Exclusive: Kurt Sutter interview, Sons of Anarchy in Eire and beyond
By April MacIntyre Jun 23, 2010, 5:06 GMT
Sutter on set, 2010, courtesy of FX
Kurt Sutter is not like any other successful TV writer in Hollywood I have ever met. The fear factor does not exist, and Sutter is without guile or artifice, who speaks plainly in a city full of duplicitous assholes that fawn over talent in meetings, then crap all over them when they leave the room.
Sutter’s honesty is what endears and enrages many in this town that trades in the currency of B.S. as the requisite grease for Industry wheels.
Lucky for him he also married a brilliant actress. Lucky for her that Sutter knew Katey Sagal's strengths and wrote a part for her most actors would kill for in their lifetime.
Sagal plays FX's drama "Sons of Anarchy" matriarch Gemma Teller-Morrow, and should take the Best Actress Emmy this year. Sagal makes the 1% Biker saga fly with her steely knowing gazes, her earthy, sexual den-mother center of gravity that keeps main man Clay (Ron Perlman) from killing the Prince, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and SAMCRO’s illicit businesses earning. She also provides excellent music for the addictive soundtrack.
Season two of Sons of Anarchy is now playing in the UK, and daily I hear from friends in Manchester, Glasgow, Antrim and other British townships about how balls-out awesome this series is.
The building IRA storyline and where season three is headed is making everyone who loves this series as I do sit on their hands with excitement, as we get a steady stream of leaks about season three guest stars (Hal Holbrook, Paula Malcomson, Taryn Manning reprising the role of Cherry and James Cosmo so far).
Sutter and Co. have dotted the series with interesting and able guest stars (season two’s Henry Rollins, Tom Arnold, Adam Arkin) that enhance an already genius cast that purrs like a brand new Dyna: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan, Kim Coates, Theo Rossi, Taylor Sheridan, Johnny Lewis, William Lucking, Dayton Callie, Mitch Pileggi, Ryan Hurst, Maggie Siff, Ally Walker and even showrunner Kurt Sutter, whose brilliant turn as an actor (Otto) in this FX showpiece of riveting, adult drama is a quality not seen since the “Sopranos” on HBO faded to black.
Monsters and Critics put on our finest SAMCRO cut and entered the den (literally, I was in Sutter’s office-adjacent “den” on set in NoHo) to talk about NOT CHUCK ZITO.
Monsters and Critics: We already know that Hal Holbrook will be in a few episodes playing Gemma’s father, but I’m wondering if you could maybe tell us about some of the guest stars and what their roles are in season three.
Kurt Sutter: I think all the turmoil that was drummed up last season in terms of Jax and Clay and everything that happened with Gemma.
A lot of that takes a back seat this season.
The reality of our seasons is they almost happen in real time. I mean they cover a very short amount of time. There are a few days between season two and season three, and the entire run of season three will really cover maybe a month. So that’s usually how our seasons play out because it’s not the kind of show that does well having weeks and months in-between.
So it’s a very short period of time. All that stuff that happened in terms of the tensions between Jax, Clay, Tig and Opie and the things that happened with Gemma are all very much still there, but there on the back burner.
With Abel going away, and Gemma being framed for murder, which we know happened at the end of season two. All that stuff just falls into the backdrop. You know, the wounds have scabbed over, but they are very thin scabs. That stuff doesn’t go away. It will rear up and become prevalent and those relationships will move forward as we continue hopefully into seasons beyond this.
For now. The immediacy is really Gemma and the baby and playing that out.
The arc that happens in Ireland. Without giving any spoilers on how and why. For me I always knew. I had a conversation with John Landgraf before we shot the pilot, and gave him a heads up in terms of how I wanted to go. I knew for season three that I wanted to explore the backstory of how they got involved with the Irish. The importance of that.
I think for a couple of reasons. One I think that mythology is really fascinating and there are pieces of that mythology that we’ll reveal that will be important for later on. We’ll learn a lot about John Teller, Jax’s dad in season three. His relationship with his father really changes and grows throughout the season.
I always knew I wanted to play out that arc.
