The Garbage lead singer talks about coming onto the Fox series' second season

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is back for its second season and a new face is joining the cast in Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson. Manson will play Catherine Weaver, the CEO of a technology corporation called ZeinaCorp on the series, and she will also be portraying the series' new T1001 model liquid-metal Terminator as well. I was in on a conference call with the singer who's making her acting debut on the series. Here's what the singer-turned-actress had to say.

I want to ask you, how did this role come about, and what did you think about when you found out you were going to be playing a Terminator?

Related: Arnold Schwarzenegger Starts Filming Terminator 6

Shirley Manson: Well, Josh Friedman contacted me; I was a friend of his wife's. His wife had mentioned to me that Josh was interested in putting me in this show and had jokingly asked me if I was interested in participating, and I jokingly said that of course I would be. Then later on, it turned out he was interested in me playing a Terminator, at which point, I got very excited and jumped at the opportunity, I went to some of the auditions, got the role, and here I am. It's very, very surreal.

Are you a science fiction fan? Were you familiar with the Terminator universe coming into this?

Shirley Manson: Absolutely, I was a big fan of the Terminator movies and I'm not a huge sci-fi freak or anything, but I'm interested in the genre, but specifically, I was a big Terminator fan.

I was just wondering if you're going to have any time to continue to work on music with this role?

Shirley Manson: Yes, I'm still working on music. Obviously, I'm not a huge lead in the show so I have plenty of downtime too, despite some of the crazy hours we work. I've been working all year on stuff and continue to do so.

Can we expect an album anytime soon?

Shirley Manson: I hope so. I have a lot of material, I'm intending actually to go in and start recording some of the songs live, next month, so we'll see if I manage to pull it off.

I know this is your first acting gig. I've had a chance to talk to a lot of actors/musicians about this. How do you think acting will influence your music at all? Vice versa, how has music influenced you in doing the show at all?

Shirley Manson: Interesting, I think being a musician makes you very - musicians in general tend to be quite sensitive, I think, to the environment around them, which I think helps when you are trying to interact with others on screen, to be aware, to be sensitive, and to try to understand what's going on in the scene. I think being a musician has been helpful in that regard. Obviously, from the experience you get from making videos, you understand where the camera is and how some of the actual technicalities work and so on and so forth. I think it's helpful in a variety of ways, it would probably take me longer than a quick answer in response to get into the nitty-gritty of all that, but I do think they're helpful to each other for a variety of different reasons.

I was wondering if you could give us your thoughts or impressions of Catherine as a character, and how you plan to play her? Also, I was wondering, or the fan boy in me, wants to know if you and Cameron are going to mix it up this season?

Shirley Manson: Some Terminator action; I don't know, they don't really tell us much about what's going to happen from episode to episode, we really learn on a need to know basis, unfortunately, so I've not seen an idea for where it's going to go. With regard to the character, she is embodying a human being, so she's still in the identity of Catherine Weaver, so that in itself is sort of interesting to me because, obviously, she's physically like a human being, but she's unable necessarily to bring what is essentially human all the time to the table. I felt that was kind of interesting, it's a sort of rumination on what it is like to not have emotions and not have necessarily a logical thought. I suppose the whole time I'm on the set I'm trying to imagine what that is like, so that's been an interesting discipline for me. It's harder to be a robot than one would think because you realize they would probably be very economical with their movements, so I've tried very consciously to be as undemonstrative as possible, and that has been a challenge in itself. Being a musician, when you're on stage, or at least I am, very demonstrative, so it has been quite a challenge. I find it fascinating; this is a woman who is truly unassailable, because she's a terminator who is sort of the head of a company, and a CEO of a very successful company. I find it very amusing in a way that she's just completely on top of everyone and everything. It's really a lot of fun to play.

I was wondering, when they go to do the liquid terminator effect, what sort of special work is required by you? Do they have to tape ping-pong balls all over you or scan your body? What's the process there?

Shirley Manson: I basically, act physically, the scene out and then I have to go and stand in a flesh body suit and have my entire body and face scanned 360 degrees, and they take, essentially, digital photographs and compile a digital manifestation of my physicality, and then they can do with that what they will.

Why a urinal? Is there any sort of an inside joke there?

Shirley Manson: Why not? I don't know, I don't think it's an inside joke. I think the idea was that this - I think I should probably let Josh Friedman speak for himself. I do know that he found it amusing that it was every man's nightmare, sort of a male bastion, if you like, of security in the urinal. I think he liked the idea of a woman who had already irritated this particular man being able to infiltrate somewhere where he felt he was very safe. I thought he thought that was a true terror.

Can you talk a little bit about did you take acting classes in advance of this and a little bit about the first day on set? Were you nervous? You command a stage so well when you perform with the band, I was just wondering how it was adjusting to the set?

Shirley Manson: It was pretty intense, it was a real challenge in large part because I'd had no real training, but then, I'd never had any training for being a singer either, so I decided I was just going to throw myself in and see what I could do. It was very intimidating and I really had a hard time keeping my heart rate and blood pressure down, I was really pretty freaked out and somewhat overwhelmed. It's getting a lot easier now, I'm feeling much more relaxed on set, and being able to have a lot more fun. It was a challenge.

