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'Sons of Anarchy' showrunner Kurt Sutter's insight to season 6

By April Neale Dec 7, 2012, 19:46 GMT

'Sons of Anarchy' showrunner Kurt Sutter's insight to season 6

Kurt Sutter - "Sons of Anarchy" Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals - Arclight Cinemas - Hollywood, CA, USA Tina Gill / PR Photos

Season five of FX's hit drama "Sons of Anarchy" contained superb cameos like Joel Mchale as a grifter, Walton Goggins as transgendered sex worker Venus Van Dam and Donal Logue as vengeful, burned out US marshal Lee Toric, who will continue on as a guest star into season 6.

 

The series has always shined with unusual and clever casting for smaller roles, notably the great Hal Holbrook as Gemma's dad, Stephen King cast as Tig's go to "cleaner," Harold Perrineau as Damon Pope, Karina Logue as Donal's on-screen (and real life) sister murdered by Otto and Henry Rollins as Weston, an American white supremacist. Danny Trejo as Romeo Parada was a wonderful casting touch too.

This season we got Ashley Tisdale and Dave Navarro in forgettable roles as a mid-western corn-fed prostitute and Nero's (Jimmy Smits) cousin.  After seeing Ian McShane blaze the screen in FX's "American Horror Story," we can only hope he is considered for a juicy role in season 6 of the biker drama with a few roots in Ireland.

Kurt Sutter wears several hats on his show. As Otto Delaney his self tongue amputation insured the actor he will not have to learn anymore lines.

Sutter spoke to several online TV critics to shed light on next season:

Question: We were wondering, you have such a rabid fan base who goes into such deep details on the show, how important is it for you to focus on the little details when youfre creating a character and designing a scene, everything from props to wardrobe and all that stuff?

K. Sutter All that stuff is really important to me, in fact I'm really sort of tyrannical with the little details of the show in terms of costume, and a scene, set design and transpo the bikes.

I've done a lot of research on the sub-culture, and I have a really pretty solid working knowledge of how these guys live.  I feel by rooting it in all those really rich, small details what that then allows me to do is then tell much bigger, epic, dramatic stories.  I feel if I can root it firmly in the reality of the sub-culture, to all the grittiness of it, all the fine details of it are true and accurate.  It just gives me a lot more freedom than sort of perhaps push the boundaries on the realities of perhaps the stories and their circumstances. 

That's always been very important to me from the beginning, and we're a pretty well-oiled machine now.  We get it all done.  I can't tell you, just choosing the crucifix was at least a dozen conversations, me looking at about 30 or 40 different crosses.  All that stuff is really important. 

When you have a season like this where you have a major death early on, is it difficult to then build to a season finale that is going to live up to the earlier season moments?

K. Sutter That's always a challenge, doing something larger in the beginning.  I really wanted to do that with Opie.  I didn't want to drag it out, sort of have people, not see it coming because of bad execution, but see it coming because of the natural progression of the world.  I really wanted it to be shocking, come as a complete surprise, and kind of knock the wind out of not only the audience, but the club as well. 

What I was able to do really with the death of Opie, and not so much about worrying about having the rest of the season be a let-down, but really what it gave me was such a life-altering circumstance for my hero that it really allowed me to accelerate his journey. 

I really wanted to get to the place where we had to force Jax's hand to see what kind of a leader he was going to become.  I feel like the death of Opie, that deep tragedy, that's such an unsettling event, really allowed me then to sort of accelerate the emotionality of that journey, so we could sort of organically push Jax to the edge to see what kind of a man, what kind of a leader he was going to become.  In that way, it really probably opened up my story possibilities rather than hindered them. 

I wanted to ask about a couple of the guest stars you had this season.  It felt at the end of last night's show that certainly Donal Logue almost maybe needs to come back at this point, and it seems like the door is open for Jimmy Smits, as Nero, as well.  Can you talk about that at all?

K. Sutter I can definitely tell you that Donal will be back.  We've made a deal with Donal.  We've made it for a total of 10 episodes so far.  I think he was in two or three this year.  We definitely have him locked up for seven or eight next season, and most likely it will be more than that.  What we usually do is make a minimal deal with an actor, and then if we need them more we can do more. 

