I wanted to sum up everything I've done so far. That's the reason I've covered [Depeche Mode's] 'Personal Jesus', it wrapped up everything in one slice of pop culture. It was first released in the same year I started the band and recording it now closes one chapter and opens a new one. It's a farewell to the past. When I took the words Marilyn Manson and put them together, I was summing up pop culture in two words. Now 'Personal Jesus' says something more than anything I could say myself right now.

This is the way Manson talks. Every question is treated with the utmost seriousness; it's given a long and intelligent-sounding answer - even those that are yawningly mundane. But nothing is ever answered directly. Everything is treated as theory and it comes in a wave of low-pitched bluster. The answers are immediate, rarely does he pause between the end of a question and the beginning of an answer, but every question is turned, so a sliver of an answer is given, enough to keep you interested, before the conversation is brought back to what Marilyn Manson wants to talk about. And he always has something to say because he's good at playing a game, good at playing Marilyn Manson, good at keeping himself hidden. Listen...

YOU DON'T LIKE TO GIVE YOURSELF AWAY. WHY DO YOU NEED TO DISGUISE YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?

I try to be as open as I feel I need to be. It's never possible to insert your entire personality into an interview or a meeting with somebody. I've always tried to point out the same thing ever since I stared: I'm just like everybody else. The only difference is that I'm more prepared to show my flaws than most. The flaws are what make a person. People are surprised by how normal I am, how like everyone else I am.

This sounds like a preposterous comment. Just look at the photos alongside this feature - how many of your mates look like that? It also happens to be true. He's not the intimidating God Of Fuck in real life; he's sane, rational and a good deal more human than he appears.

His interest in the world, though, comes across not as a love for life, but as a curiously observed experiment, real life as distorted through the eye of a lens or the flicker of a television screen. It's impossible for him to see life any differently, though - Marilyn Manson's raison d'├ętre has always been to embody, to subvert; that's all been getting a bit much for Manson of late, though.

YOU'VE RECENTLY APPEARED IN TWO FILMS, 'PARTY MONSTER' AND 'THE HEARS IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS'. IS THAT A WAY OF CRATING DIFFERENT PERSONAE, DIFFERENT MASKS... POSSIBLY BECAUSE YOU'RE GETTING SICK OF BEING MARILYN MANSON?

That's one of the questions I've been asking myself over the last six months. It's been difficult to come to terms with everything I am. Six months ago, I wanted to end it all, I wanted to say farewell to music, to not have anything to do with this anymore.

WHAT CHANGED?

I had to think very hard about everything I've had the chance to achieve. I had to force myself not to take those things for granted. I also had to decide not to tolerate a lot of things. I've done things that were against the way I feel - except going to jail - but sometimes you're swayed into doing more than you really want to. At times that has certainly included performing in front of an audience. There was a time when I didn't want to go out in front of an audience again. It's strange, when I started out I had nothing to lose, but now I have a lot to lose.

LIKE WHAT?

I'm about to get married, I have material belongings I don't want to give up. I have success; I have integrity, sanity and control. I don't want to give up any of those things.

DO YOU REALLY STILL CARE ABOUT SUCCESS?

I care about it because it's still how you wield power as an artist. I've earned the platform I can speak from.

SO YOU'RE AFRAID OF LOSING YOUR PLATFORM?

It's one of the things I've worked to achieve. I have a lot to lose but now it makes me want to gamble. It makes me more and more reckless in a strange way. Six months ago I wanted to lose it all, I didn't care about any of it anymore, so I gambled, I took a chance.

For most of this interview, Manson has been leaning forward listening intently and answering questions in his slow drawl. He leans back now, away from the tape recorder, and starts looking to the ceiling. He masks his face with his glass of absinthe, his head hanging back, his chin in the air in contemplation. Or just, perhaps, resignation...

WHY TAKE THE GAMBLE?

I think it's because I still have a disgust for mankind in general and more specifically myself. But I also have hope for both mankind and myself. For a while I thought I'd achieved most of what I wanted to achieve, but now I think I have more to create, more to offer. If I didn't have hope, what would be the point in creating things? Why would you want to create anything for a world you ultimately hate? There were times when I wondered whether it was worth it, though.

HAVE YOU FELT SUICIDAL?

[There's a long pause. 5 then 10 seconds pass by. It's the only moment of silence in the entire interview and it's almost excruciating. 15 seconds. 20 seconds.]
Sorry. I was just trying to count how many times I've felt suicidal.

SERIOUSLY?

[Pause.]
Yes.

WHY WERE YOU SUICIDAL?

Maybe it's a feeling of loss of control over your world...

And here, Manson breaks off; this is clearly not comfortable territory for him. And so he does what he's used to doing: he diverts the conversation - entirely engagingly, his voice almost addictive - but it's onto theories and relatives, it's not real life. Like this...

Everyone has a different world, there's a different centre to everyone's universe. I've always tried to maintain a world where there's not such a line between imagination and waking life. Most people have everything laid out for them: they go to school, they get a job, they die. I don't feel there's any reason to follow that, I want to act more like I did when I was growing up and those things were important...

SO HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO SUICIDE?

When I feel my world is threatened, I want to kill myself. Without my world, nothing means anything.

SO YOU NEED TO BE IN CONTROL AT ALL TIMES THEN?

Control is less important than it used to be to me. In the world I've created, I can let go of control.

BUT, IF IT'S YOUR WORLD, YOU'RE INTRINSICALLY IN CONTROL OF IT.

Yes, sure, but it's controlled chaos... I don't like to think about it too much. I don't think I'm content yet, though, or at the end of my cycle... Just because I'm releasing a greatest hits doesn't mean I'm done.

With what, Marilyn Manson closes the topic - more clumsily than normal - but there's no more to be said about it today. Part of the reason for that is because those feelings have been pushed behind him. The "(s)AINT" video was an exorcism of the monstrous depression he suffered earlier this year. Music, for now, has returned his first love, but making videos and acting are close behind. He has, he says, no desire to be a film star, but still wants to act because he feels he needs to create, to push himself further and further. More tellingly, he also says he likes the feeling of someone else creating and image for him for a change.

As he stands to leave, shaking on his suit jacket, unfolding his slender frame, something curious happens. Suddenly it's as if he's been turned off, any trace of the humanness he's just exhibited disappears and, once again, he's Marilyn Manson - weird, asexual, arrogant and trouble. He barely looks around, standing like a bored king, waiting to be led to wherever he can relax and do his own thing - whatever that might be. And it makes you think you've been conned for the last hour, that the words haven't been coming from anywhere near his heart or head but from some computer inside him. In seconds he has become someone else entirely.

Then suddenly, as if reading your mind:

I went on to www.schizophrenia.com, he says, almost to nobody. I've looked at the self-diagnosis page and answered 'yes' to every single question on it. I think I'm schizophrenic.

Then he sweeps from the room, not looking back.