The guest actors we’ve brought on. We brought on Paula Malcomson. I’ve been a huge fan of hers from Deadwood and Caprica as well, and she plays an old lady whose involved with the club and her brother is a priest who James Cosmo plays and that relationship will play out in how they’re connected to the club.
M&C: Do we find out more about Chibs’ backstory?
Kurt Sutter: Yeah! We’ve explored it a little bit in previous seasons. Where we talk about Chibs relationship with Jimmy O. We’ve given out pieces of it in the story, but ultimately Chibs was involved with the IRA initially and then got excommunicated by Jimmy.
We mentioned in a scene last season where Jimmy alludes to the fact that he’s the one that gave Chibs the scars. Which Tommy [Flanagan] was kind enough to let us exploit! You know. A trauma in his past for us to play out as a story point. So we know that those two have a fairly heated relationship and it sort of comes up and plays out this season, and Fiona his ex will be involved, and we’ll actually meet his daughter. Who he was referencing all of last season.
So that storyline will weave through the whole Belfast dynamic.
I also had an opportunity, which I never knew I’d be able to do, but in season one we made references to Cherry (Taryn Manning) being on the lam. She took off with Cameron, and they shipped her off to Ireland. We could get her for three episodes and we have her being somebody's old lady in Ireland and weave her a little bit into the storyline.
M&C: Dayton Callie. I love him, and how you subtly ramped up the affection between him and Gemma. I know he’s going to be on the back burner and Taylor Sheridan’s character is going to be coming up in the Police Force. Please tell me you’re not going to kill off Dayton Callie.
Kurt Sutter: [Laughs]. No. I love Dayton. As Dayton constantly reminds me when it comes to his character having cancer. It’s like, ‘you know. My old man lived for eight years with cancer.’ (Sutter Impersonates Dayton Callie.)
So no. I love Dayton, he’s got great energy. We got to explore that whole relationship. That he and Gemma were sort of childhood friends. It's absolutely paternal and its all about him really feeling a connection to her.
The back-story of that we also gave out last year. Gemma’s father was a preacher and her dad got a gig at another church when she was like fifteen and wanted to leave. She’s like, ‘Fuck You! I’m not leaving Charming.’ And that’s when she split.
She ran away when she was fifteen. Went up north and it was Free Love and Blah, Blah, Blah. Essentially hooked up with John Teller and the club, and she’s the one that brought them back to Charming. So the idea is that she’s the matriarch that sort of brought them back to her own nest. Which she knows as home.
So she came back to a community where people knew her, and knew her family. And now she’s brought an entirely different family with her. So she’s the one that I think Unser felt the connection to, and then got involved with John and obviously Clay.
So yeah, we’ll continue to play out that arc and it will be an interesting season for Dayton and Gemma. Because she’s sort of on the lam now, and there’s a lot of things that will impact that relationship this season.
We have an opportunity to take him to some new places. But no, he’s not going away. He’s a series regular now.
M&C: Now Kurt Sutter the man has really great teeth, but Otto, I don’t remember Otto having such great teeth. Are they prosthetic teeth like (makeup artist) Ve Neill used in Pirates of the Caribbean that jack your teeth up a little bit?
Kurt Sutter: [Laughs] No, no I just dull them down. So they’re kind of yellow. Obviously the eyes are pretty fucked up too.
M&C: Georgie Caruso… he’s not dead. He’s out there still.
Kurt Sutter: He’s out there still. Yeah.
M&C: And he killed your old lady.
Kurt Sutter: Yeah. We presume that that’s what went down and I don’t think we’ll have an opportunity to explore that this year. Tom’s a friend of mine. So I get e-mails from Tom saying, ‘What’s up with Georgie?’
The thing I love about this kind of story- telling, and we were able to do it on the Shield as well, you know. This kind of violence never happens in a vacuum. There are always ramifications and the brilliant arc that Shawn Ryan created on the Shield was that the events of the pilot were ultimately what brought Vic down. And we do the same thing. I learned all that from Shawn. You know none of it happens in a vacuum in a serialized drama. All that stuff is just like dominos that you line up and at some point you’ll be able to come around to that and play it out as well.
Much like we’re playing out the Cherry thing.