That character, I believe, will be a big character next season, and probably the most dangerous threat that the club has ever had.  Just in terms of a law enforcement guy with kind of law enforcement weight, law enforcement credentials or connections, and yet because he is retired does not have perhaps the legal handcuffs or morality hurdles that maybe some of our other law enforcement members have had.  With a guy like Donal, who is just fun to work with and such a great actor, we have a lot of places we can go with him. 

Jimmy Smits, I would love to bring back.  I think Jimmy adds such a gravitas to the show, good experience.  I love bringing in that new sort of culture to the show.  His sort of Latino past and that energy, mixing it into our world is really fascinating for me.  I love the relationship that is going on with he and Gemma.  I would love to bring Jimmy back. 

We left it sort of open-ended because I wasn't sure on his availability.  I feel like there's enough emotional weight on the table, there's enough relationship weight on the table for us to continue that storyline, and yet I was careful not to pin any major story arch to his character just in case that couldn't happen.  I think we're in the process right now of trying to figure out Jimmy's availability and trying to make that work.

In addition to what it did for the story, does having Otto bite off his own tongue, was that your way of sort of writing yourself out of the show?

K. Sutter It was my way of writing myself out of having to learn dialogue. If Otto comes back it will be a lot of, it will just be grunts, and me scribbling on paper.

How do you find the balance in terms of Gemma's character with her being completely despicable on the one hand and yet making us root for her in her relationship with Nero on the other hand?

K. Sutter It's always a fine balance with any of our three major characters: Jax, Gemma, and Clay.  A trilogy with such strong familiar characters that have won the hearts of the audience, yet they live in this very dangerous, dark world and have to make decisions all the time, and some of those decisions are really bad and reprehensible decisions. 

It's always difficult trying to find that balance.  What I try to let be my guide is the story.  I'd like to think that things happen organically, and they're never forced one way or the other in terms of trying to manipulate a reaction from the audience. 

Gemma, and I mean this in the most flattering way, Gemma is just a cockroach.  She's just hard to kill.  She was really adrift at the beginning of the season.  She hit a bottom.  She crawled her way back up, and she made some really very defining decisions.  I think at the end ...my intent for her was at the end of the season for her to sort of have her balls back.  I think we got there at the end of the finale.

Yes, it's hard to cheer that on, but yet at the very least there's that sense of ...she always  lands on her feet.  Her justification is always I'm taking care of my family.  That's what allows her, in her mind, to do the things that she needs to do.  It's definitely a fine line.

How much leeway you leave yourself in the midst of the season.  If the storyline you feel isn't working or you have a different idea and a different approach to storylines, are you able to leave yourself leeway to change on the fly?

K. Sutter Yes, my general rule, what I tend to do is, I come in with a blueprint in the beginning of the season and I sit down with my writers, and I sort of lay out what I want to do for the season.  It's a loose blueprint, and the more I do this and the more confident I get with the show in terms of the stories that we tell, I've really been able to hold onto them a little more loose each season.  My grip gets a little looser as the mythology progresses. 

 That was the case this season.  I had these ideas, and we started writing toward those ideas, but if something happens organically in the process of telling the story, if something else comes along and we want to play it out, then I have the room to do that and to go in a different direction.  If I see something that's popping on screen in terms of a relationship or a conflict that's really suddenly taking on a much more compelling quality than I thought it was going to be, then I'll throw some energy and some story at that.  I have some leeway. 

 You have to be careful at a certain point, usually in the back four or five episodes, then your leeway really starts to diminish.  Not that you have to start writing to tie everything up in each story, but I do have the reality of okay, this is how much time I have left this season to tell these stories.  As time progresses, as the episodes pass, then that doorway gets a little more narrow.

There have been some shocking moments this season from the fire in the first episode to Opiefs death.  Were you looking forward to having that kind of memorable violent moment for yourself?

K. Sutter My pitch on the first day in the writer's room was that I want to find a way for Otto to bite his tongue off so I don't have to learn any more lines.  We were going through the season and everyone just laughed at me.  We got to the end here and it was my way of Otto, as Donal Logue's character says, it was my way of Otto committing. 