Do you do breathing exercises or anything to kind of relax yourself?

Shirley Manson: Yes, certainly, I was having a really hard time, like I said. Being a singer, being a performer, I think you have tricks, somehow, to calm yourself when things feel a little overwhelming. I don't do breathing exercises, per se, but I definitely have to have a sort of internal word with myself before things got completely out of hand and I fainted on the floor.

So the premiere was two days ago now, has any of your pop, or rock star friends called you up and said, oh my gosh, or freaked out of you or have they made any comments you'd like to share with us?

Shirley Manson: I suspect my friends have found it really amusing.

What did Butch (Vig) say?

Shirley Manson: He wrote a very quick e-mail saying, f**king awesome, I loved it, Queenie. I think he loved seeing me play a Terminator. I think everybody thinks it's really funny.

Were they shocked when they found out you were going to do it?

Shirley Manson: No, I don't think so. I think, particularly the Terminator, it's kind of coming from a similar place, in some regards, as musicians, subculture and subterranean and it's also coming from a sort of superhero standpoint in the way that comic book superhero's grew out of feeling disempowered, and I think musicians, in some ways, do, too. I think in some ways it's a natural fit, even though it seems, maybe to the casual onlooker, something very peculiar. It makes sense to me.

Is there a reason you chose to do a show in America over doing something like Doctor Who in Britain?

Shirley Manson: Well, this is the first thing really that came along that captured my imagination. I've been offered quite a few acting jobs over the years and for some reason, I just really connected with the Terminator franchise. Since I was young, I really was a huge fan of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the movies, so for whatever reason, I guess, I'm not 100% sure, why it connected with me so, but I jumped at the chance when I heard it was the Terminator franchise.

In Terminator 2: Judgement Day Robert Patrick plays a T-1000 and you play the T-1001 Terminator. Can you describe some of the upgrades that you have that maybe we haven't seen yet?

Shirley Manson: That's definitely a question for Josh Friedman. He has all that sort of technical information at hand. Certainly, from the outside it's almost like an upgrade from one television set to the other. From the outside, I'm not sure you would be able to detect much of a difference. I know the answer to this question because I heard Josh say this yesterday. I'm not 100% sure what she can do that Robert Patrick couldn't do, and I suppose we'll find out. As I said earlier, we're not really well informed of where the series is going; we're pretty much kept in the dark that way.

Do you think after this experience that you would like to dip yourself back into another show or maybe a movie later on?

Shirley Manson: I do actually, I feel like I've really been bitten by a bug and I find it really exciting and very challenging. It reminds me of being little, when you get to play in the sandbox or in your Wendy house or playing with dolls, there is something really innately childish about it, but also as a result, really thrilling and exciting. Yes, I would like to do more, definitely.

I noticed your performance when you, especially after the review at the end there, you could see some shades of the Robert Patrick performance in what you were doing with Catherine. Have you consciously decided to do that since you were a fan and that was already in your mind, or did you go back to look so you could have some shades of that performance?

Shirley Manson: Actually, no, I didn't want to try to replicate his performance, I think that would have been the most obvious thing to do. My two muses really, were I thought a lot about Glenn Close in Damages, because I felt she was very threatening and very powerful in that television show and her performance is incredible. I think it's rare when you see a woman on screen where you truly believe she's capable of unworldly deeds, so she was a muse. Also, for some inexplicable reason, I also thought of Margaret Thatcher. She was really a very powerful and seeming unassailable character when I was growing up, and I really didn't think very kindly of her, so I thought she was really someone who was a great inspiration for a CEO of a company, who didn't have the kindest and warmest of hearts, so I looked her up on YouTube. My performance is nothing like these two characters, but they certainly informed me.

Now that you've been in the world of the show and become much more used to it, what are you gaining from your co-stars in terms of watching their performances or working with the cast now, what are they inspiring, almost like new bandmates, really?

Shirley Manson: Yes, it's very much like being in a new band, except I'm not the lead singer anymore, I'm the bass player, which in some regards, allows me to sit back and watch and be more of an observer than I have been in my band. I find it fascinating watching a lot of them work. They all have their different styles and techniques they bring to their craft and they've all been very helpful. Richard T. Jones, in particular, is sort of my main man on screen because we spend a lot of time together, and he's been incredibly patient and generous with me. He's given me some tips along the way, and I really have been very blessed by having him around because I'm sure it must be very annoying to have some upstart musician come in who really knows very little about the craft of acting. I've been very lucky.

At what point in the process did the song come about?