M&C: Let’s talk about one of my favorite characters, which is Tig. I love Tig. His character is border-line psychotic. It seems like he has one foot in reality and then… he’ll just switch, and I was wondering if we’re going to find out more about Tig’s back-story. Especially based on what he told the guys in the truck. The bounty hunters.
Kurt Sutter: Here’s what I think of Tig. I think Tig walks a fine line and has a very low bar in terms of violence. I also think he’s a guy that knows that he already has that reputation. So when he does things like that. In my mind. Some of it is real and some of it is him just keeping up the appearance.
Because if people think you’re crazy they don’t fuck with you. And the truth is. A lot of these guys I know in the life are incredibly intimidating and they have reputations. Because they’ve done some bad things. That reputation precedes them. So very often they don’t need to engage in any of that. And I think Tig is sort of the same way. He’s got this reputation. He’s a little nuts and people know it, and I think sometimes the things that he does are real, but sometimes its all about feeding that mythology. So people will give him a wide birth.
M&C: It creates an invisible moat….
Kurt Sutter: A little bit, but I think some of it is for show. He is nuts you know, and it was ultimately not necessarily a trait of the character, but what Kim really brought to the role was that there is a bigness about Tig. He is loud and he is the guy that fills up a room when he walks into it. And a lot of those guys don’t. A lot of the energy of the other guys is that they are big personalities and alpha dogs, but they’re much more subdued.
Tig’s the guy that walks into a room and is boisterous and loud. Has the big personality! So once you realize that’s what the actor is bringing to it, and that’s who the actor is. Then you can begin to write to that and that’s what we have for Tig, and quite frankly its why a lot of the humor lands on him because he’s just a great vehicle for really twisted fucked up dark humor.
M&C: The cerebral one, Bobby. The brain. He’s a very quiet character like Opie. They don’t have huge story arcs around them. Obviously Opie did with Donna. But they’re much more internal characters. So I’m just wondering if we’ll see more of Bobby or his story this season.
Kurt Sutter: Yeah. You know I love Boone and he’s really taken to the character and yeah I think that I always kind of described the relationship between Tig and Clay and Bobby as Bobby being kind of the Consigliere.
When Clay needs someone to say, ‘Yes’ or when Clay needs to say to someone, ‘Go there. Go do that’ Tig is there Tig will take the bullet. When Clay really needs and educated, smart decision. He goes to Bobby. Bobby really sort of embraces that and brings that to the role.
Unfortunately we’re not going to be able to dive into a lot of Bobby’s back-story or have a really big arc for Bobby this season. Although I think he definitely fulfills that role of Consigliere and is the go to guy. The guy that sees the big picture. Essentially the conscience of the club. I’m hoping that potentially for season four that we do a big arc with that character.
We do meet one of his ex wives this year. I will say that.
Hopefully we get to do a bigger arc with Bobby next year and explore some of his back-story. Because he’s a fascinating character, and what Boone’s brought the role has just made it so much more than I ever imagined.
M&C: So Tig is Clay’s. Would it be fair to say that Opie is Jax’s?
Kurt Sutter: I think Opie and Jax… They grew up together. They grew up in the life together and even though they’ve butted heads and had difference of opinions. I think ultimately that friendship is Jax’s core friendship and Opie’s as well.
That will continue this season as they both go through similar struggles with the people they love. We’re not going to do a huge Opie arc this season. Though we are going to play out some of the stuff with his continuing relationship with Lyla and what that all means.
The truth is this season is really all about Jax. It really is.
Whereas last season it was about Jax and Clay and Gemma, and Gemma was the catalyst. This year the baby is the catalyst and it’s really all about Jax and everything is sort of falling in his orbit this year.
M&C: Theo Rossi. His character Juice, he’s sort of a fence sitter. He’s not as vital as Tig but he’s not a go-to person the way Bobby is. He’s not tragic the way Opie is. He’s just sort of there, like your short-stop character. I was just wondering for fans of Juice if there was anything that we can look forward to in generality.
Kurt Sutter: I think for me. We play Juice as sort of the hacker guy. The kind of a loner. Juice is the kind of guy who probably spends a lot more time alone than he probably does with the club. Just because that’s who he is. He’s also one of the newer members. I think he’s the newest member of the club that’s not a prospect.
