For all the attention foisted on Charles Manson, his numerous victims are underrepresented in pop culture. Most people know little about Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and numerous others beyond their status as young people who were murdered before their time by a manipulative madman who started a cult around himself.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a dramatized retelling of Sharon Tate’s final days, as well as those of her close friends who were ultimately killed at 10050 Cielo Drive. Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls, Submerged) plays Jay Sebring, one of the victims and a close personal friend to Sharon Tate. While Tate’s celebrity remains well-known to this day, Sebring was also a famous celebrity stylist, and even possessed enough fame to play a fictionalized version of himself on an episode of Batman.
While promoting The Haunting of Sharon Tate, Jonathan Bennett spoke to Screen Rant about the tremendous responsibility of playing a real-life murder victim and paying respect to the dead while still taking part in a scary and provocative horror film. He talks about sharing the screen with Hilary Duff (with whom he previously acted in Cheaper By the Dozen 2), and the undeniable fun of getting to star in a film set in the hip and chic era of 1969.
Related: The Haunting of Sharon Tate Trailer
This movie, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, is releasing during something of a perfect storm. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Manson Family Murders of 1969, which remains such a defining moment in American culture. But we’re also currently obsessed with True Crime podcasts and TV shows. Are you a big fan of that genre?
Oh my God, you have no idea. I’m watching The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann right now. The Staircase is one of my favorites. I’ve watched all of those.
What about podcasts, are you listening to any of those?
Up and Vanished and To Live and Die in L.A. are what I’m listening to right now.
In this movie, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, you play Jay Sebring. Can you talk a little bit about the research you did to learn about him? Were you able to meet with anyone who knew him or anything like that?
No, we weren’t able to do that, but I researched a lot about him. There are lot of articles about him online, and I was able to dig through… When you’re doing something like this, where you’re portraying someone who is a real person, I never want to say, “I’m being exactly Jay Sebring.” Nobody could ever be that, but I give my interpretation of what I think Jay Sebring could have been. You want to respect that.
Relating to that, Jay was definitely a celebrity. Sharon Tate’s star definitely overshadowed everyone else’s, but he was…
Absolutely! He was a hairstylist to the stars, you know? He cut every famous male actor’s hair in the 60s. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr,. Henry Fonda, he cut everyone’s hair. And he’s famous for bringing that layered look, in the 60s, to famous celebrity men! He was the guy. You try to figure out what his life would have been like on a daily basis. When you’re showing up to sets to cut Frank Sinatra’s hair… He had such an interesting life. He’s also credited for bringing hair dryers to America. The only hair dryers they had were in England, was where they used actual, hand-held dryers, but he brought them here, to the United States.
One of my favorite things about these kinds of movies are how they do show off the other people aren’t necessarily dominating all the headlines, especially fifty years later.
That being said, I have to ask you about Sharon Tate herself, Hilary Duff. She looks amazing. At some points in the trailer, she’s the spitting image of Sharon Tate.
She’s absolutely fantastic! Hilary and I have worked together, on Cheaper by the Dozen 2, so we have been friends for a long time. It was really fun because we have such a history together, so when working together, like, it was comfortable to be on set together. I think that shows in our relationship with each other on screen. We’re comfortable together. We look like old friends, because we are! That helped. Then, when we’re doing scenes that are more violent and gruesome, having someone that you care about, that you know, and have a history with, who you trust, it makes it a lot easier.
Speaking of gruesome violence, you know I have to ask: this movie is not without controversy. It’s a horror movie with vaguely supernatural elements, let’s just say, based on a real-life event. What steps did the movie take, or what steps did you take, to make sure you paid respect to the history and the victims?
I read a lot of articles about them and I watched any video and documentary I could about Jay Sebring. I think Daniel, our director, did a great job in his research. I’m an actor, so I can only do so much. My job is to go and portray the character to the best of my ability, and my interpretation of him. And I feel confident that I respected him in every aspect. But really, the credit goes to our director, Daniel Farrands. He definitely really knows this world and knows what happened more than anyone does, I think. I think he nailed it. I think it’s very respectful. It glorifies the victims and it doesn’t glorify the villains or the murders. It has hope and a sense of catharsis when you watch it. It’s a little cathartic.
The movie is set in 1969. How was it to immerse yourself in the period?
What a fun time to be alive, huh?
I can only imagine, but I certainly can imagine!
It was such a cool time period. To get to put on those costumes and play in that world was just really fun. I mean, it was such a good… When Hollywood was just completely different. It was a golden age in Hollywood. We shot at Randal Kleiser’s house, who directed Grease. We shot at his house, at the top of Runyon Canyon. And Randal Kleiser actually knew Sharon Tate. You have this amazing old-school director, Randal Kleiser, who is so famous for his work, who actually knew Sharon Tate, and we’re at his home… Everything just came together to make this movie special.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
I love Insidious. I absolutely love it. Those movies. Also, the Amityville movies. The Amityville Horror is one of my favorites. I love the movies that are based on true stories.
More: Lydia Hearst Interview – The Haunting of Sharon Tate
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is out now in theaters and On Demand.