Breakout role


U.P. native portrayed Manson prosecutor in TV movie production

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Actor Chad T. Wood thought about going to law school – especially since being a lawyer is a family tradition – but the closest he ever got to being a lawyer was playing one on TV.

And it was as Vincent Bugliosi, the prominent lawyer who successfully prosecuted Charles Manson and several other Manson family members for their 1969 killing spree in Los Angeles, something that still shocks the nation to this day.

“He was from Minnesota, so there was a sense there of connecting with a Midwest person. Being an attorney, I thought it was apropos that my dad (Robert Wood) had been an attorney, then a probate judge, and then my brother (Rock A. Wood) is an attorney, too. I didn’t have to go to law school to be an attorney. It was fun to have this as one of my first bigger roles,” said Wood, who played Bugliosi in “Manson’s Lost Girls,” which aired on Lifetime in February and is still being played periodically.

The youngest of four, Wood grew up in Newberry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A star athlete at Newberry High School – he played football, hockey, and basketball – he earned his undergraduate degree in accounting and computer programming from Northern Michigan University in Marquette. He also studied psychology and acting at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

“Not feeling like I understood people well enough got me into studying acting and exploring myself and humanity through characters and stories. While in Minneapolis, I was still a computer consultant… The big change came, when one day I realized that I wanted something more exciting to share with my grandkids than having written some really good code. Acting fed my spirit and sense of adventure and exploration. That’s the moment when I decided to give it all up and head to the West Coast,” recalled Wood.

Breaking into acting, Wood’s done uncredited work in television and the movies, as well as small parts. He had a recurring part of “Colony” and an appearance on “Criminal Minds” in mid-April. Hands down, he considers Bugliosi his breakout role.

“Being on that set, it surprised me how amazingly pleasant and kind the cast and crew was, how well they worked together. The set had little details: Bugliosi’s diplomas on the wall, books, files. They know how to create an environment that allows somebody to act… They care about you and want you to do well – it was a very wonderful experience.”

In “Manson’s Lost Girls,” the story is told through the eyes of Linda Kasabian (MacKenzie Mauzy, “Into the Woods”) as she and several other women arrive at the Spahn Ranch hippie commune, where they’re welcomed with open arms. Seduced by the group’s free-love lifestyle, Kasabian is drawn by Manson (Jeff Ward, “The Mentalist”) into his criminal activities not long after her arrival, including late-night “creepy crawls” to steal from opulent homes.

Linda reluctantly becomes an accomplice in Manson’s 1969 drug-fueled murder spree, which included the brutal killing of actress Sharon Tate. This spree became known as “Helter Skelter,” which Manson took from the 1968 Beatles song of the same name for the apocalyptic race war he believed would inevitably occur and these murders would somehow bring it about. Linda ultimately breaks away from Manson and turns herself in as a witness for the prosecution, where she would help convict Manson.

“She allowed Bugliosi to make his case. It was understandable how an attorney put this case together. At times the movie shows Bugliosi doing research. It had been a few months since the first murder. The police had been screwing this up in numerous ways – they lost leads, they ignored things. The city of (L.A.) was living in total fear. People actually moved out of L.A. because everything was so crazy and traumatic. There were a number of clues (the authorities) initially ignored… it was a mess,” explained Wood. “Then (Bugliosi) gets Linda, and Linda agrees to fill him in on everything. That’s when the story turns. He’s finally got the evidence and goes back and finds other evidence that the police had missed.”

Movies about Manson have been done before, but Wood stated this story is told from the perspectives of the Manson girls, most notably Linda, and how they were drawn to Manson.

In 1971, Manson was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder of seven people. Originally, his was sentenced to death but that changed to life imprisonment when the Supreme Court of California eliminated the death penalty in 1972 (something that has since been reinstated). He is currently serving nine concurrent life sentences.

“Previous movies focused on Manson, so I think that was the difference,” said Wood. “This movie focused on Linda and what she went through and how somebody can make these decisions to follow along or not follow along.”

In 1974, Bugliosi wrote a book called “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders,” which has sold more than 7 million copies, making it the best-selling true crime book in history. Bugliosi also wrote 10 more non-fiction books, including 1996’s “Outrage: The Five Reasons O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder,” 2007’s “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” and 2008’s “The Prosecution of George W. Bush” for murder.

Wood made sure he read Bugliosi’s books once he got the role. Unfortunately, he did not have access to Bugliosi who died in 2015 of cancer at age 80.

“Until I started reading up on him, I didn’t know that much about him. He was a very fascinating guy to research – it was a lot of fun for me,” said Wood.

He gave his perspective about people’s fascination with Manson more than 45 years later.

“It was such a shocking situation for the U.S., definitely for L.A. People couldn’t grasp the meaning. If you can grasp the meaning of that kind of terror, we feel safer when we have a reason for why did he do it… because then it makes it a little more comfortable that we understand,” explained Wood. “When you can’t understand why, it’s scarier because you don’t know how to protect yourself. It’s the same thing with ISIS and the bombing in Brussels. It’s that fear factor – it’s part of the marketing of any terrorist, which is to shock and awe and put people on edge.”

Wood continued: “The Tate murders made people feel very unsafe in their own homes. If such a thing could happen to a wealthy group of people who lived in what we thought was a very safe, secure area… And just the fact that he’s still alive keeps it going. To me, those things keep it alive in our minds and keep us wondering about it, keep us wanting answers so it doesn’t happen again and we can protect ourselves. Or at least give ourselves the illusion that we can protect ourselves.”

Dr. George Popovich, who teaches film at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, agreed with Wood and even expounded on some of his points.

“Manson is the ultimate human evil. Once you get into the details of his lifestyle, the fact that he was an abused, unloved person who spent half his life locked up before the Manson family murders, it’s an unbelievable story of madness. Good people are fascinated by Manson, since they cannot comprehend his reasons for his heinous actions,” explained Popovich.

“Museums have sprung up ‘Manson Rooms,’ Manson still gets letters in prison, and more than 70,000 people like his Facebook page.

“There is also a pro-Manson contingent, nihilists who see Manson as the ultimate son of anarchy and chaos. His archetype still shows up in pulp culture: Heath Ledger’s Joker (from 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’) is not that far removed from the Manson persona.”