I didn't know if we'd actually get a chance to do it.  We sort of joked about it, and then we got to the finale and there was an opportunity for us to sort of organically play it out.  I thought with a guy that's as fucked up and damaged as Otto, what a better way of saying, I'm not talking.  Literally removing the organ that articulates speech. 

Now with Tara's arrest in the finale, mentally where would you say Jax is going into the next season?

K. Sutter I really wanted to get to a place with Jax at the end of the season, and one of my desires at the beginning, as I said, the death of Opie allowed us to really accelerate Jax's emotional journey in terms of where he was going to be at and the decisions he was going to make.  I really wanted to get to a place where perhaps Jax realizes that he's better at being an outlaw than he is at being a husband and a father. 

 There is an allure that comes with power and prestige that perhaps he wasn't aware of, or maybe he was aware of, but didn't necessarily have to make a decision one way or the other earlier.  He got to the end and as much as he says he wanted to leave, that perhaps he really wasn't ready to leave. 

 The intent was to have him have this very successful, although bloody and tumultuous, and tragic or painful run as president of the club, but to ultimately have all that stuff come out almost flawlessly.  The execution of Pope, the way he maneuvered that.  He pulled that off like a special ops soldier.  All that stuff went flawlessly, and was incredibly smart. 

While all that was going on on the outlaw side, all the stuff with his family was essentially falling apart.  He couldn't keep any promises to Tara.  Everything was a false promise.  The bottom fell out of everything.  At the end of it, he does one incredibly well and one incredibly bad.  Just the idea, maybe I'm supposed to be doing this and not be doing that. 

I'm not saying that's where we are ultimately going to be with the character, but in this moment at the end I think there is a sense of I'm completely successful on the one hand, and yet I've completely failed at this other thing.  Maybe I'm just supposed to be doing the thing that I'm good at.  That's really where I wanted to have him land at the end there.

Drea de Matteo, is she going to come back?

K. Sutter Yes, I'd love to bring back Drea.  I think Drea has a show.  She got a pilot, and that will remain to be seen whether or not that gets picked up.  That's always a tricky thing.  Sometimes networks and shows are open to have the actor step out and do a few episodes, some aren't. 

 I definitely think there is more story to be told with that character.  I love where we went with it this season.  The timing felt right.  It felt really organic.  I think Drea had a lot of fun to sort of have some bones and some meat to chew on again with that character like she did early on.  I would definitely love to bring her back.  I definitely have more story I want to tell there, and again itfs really her availability, which I guess wefll find out as we get into next season.

Just clarify for me how the biting of the tongue, shocking as it was and seeming to put a final refusal on Otto testifying, how does it in fact prevent him from testifying?  You even mentioned before that he could write it down.  Please clarify that for me.

K. Sutter Look, I think he's such a damaged soul, psychologically and emotionally at this point, and I think it was really symbolic.  It was him telling the club, it was him telling the authorities that you're not going to get a word out of me.  I think that's Donal Logue's response to it when he says, 'Way to commit.'  To me, it was him basically saying I won't be talking, and sending that message to the club.  As I said, what better way to send a message that you're not going to talk than by biting off your own tongue.

What are you watching on T.V. right now, and what's maybe exciting you that other producers are doing?

K. Sutter That's a really good question.  I'm a huge Boardwalk fan, always have been from the beginning.  Jack Huston's become a friend of mine.  I don't know if it's the comradery of the one-eye thing.  I'm a couple of episodes behind, so I have not seen the finale yet.  I watch that.  I'm not a zombie-genre fan, but I'm a big fan of my buddy, Glen, so I'm about four episodes behind on The Walking Dead. 

 I've been desperately trying to get into Game of Thrones, and I've been having a very difficult time.  It's just not my wheel house.  What else?  My wife has me now watching Revenge.  It's her favorite show, and she's pulled me into some of that.  That's kind of soapy and delicious. 

What else do I watch?  I watch a lot of, this is really goofy, but I watch a lot of HGTV.  House Hunters International, it's my favorite show.  I like to watch shows where guys actually build.  Guys that could actually have real skills, and put things together that actually serve a purpose. 

