Jeff Ward refers to Charles Manson as "Charlie," like he knows the guy.
And in a way, he does. Ward, a Radnor native, will play Manson in Lifetime's Manson's Lost Girls, running at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Ward auditioned for the part on a Thursday, learned he got it on a Friday, and was filming two weeks later. So he threw himself into Mansonmania to prepare.
"I ordered every book, every DVD. I threw myself into learning everything I possibly could about him. I got so obsessed by the real story, but I had to put the real story aside because I had to start working on him as a character," says Ward, 29. "I believe he might be the most-written-about psychological case in American history. There are few others in his company. So it was an ocean of material that seemed overwhelming at first."
Ward's right - Manson is a prominent figure in pop history. That also means Ward is not the first to tackle Manson, who led a "family" of female followers to commit the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969. Manson's Lost Girls follows Linda Kasabian (MacKenzie Mauzy), a Manson Family member who eventually left the group and testified in court against her former accomplices. The cast is full of Hollywood legacies, like Greer Grammer (daughter of Kelsey), Eden Brolin (daughter of Josh Brolin and Diane Lane), and Christian Madsen (son of Michael).
Ward said he avoided other Manson portrayals - there have been many, including last year's Aquarius on NBC with Game of Thrones' Gethin Anthony as Manson. He decided against doing an impression, preferring research to mimicry.
Ward doesn't look exactly like Manson, but they share some physical attributes: magnetic eyes, square chin, broad nose. Ward grew up in Radnor, and later attended NYU. After college, he worked in theater, understudying on Broadway for Ben Foster in Orphans, costarring Alec Baldwin.
While doing his research, Ward became particularly interested in how Manson could attract the following he did and keep that family together. Manson would get advice from pimps about what kind of women to seek out, the "cracked, not broken" ones, as Ward called them.
Ward's "favorite thing about Charlie" was that, while he was in prison, Manson took a course in Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. He used that to manipulate his flock, and Ward incorporated similar tactics in his performance. "There were few things that influenced my acting more than how to get people to like you: smile, ask questions, don't criticize," Ward said. "That book is a step-by-step guide at how to get people to like you. It takes a pretty maniacal and evil mind to take all these principles and apply them to murder."