By Cait Rohan | February 4, 2016 | People
Greer Grammer (right) in Manson's Lost Girls.
Greer Grammer is best known for lighter roles. The actress—who is also Kelsey Grammer’s daughter—was Miss Golden Globe 2015, currently stars on MTV’s high school comedy Awkward as pretty but ditzy cheerleader Lissa Miller, and had a guest role as McKenna Cederstrom on the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey. But that will all change this weekend when Grammer takes on a darker part in Lifetime’s Manson’s Lost Girls (February 6, 8 p.m.). The movie depicts the infamous ‘60s drug-fueled cult led by Charles Manson and the ensuing murders his followers, known as the Manson Family, committed at his instruction. Manson’s Lost Girls differs from previous portrayals since it focuses on life on the Manson ranch and is told from the point of view of Linda Kasabian, a Manson Family member who turned on the group and eventually helped incarcerate many of her former friends.
Grammer stars as Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten, who is currently serving a life sentence for her participation in the cult’s murders. We talk to Grammer about how she prepared to take on a more serious part, what she has in common with her Awkward character, and why she would probably be an actress even if she didn’t have a dad in the biz.
Manson’s Lost Girls is about a pretty heavy topic. How did you prepare for it—what did you read, who did you talk to, and how did you really get into that mindset?
GREER GRAMMER: I watched a lot of Leslie Van Houten’s interviews. I tried to read as much on her as I could. John Waters has a book [Role Models] and he has a chapter about Leslie because he’s really good friends with her. I had already known a fair amount about the Manson Family because I got intrigued by it, but for this, specifically, I really wanted to know who Leslie was and more importantly who Leslie was in high school and on the ranch. I wanted to know [what she was like] pre-murder. So I just tried to find as much as I could about who she was and what her family was like.
Did you meet any former Manson Family members?
GG: We did not. Most of them are either… if they’re not in jail, they’re in hiding or have only done one interview. Garrett Coffey who plays Bobby Beausoleil reached out to Bobby and he actually got a response from Bobby. I mean I would have liked to reach out to Leslie but it didn’t feel appropriate. She tries to stay as far away as she possibly can, which is difficult.
The Manson Family in Manson's Lost Girls.
How is this version of the Manson story different from the others?
GG: I think this is different because it focuses more on the girls and their relationships with each other. It’s told from Linda Kasabian’s point of view and the thing that really intrigued me was her relationships with the girls and her daughter and how it must have been really hard in court. Linda knew that what was going on was wrong—she wasn’t as deep in as the other girls were, but she became really close with these people. They became her friends, they became her family, and she had to go face them again in court. That’s so hard, and to me that was so intriguing. It really focuses on who the girls were together in relation to Charlie but also in relation to each other, and I think that’s a different side to the story that we’ve never seen. And it focuses on the ranch pre-murders and I think that that’s also something that’s extremely interesting.
Why do you think this story is still relevant today?
GG: I think it’s relevant historically. It was just such a shock to the world and there’s something about it that’s so fascinating and I think it’s one of those things like—what made these people, these pretty, innocent, young, hippie people, what made them do this? Hippie communes weren’t a rare thing; they were very normal. People were doing a lot of drugs and people were all living together. What made this so different and what made it go evil? I think the thing that fascinates people, specifically girls, is it could have easily been you. What makes you different from them? They were all from middle-class families. They had decent upbringings. And then you see this crazy man, Charles Manson. I think everything that happens with the trials made it interesting, too—the girls singing and holding hands and him doing whatever he does—it was this whole circus and I think it still interests people to this day.
You’re also on the MTV show Awkward, which is a very different role. How has your character developed over five seasons?
GG: Lissa’s developed a lot. She’s also changed a lot. She’s always been Sadie’s best friend but I think she went from being Sadie’s sidekick, and laggie kind of, to her own person but still that friend. I think that was really cool to see her grow in that sense. She’s smarter—she’s still ditzy and sort of naive, but she has these moments of wisdom and it’s just been cool to see how she’s grown in her relationship with her mom and with the kids at school.
What do you have in common with Lissa?
GG: Well, both of our favorite colors is pink. We both love Tangled, which the [Awkward] writer took from me. I think that as we’ve gone on, a lot of Lissa has just stemmed from me. Like for prom [on the show] this year, the writers said [they would] put her in a Cinderella dress because I’d love that—and I did.
We’re in the thick of awards season right now. You were Miss Golden Globe last year—what was that like?
GG: Oh, that was amazing. I mean, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Truly, I’ll never get that again. It was just amazing to be on this stage that I’ve watched for so many years. I got to hold at least 25 Golden Globes, which is the most I’ll probably get to hold in my entire life. And the people I got to meet! Oprah was backstage and she told me that I was beautiful. I got to make small talk with Channing Tatum and Meryl Streep and just these incredible people that I’ve loved and looked up to my whole life. It was just really cool to be there and get to be on stage and do these things. It was like Cinderella; it was like a fairy tale.
Did your father, Kelsey Grammer, inspire you to act at all?
GG: I think a little bit. I don’t know. I go back and forth with this question because I honestly really think I would have done it no matter what. I grew up just loving movies…. I was probably four or five, and I would sit there so quietly and watch My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn and by the end of it, when I was a little kid, I could quote the whole “The rain in Spain…” I could do the whole thing. I knew all the songs and I loved The Sound of Music. I was a different Disney princess every day and I would walk around with a book in my face and pretend to be Belle and push my mom’s feet off the chair. It just was in me. I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else—aside from being a princess. At a young age, if somebody asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” it probably would’ve been either a princess or an actress. Basically, I just want to be Grace Kelly.
GG: That’s the dream. A beautiful, talented actress that got to be a princess. But yeah, I definitely think it inspired me at some point when I realized what my dad did. It was really cool to see the way that he touched people’s lives—and it’s still really cool. We’ll still be on the street and people will scream, “Frasier!” and they’ll just get so excited. This is a person that they feel like they know because he’s been in their living rooms for however many years now. So it probably was some sort of inspiration, but I think I would have wanted to do it anyway.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JACK ZEMAN FOR LIFETIME (MANSON’S LOST GIRLS STILLS) JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES (MISS GOLDEN GLOBE)