On Jimmy Smits, Wanda de Jesus and Danny Trejo:

K. Sutter [Jimmy] had watched the show, but his wife, Wanda, was the mega-fan.  I don't think he was aware of the fan base.  He slowly became aware of that as the season began, and I think as it does with a lot of people.. the same thing with Danny Trejo.  Danny Trejo, he comes up to me all the time, and he says all the movies hefs done and everything that he's done everyone just constantly barrages him about Sons.  He had no idea either because Danny doesn't watch a lot of T.V.

Are you still stuck on ending at Season 7, or do you see maybe things going a little further?

K. Sutter My response to that is that Season 7 was always my goal because I know how this cable model works.  I know that at the end of seven seasons, the above-the-line costs usually outweigh the value of the show.  I thought, well, can I tell this story in seven seasons?  Do I have enough story?  I've always had that number in my head, and I thought, yes, I can do that. 

I have the loose constructs of those seven seasons in my head, and I still have those.  We're still heading in that direction and working towards that.  If I get halfway through Season 6 and I have a sense of wow, I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this, and tell all the stories that I need to tell in seven seasons, then I think I can probably have a conversation with John Landgraf. 

I don't know what the solution would be.  Perhaps the solution would be to extend the amount of episodes in maybe the last two seasons, or is there enough story for us to then do a Season 8?  Would that actually be viable?  Could we afford to do that?  It's not like I would shut the door on seven. 

Here's what I definitely don't want to do.  I don't want to just extend the show for another season for the sake of doing an eighth season.  What I don't want to do is pad and fluff and drag out that really should be happening in seven seasons for the sake of just doing another season. 

Even though I'm sure the fans would love another season, I know I don't want to do that.  My sense is if I get halfway through the storytelling in Season 6, I'll have a pretty good sense of whether or not I can tie it all up in seven.

Does this mean you have a chance to take a breather before you start on writing or you just keeping on writing?

K. Sutter I have a little downtime.  I sold two other projects to FX.  I'm co-writing a project and writing a pilot over the hiatus.  I'll be doing that.  That's always fun for me to do because it's my own time, my own schedule.  Then I'll jump back early February with the Sons writers for Season 6.

Clay - what do you foresee will be his role in the story that's remaining in the coming seasons now?  Is he still going to possibly keep the connections that he had in place or is this going to be the last we see of him for a while?

K. Sutter I really wanted to..at the end of the season with when August tells that his guy, 'I want him dead before the hearing'  I really want to give the sense that there's a death nail for Clay.  That he's really essentially a dead man walking, or in that case a dead man riding between a bunch of black men.  I really wanted to set that up, in other words, that Jax was successful in his death by proxy option that he's choosing for Clay.  How that will play out exactly I'm not sure yet. 

 Whether or not Clay will make it through Season 6, I'm not sure.  There's definitely some more story to tell in terms of the mythology.  What I don't want to do is get into another situation where it's another almost death of Clay.  That I think is very unsatisfying.  I'm not quite sure where Clay's end date will be, but I do think that ultimately it has to be near, but there is some more story to tell.

This show is my priority.  I do other things in my downtime.  It really is kind of my labor of love, and I have every intention of maintaining that and following through and finishing that as strongly as we've managed to do so far. 

The MC is rudderless right now.  The heart and soul is completely devastated, and Ifm kind of wondering is that going to be, now that Clay's in prison, this fractured group?  Is that the thrust of the next year?

K. Sutter Yes, I think that was part of the irony or the tragedy for me really.  Jax has pulled off ...we had this list for Jax at the beginning of the season, the writers.  It was this sort of checklist of things that what does Jax want? 

Jax wants to get out of the drug business.  Jax wants to get out of the cartel business.  Jax has to get rid of RICO.  Jax has to have Clay get his payback, his revenge on Clay.  He had all these things that he needed to do, and he methodically and brilliantly achieved all those goals this season. 