So there is still a part of him figuring out exactly where he fits in and Half Sack was probably the closest thing he had to a peer. He doesn’t really have that. Chibs is his sponsor, but he’s a generation older. Charlie is probably more of a peer but Jax has been in the club since he was eighteen. So Jax is almost of a different generation. So he doesn’t necessarily have a mirror of himself anywhere in the club.
So. I think that’s why he’s finding his own place and tends to be the guy who is trying to figure out in every circumstance where he belongs, and how to navigate around it and play that out.
I think its important to have that character. Because the truth is a lot of these guys come into the club and it takes years for them to feel comfortable in it and figure out how to apply it to their lives. He’s been in it long enough to know that he wants to be there, but he’s still trying to figure out exactly how to navigate around it.
M&C: You did so much research for this show, and I know that you rode with (Hell's Angel) Sonny Barger on his birthday. This is an interesting sub-culture and a lot of people glamorize it. Some of it is fun. There’s a lot of great guy stuff that goes on. Why do you think that people are enamored with One Percenter’s and bike clubs, and resurgence in the popularity in this day and age… It’s not just in this country but all over the world?
Kurt Sutter: It’s much bigger in Europe than it is here right now. Its exploding the way it did in the 60s and 70s in Europe and plus a lot of what’s going on here now with the clubs is being shut down by the Feds. Its harder to get a charter off the ground here than it is in Europe.
I think the fascination is what it always was and what it always will be. In that there’s a fascination with the outlaw. From Jesse James and all those guys. You know. All these guys were anti-heroes that sort of captured the imagination of the common man because they did what other people didn’t have the courage to do and said, ‘Fuck You! I’m going do it my way.’
So there always has been a glamorization of it and romanticism about it and that doesn’t change. I think that’s just part of human nature. We’re all composed of the dark and the light and most of us are forced to live in the light, and we’re sort of curious about the dark.
I think there is something about the sub-culture that’s inherently American. You know because it started here and the Harley Davidson and the open road. All that stuff is really American. So I think there’s a sense of almost odd patriotism with the love of the sub-culture.
For me it's a fine line. When people ask me about romanticizing violence and the outlaw culture, and tell me that these guys do bad things... my response to that is I’ve never been out to make a political statement. I have a love of the sub-culture and I love to ride and I’ve always like everyone else had a fascination and a romanticized view. I’m attracted to it.
Which is really why I emphasize the fact that it’s a family drama! It’s really about the people and the characters and hopefully through relationships and through some of our bigger narrative arcs. I can express the struggle of it. The ying and the yang.
Part of Jax’s quest is asking if this is the good life. Can I be in this life and be a good man? It is all that we’re talking about here.
Hopefully, I can express some of that through character, but I’m never out to make a political statement whether its the good guys in black or the good guys in white.
In the same way it was important for me going to Ireland and dealing with the IRA issues. That it is not a political statement. I’m not saying I believe in the cause. I’m not saying the cause is wrong. I’m not a republic. I’m not a loyalist. It’s really about character and all that stuff is backdrop.
For me it's backdrop that’s thematically our show in that all those guys do live outside the law. And they are good guys that potentially do some bad things in the name of their cause. In the name of their freedom.
So thematically to me it’s very similar to what our MC does in Charming. So that is the bridge for me, and once again hopefully through character and narrative arcs we can explore some of those questions. Without shining a light on good or bad or making a judgement call.
M&C: I’m from Boston and you’re from New Jersey. So we both grew up with ethnic Caucasian communities. Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish and what not. I grew up in a very polarized neighborhood where people talked about the IRA like they were champions, yet when I speak to Irish people that come over here, they’re like, ‘You guys don’t know anything that’s going on.’ So it’s very interesting that there’s a heightened sense of Irishness, which is sort of bastardized in this country.
Kurt Sutter: It really is, you know. Because we only get bits and pieces of it. Over here it’s about Freedom, and as Americans we go, ‘YEAAAAAAAH FREEDOM!’ We’re clueless.
I do as much research as I need to do to tell a story. I don’t like to over research it because I think sometimes when you become beholden to some of that research. It puts you in a box.
Again another lesson I learned from Shawn Ryan was that you always do enough research to keep it real, without doing enough to put us in a box.
