrobe and make-up. I loved the double eye-liner and A-Line dresses. (laughs)

GD: I was drawn to the ’60s fashion, too. But I don’t have much of a fashion sense of a particular time period or way of culture until I do a show. The costumers always help me figure out what that fashion sense for each character is in that period of my life. Hopefully my style gets better with each show I’m on.

Q: Is there going to be a storyline about Sharon Tate on the show?

GD: I think we’re trying to be sensitive about the case…

ED: …but to be honest, I don’t think we can say, because we don’t know.

GD: We honestly don’t know, and John’s known for changing his mind.

ED: Yes, he’s very good about changing his mind.

GD: When I ask him if we’re going to cover things I know about the ’60s, and that I heard were going to be on the show, he’d say, “No, we’re not doing that.”

ED: Yes, the things that were supposed to happen don’t end up happening, and the opposite ends up in the script. So there’s no way to know what’s going on next. I remember people saying they wanted to see Emma and Brian get together.

GD: Yes, the fan theories are interesting, as they keep trying to hook characters up. But Brian’s married, and Emma’s 16, so I don’t know why they’d want to see them together.

ED: I don’t know why that would be something that would happen. He has a beautiful wife and child, and my character’s still a child, so that doesn’t make sense. Plus, she’s in love with Charles.

GD: But it was the ’60s, and at the time, Manson was in his 30s.

Interview: Grey Damon and Emma Dumont Talk Aquarius
An evening with the cast of ‘Aquarius’ at the Chateau Marmont-Pictured: (l-r) Grey Damon, Claire Holt, David Duchovny, Emma Dumont and Gethin Anthony. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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