‘Manhunt’ Finale Breakdown: Tobias Menzies on How They Pulled Off [Spoiler]’s Death and Building a Bromance With Abe Lincoln

The seven-episode historical miniseries “Manhunt” has come to a dramatic close. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies) brought several of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators to trial over Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, resulting in numerous hangings. Legally, he wasn’t able to thread the needle to prove a grand conspiracy, leaving him somewhat unsatisfied in his efforts to find justice for Lincoln. Yet Stanton has his next fight almost immediately after the verdict, as incoming President Andrew Johnson aims to have him removed from his position — leading the secretary of war to barricade himself in his office in protest.

Reflecting on the series — and especially the trial that takes up the majority of the final episode — Menzies speaks to how his animated facial expressions guide the audience through the highs and lows of prosecuting Lincoln’s assassins.

“You’re reacting to other actors and what they’re giving you,” he says. “But part of Stanton’s job within the story is to be the audience’s compass. A big part of the show is him riding the various waves of this disaster and trying to process that. A lot of it is trying to strategize his way through situations while dealing with the loss of a friend, and his fears about what will happen to the country he is serving. You get that with a combination of the mind and the heart.”

Eva Sørhaug, who helmed the final three episodes of the series, says she facilitated the nuts and bolts of directing work in tandem with the actors to create the emotional depth that underlined “Manhunt.”

“It’s all about the performance and I want to catch it with the right tools,” she says. “In terms of what dances your way, I try to be quite open. We come to set with the shot list, but then we see what the actors are doing and we can just throw that plan away and come up with a new one that is better for the story, and maybe also more efficient. You can’t see it until you shoot it. It’s just a bunch of theory. So we try to place the camera so we feel that experience.”

One of the most critical elements of the show — which reverberated during some key flashback scenes in the finale — was the friendship and trust between Stanton and Abraham Lincoln (Hamish Linklater). According to Menzies, it was natural for the actors to slip into a rhythm that felt sincere and period-appropriate.

“It was quite instinctive,” he says. “Hamish and I naturally got along, so it’s quite a bit of the rapport between him and I as people. We didn’t massively plan it or talk a huge amount about it. In these flashback scenes, we had to establish the warmth and the feeling that was between these two men. To make sense of what’s the loss that Stanton is dealing with, we needed that to not just be political but personal as well. It’s very easy to like Hamish, he’s a very charming person.”

As the show began with Lincoln’s assassination, it ended with Stanton’s death as a Supreme Court nominee, passing away before being sworn into office. Menzies says he approaches death scenes from a practical standpoint.

“The boring answer is rooted in the specifics of how they’re dying against the circumstances in which they’re dying,” he says. “I think with death…it probably isn’t very true to life, but less is more. The story is doing a lot of the work for you.”

Sørhaug also says it’s pivotal to have the visual setup of the death match the emotional heft and complexity of the passing in the story.

“I think it’s the way you approach it,” she says. “You have to have a delicate hand and not be so concrete. Maybe it’s better to have it from behind than just see him falling over. Or like we did…some paper falls on the floor. It’s also about what kind of state of mind I go in with to do everything: Who’s scene is it? How does it feel to be the character in this scene? How is this meant to portray him visually, the way he feels? Then not to be too on the nose when it comes to the choking.”

Menzies recognizes that Stanton likely felt he didn’t accomplish all he had wanted to achieve at the time of his passing.

“He struck me as a very idealistic and ambitious politician who wasn’t easily satisfied,” he says. “I think if he’d been given a choice, he would have liked to have had more time. There’s a poignancy to viewers because we all know how long it took to deliver those voting and land rights. It took a further 100 years until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It would have broken Stanton’s heart to know that.”

Looking back on the series, Menzies — who has had roles in historical fiction projects like “The Crown,” “The Terror” and “Outlander” — says he is always intrigued by stories from a different time.

“Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and I was amazed by the particulars of this story,” he says. “Even just go back to the beginning…Lincoln was killed in a theater in front of hundreds of people, but then that person jumped onto the stage. It’s strange and vivid and all that makes for very interesting territory and characters and worlds to step into.”

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