We talked to a significant amount of people who had loose affiliations with the IRA and were raised in Belfast, and there are very strong opinions on either side of the fence. We talked to members of the Belfast film council that we were working with. They were fantastic people, who are ultimately employees of the Queen, and they were very clear and went out of there way several times to inform us and remind us that the true IRA are terrorists. And that they’ve done some heinous things.
One gentleman went into detail for about ten minutes. On the nature of those heinous acts. I think he as we’re talking here felt that as Americans we had this broad point of view that was not based in fact. I kept trying to remind him that I’m not out to glamorize. I’m really just telling stories and once again. That’s the backdrop of it.
We’re using that outlaw component to create the tension and the stakes for what’s happening between two characters.
We had a Catholic guy in who was raised in Short Strand (an Trá Ghearr) and had a very specific point of view about it, and was completely polar opposite. Those tensions and feelings are still very prevalent. A lot of its moved to the back room. People aren’t being fire bombed in the street anymore. A lot of its been Westernized in that it’s been moved into the back room and it’s become more like organized crime. Which is sort of one of the things we’re exploring this year within that... It’s still very prevalent.
In fact I had a long conversation and then watched this documentary on Henry Rollins who does these little IFC docs and he went to Belfast and did a show there, and did this documentary and he was talking about it. In fact it was through that conversation with Henry and then following up with the research that ultimately became a story point this season.
His experience was that it was probably more violent with the violence brewing because it was sort of being swept into the back alleys. Was that there’s almost as much tension as there’s ever been... Essentially the accord is something the politicians our holding onto, and the impact of it really hasn’t trickled down into the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.
M&C: The motorcycles that you guys ride. Haven’t you guys been taken care of in regards to getting some awesome choppers and stuff?
Kurt Sutter: Not Choppers but a Harley dealership up north gave us demos for a year. So that we got to ride them. I think the deal is that we can either buy them at cost and then turn them in. They’re all Dyna’s and Dyna Glides, and I think somebody got a Road King. But they’re all essentially the bikes that we ride on the show.
Yeah, these guys really ride all the time. In fact I’m sure if you go out there. That there’s a few parked. Charlie takes his bike pretty much everyday. Theo, Ryan. You know. They really ride together and ride all the time.
M&C: I’m going to put you on the spot. Who is the best rider of your entire cast?
Kurt Sutter: As of now I would say. I think coming into the show. I think Boone was probably the guy that had spent the most time on a bike and even though it had been a few years. Mark's a really good rider, but I think all them. I think Charlie’s spent a lot of time on a bike now. I think Flanagan is a good rider. Tommy’s gone down a few times in the last couple of months. He’s a good rider. I just think he gets a little distracted.
I think they’re really up to par and even Ron who was struggling a bit with it last season and ultimately let his permit lapse, and couldn’t ride unless we locked down the street.
Ron really made a commitment to me and the show. Went out and took the course and got his license and has been doing all his own riding this season. And its so great for me in post to not have to go to a long shot of a stunt double. You know, and watch him ride. So even Ron is coming along, which is good.
As far as the best rider. I don’t know. I’m sure if you asked them. Each one of them would comment that they were the best rider. All of them. Kim was a great rider. Kim had ridden a lot. Boone, Kim and Tommy all had ridden before. Charlie was new, Theo was new, Ryan was new, Johnny Lewis was new. All those guys took lessons and came up. Now I’d say they’re all pretty much on an even par. Charlie, Ryan and Johnny have all put 1000’s of miles on their bikes. I have 850 on mine. [Laughs].
M&C: You have some wonderful Celtic titles for your episodes. Can you give your fans one Celtic cryptic title that you’ve already locked down?
Kurt Sutter: The finale was ‘Na Triobloidi’ meaning ‘The Troubles.’ I don’t. I’m just writing episode eight now. I’m thinking of going with a Gaelic title for that, but I haven’t locked it down yet. I don’t think I have any yet.
What other title do I have that won’t give anything away? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll e-mail it to you. Let me think about that.
April MacIntyre is Monsters and Critics' smallscreen and people/celebrity editor, since 2004. You can follow her on Twitter.