Albeit playing one of Charles Manson’s cult followers in her latest film, Marianne Rendón is uncompromising about her feminist values and isn’t constricted by them either. When asked if her hometown, New York, lives up to its reverence for being the cultural epicenter of ‘making it,’ actress and musician Marianne Rendón replies, “Definitely, there’s always something happening in New York and there is so much creativity.” It’s the first week of May in the city and the geyser of creative energy that’s permeating everywhere confirms her statement; both the Tribeca Film Festival and Frieze New York are underway, and The MET Gala is imminent. PETRIe meets Marianne Rendón in a Lower East Side eatery. She is fresh from a photo shoot and will be attending an art opening in the evening, and just a couple of days prior she was in attendance at the Tribeca Film Festival for the screening of her new film, Charlie Says. “Have you seen the festival line-up?” her face lights up as she asks, “there are so many women directors, it’s so refreshing.”
Even though she speaks highly of her hometown, Marianne splits her time between LA and Vancouver; the latter has somewhat become a second home to her and has served as a sanctuary from the busyness of LA and New York. “What I love about Canada is that the pace of life is slower unlike New York or LA, where I feel like I always have to be doing something or working. It’s in Canada that I have learnt to appreciate being present, and to support small and independent businesses,” she comments, and then elaborates on the burgeoning local music scene in Vancouver.
Speaking of independent ventures, in her newest project, Charlie Says, directed by Mary Harron (American Pyscho), Marianne plays Susan Atkins – an accomplice in the notorious 1969 murders by the Manson Family. Whilst there have been several depictions of Charles Manson in film, none have centered their premise on the women surrounding the man (the 2019 portrayal is played by Doctor Who’s Matt Smith). Harron’s film aims to fill that void and deviate further from its predecessors by humanizing the experiences of the female subjects involved. “It’s not just another Charles Manson film; this is about the women and their backstories that lead up to the crimes, but it doesn’t excuse them in anyway,” Marianne explains.
Told through the women’s retrospective accounts to radical-feminist and criminologist, Karlene Faith (The Walking Dead’s Merritt Wever), their stories weave together and create an ironic sisterhood as they share their experiences of living under Manson’s spell. In true Mary Harron fashion, the film deploys the female gaze and confronts the societal zeitgeist that made these women susceptible to Manson’s manipulation and false empowerment as he exploited their youth and insecurities, leading them to the gruesome murders.
Deviating from the chilling and seriousness of the Manson Family topic, Marianne also talks about her creative background, with her dad as a sound technician and mom, a singer. “My parents have always been very supportive, I pretty much grew up on Broadway,” she smiles. She then divulges having been trained in classical piano before she followed her mom’s advice to audition for a play; it was then that she found her calling. Alongside acting, she also plays the guitar and writes her own music, but she is demure and doesn’t divulge much about it; she does however share her enthusiasm for food and fashion. “I am obsessed with Tessa Thompson’s style, I love what she does and what she wears, Janelle Monaé is also really interesting too.” She mentions the 1970s as her favourite era, attributing it to the seeming insouciant vibe and audaciousness women were adapting.
Despite her busy schedule, Marianne is endearing and grounded; the conversation feels like a catch up with a friend that’s been MIA and breaking new ground with her career. Below, Marianne tells PETRIe about the bond she formed with her Charlie Says cast mates, her appreciation for music and the beauty in finding your essence.
Jane Chanakira (JC): What attracted you to the role of Susan?
Marianne Rendón (MR): I wanted to explore Susan’s character because she was very different to the other women. She had her own identity before Charlie; she was very rebellious and had been arrested for theft, and then she became an exotic dancer. She was definitely a bit of a show-off and a performer like Charlie; you see that aspect of her in the interviews that came out after her arrest. She certainly wasn’t a pushover, and that’s what made her stand out to me, and of course I love Mary Harron’s work and what she did with American Psycho was phenomenal; I found comfort in the fact that the women are at the forefront of this story.
JC: Did the sentiment of the film being about the women translate on set?
MR: Definitely. There are a lot of vulnerable moments in the film so everyone was very supportive of each other, and I felt that on one challenging scene between Matt and me, taken from Tex Watson’s memoir, where Susan says something that provokes Charlie and he gets physical with her. After the take I was still a bit shaken but everyone was really looking out for me to make sure I was okay. There was another scene where my character is naked – but the energy on set was very comfortable and felt very safe with the support of the women on the creative team, as well as cast.
JC: Is it harder to take on a role like this because of the pressures that can come with the ‘female gaze’ within the feminism discourse?
MR: I’m not against nudity at all; and the scene in the film is not just nudity for the sake of it, a woman’s body is normal and that’s something we have to normalise. I had this conversation with my friend the other day, it was a really warm day in the city and we walked past this man laying out on a bench with no t-shirt on and some shorts and I said to her: “Can you imagine what would happen if we did that?” The representation of women is important to me, I will always try to choose a role that empowers women and not one that undermines and makes women a secondary character to a man.
JC: What changes in the film industry would you like to see?
MR: I am excited about the change that is happening right now in the industry; seeing that women have directed the majority of the films at Tribeca. It’s also inspiring to see more powerful roles that are written for women and by women, so it’s slowly changing. I would love to see them become normalised and for more diversity and unique stories.
JC: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of managing yourself as a musician?
MR: I’d definitely say I find song writing the most challenging, I think because it’s so personal and private and I’m very precious about it. My friend, who’s also a musician, gave me a tip to just be a bit more disciplined and find a creative routine that I can stick to.
JC: How do you separate Marianne the musician from the actor?
MR: They are different facets of myself; because as an actor I am always playing a different character and that’s something I can switch on and off because it’s just a role. I feel like I am and can be myself through my music because I use it to express myself and I am writing it for myself.
JC: What’s your ultimate career goal?
MR: I don’t really plan on where I want to be in five years or anything like that. Acting will always be my main focus, but besides that and my music, I have started to appreciate fashion as an art form, and I would love to explore cooking more. I think it’s a nice gesture to be able to cook for someone and just bond over food. I am obsessed with Chef’s Table on Netflix. I love watching how the chefs can take a recipe and make it theirs and you can really see their essence because they are doing something they really love.
JC: Who is your style muse?
MR: I love the art of dressing up; I used to think it was just a thing of vanity, but now it’s something I look forward to and enjoy. I also think dressing up can lift your spirits up and make you feel good about yourself; it gives you get a boost of self-confidence. I’d definitely say Tessa Thompson is someone I think has great style. She is someone that I’m always watching to see what she is wearing.
Charlie Says is out in cinemas now!