Shirley Manson: Josh Friedman, the creator of the show, took me out for dinner, wined and dined me, and then after my fourth glass of champagne, introduced the idea. To be honest, I was a little wary of doing the song because I understood I was really setting myself up for a lot of flack, or certainly, making it harder for the audience to believe my character. I think that is what is so hard for musicians when they step into acting is they're not coming in as a blank slate, they're coming in with a real set idea of who they are, where they're coming from, what their politics are, what their tastes are. I didn't really want to remind the audience I was a singer, I knew that would create difficulties for me. At the end of the day, Josh asked so nicely, he'd given me such a great opportunity in this show that I just bent to his will in the end, and I did it as a favor to him. I'm pleased, it was a challenge for me because it's a kind of music I haven't ever really investigated, it was a folk song, and it was five minutes long, so it required some kind of emotional act to it; it was an interesting challenge for me.

Are you basically supposed to be the boss from hell? Are there going to be lots of scenes of you torturing your underlings in upcoming episodes?

Shirley Manson: I am the boss from hell, but there's a really nice surprise coming up with my character, which I obviously can't reveal right now, but I am just a woman from hell, let's put it that way.

Do you think your character is meant to represent something about sort of evil corporations, or something?

Shirley Manson: I don't know necessarily, I think there is a mild play on that concept of the CEO perhaps being a - there being some duality to that figurehead, and the idea of the power they may choose to use or abuse. Yes, I'm sure it's not accident, necessarily, but I guess those are questions that you'd really have to pose to Josh Friedman because I can't really speak to his intent as a writer. Me personally, as an actress, I thought it was an interesting and amusing idea.

You had alluded to having had a lot of your scenes with Richard T. Jones, and I was wondering, have you had many other scenes with some of the primary cast in the show?

Shirley Manson: I have not, we have not crossed paths as yet, on screen.

Are you looking forward to that and do you expect to do any kind of stunt work, any kind of fighting like the other Terminators on the show?

Shirley Manson: I hope so, although I fear that I am so sophisticated that I don't even need to fight. That's my problem, that's the problem with being at the top of your series, a top of the range model, I don't know if she needs to get her hands dirty, which might be the only downside to my character.

Do you have any other expectations for your character, if not necessarily fighting, than any kind of arc you want your character to take?

Shirley Manson: I haven't really stopped to think about it because I've enjoyed where they've taken my character so far, and I feel like I'm in good hands. I think, funny enough, I have noticed that all the Terminators on the show want to meet the other Terminators, we're always making hints that it would be great fun to have us all take our super powers against each other. I have noticed that all three of us seem to be making little hints like that, but other than that, I'm perfectly happy with where they're taking it. I'm just trying to concentrate on my job, never mind everybody else's.

As you pursue acting, are you looking to shed the music image of Shirley Manson to create a new identity, or does that factor in at all?

Shirley Manson: I don't think once you've been in a successful band you can ever truly shed that image. We've joked about this many times, in the music industry, being in a band is like being in a minor mafia, you never really get out alive, one way or another you're scarred in some way, and you carry that baggage with you forever. Even during my Garbage years, I was haunted by my very first band in Scotland, Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, so it's not something I'm interested in shedding, and I feel it has been a very important part of my life, and hopefully will continue to be. I also would love to do more acting, and I see no reason why I can't. I know there is a lot of criticism whenever a musician steps into acting, and whenever an actor steps into music and I understand where that comes from. I've certainly been guilty of being very suspicious myself of people who have done crossovers. But at this point in my life, I'm 42 years old, and I feel like being an active musician on the road is a tough life, and I don't know if I want to necessarily want to continue that kind of existence. I want to be continually challenged and excited and acting has provided that for me at a time in my life when I felt very confident in the music realm. I knew I could go out, play shows, I could write good songs, and I could put on good shows and get on well with my band. I can't say it was boring, but it didn't frighten me any more. I feel like in some ways, to keep life exciting, you have to push yourself towards things that scare you a little, and that's exactly what I'm finding on the show. I'm scared, I'm excited, challenged, and I'm being pushed, so that feels really good. It makes me feel like I'm alive and I like that feeling.

You just mentioned that you have been guilty in the past of being suspicious of some of the people who have made the crossover. Obviously, there are some people who have successfully made the transition from music to acting. Is there anybody in particular that you maybe look to as a little bit of a role model, or someone you wanted to emulate a little bit in the way they were able to crossover?

Shirley Manson: That's an interesting question, I can't say there's anybody I've ever wanted to emulate their career, necessarily, but obviously, there have been some musicians that I think have done an amazing job. I think Tim McGraw does an amazing job every time I see him on screen, funny enough. I thought Courtney Love did an amazing job in the life and movie. David Bowie, obviously, I think did an incredible job in The Man Who Fell to Earth. I think there have definitely been actors who have done some great work on screen. It's very different, obviously, for me, but I think it's possible.

Now, having had the acting bug a little bit, who are a couple of the people you would love to work with still now?

Shirley Manson: I haven't even gotten to that stage. I swear to God, it all seems so new and so surreal, I just feel like I can't even think along those lines because I just don't feel like it's my privilege as yet. I haven't earned the privilege to even begin to dream about that kind of thing. I'm sure there are a billion actors I could reel off, but it would sound so presumptuous and ridiculous that I think I'll keep that to myself for the time being.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs on Mondays at 8 PM ET on Fox.