At the end of it, all those tasks were done, but the fallout came on all the personal sides of that, so that both families were in shambles.  Now he has a club that has no more external pressures.  There's no more RICO case against him, there's nobody holding a gun to them anymore.  He's got this relationship now with Eli so that there's no sort of pressure in town.  He's removed...he's gotten out of the big gun and the drug business.  His new businesses for them, the Deosa, they're making money, the thing with Charming Heights, and yet the club itself is in complete shambles. 

His inner circle is really reduced to two guys now.  Bobby was sort of the last voice of reason, and Bobby turning in that VP patch, it's not that Bobby's leaving the club but he's saying that I can't do this job because you won't let me do this job.  The club itself is really, it's got all these wonderful opportunities, and it's ready to flourish, and yet part of Jax's job next season will really be about now I've removed all the external things.  How do I fix it from the inside? 

Will Gemma hurt or corrupt Nero in the end, or is she even able to be influenced?

K. Sutter Thatfs a good question.  I think Gemma is really, it's like she says, she doesn't need to be loved; she just needs to be wanted.  Whether or not that's true or not, I don't know.  I felt like I think Gemma needs everything. 

 I think she'll be a positive influence on him, or at least a positive influence in his outlaw life.  When she says to him, gI do messy, she knows what to do with a guy who is faced with the conflicts that are associated with an outlaw life.  She doesn't know what to do with a guy who wants to get out of the outlaw life.  That Nero she wasn't quite sure she knew what to do with.  I think him being pulled back into the life gives her this sort of level of comfort of, yes, I know how to be that old lady.

  I think if that's where Nero is moving too, or really as Jax calls Nero out in the finale too he says to him...or maybe it was Episode 12 where he says to him, 'You saw this coming more or less.'  Yes this has happened, but there's a part of you that knew it was going to happen.  Nero has no arguments with that.  One could argue that, not unlike Jax, Nero is a guy who said he wanted to get out, but perhaps wasn't able to get out either.

 I do think that she can be a positive influence on him.  I also think that Nero is a different man than Clay was.  I think Clay...I think Nero has a stronger sense of himself then perhaps Clay did, and because maybe there is some distance between he and Gemma with that I don't think Nero will be as perhaps as corruptible as Clay.  Which could then lead to the potential of some interesting conflict down the line if Gemma does try to manipulate in her way with a guy that perhaps maybe is not going to be as corruptible or as easily influenced as perhaps Clay or J.T. was. 

Gemma, do you think that she will always will need the scheming involved in the club politics?

K. Sutter Gemma's role with all that is never like...Gemma is definitely an anomaly, and there are very few, if any, women in the outlaw culture that perhaps have the kind of weight that she has.  In my mind in the mythology, she was kind of there from the beginning influencing two major presidents of that organization.  Not that she's privy to the details of the club, but she's sort of privy to the direction of the leaders. 

I think if she maintains that relationship with Jax, as being now the matriarchal influence will have a greater access to him than in the past.  Yes, I think she will try to continue to influence Jax with the club.  Thatfs always sort of been her role.  It's not so much of...she's not sitting at that table making decisions about what they do in the day-to-day, but her whole goal is that itfs club and family first, and making sure her men stay strong and stay focused and keep the priorities straight.  When they're dropping the ball, when they're being weak, she's the one who's going to pull them up and slap the shit out of them and say 'go handle this.'  That's what she does.

How do you plan on using Twitter and your blog to keep fans engaged so they'll tune in next September?

K. Sutter Pretty much the same way that I always do.  I just donft blog as much anymore.  Ifve become sort of a lazy blogger, mainly because of Twitter.  I tend to „Ÿ and also my gWhat the Sutters,h mostly itfs a video blog now.  Ifll continue to do those each week.  I have fun with those, and now Ifll really be able to go back to answering the questions that fans send in every week.

 Thatfs my way, as we develop stuff, Ifll let people know.  When wefre back in February and I start meeting with the writers, I tell the fans I sat down with the writers.  We had our first meeting with the writers for Season 6.  I just think itfs such a long wait between seasons, and I try to do everything I can do to keep people engaged, to keep people excited.  If therefs an announcement to make, and I can make it without stepping on the toes of my great media team at FX, Ifll make that announcement. 

 As I start to develop stuff, wefll do something like we did this year.  We did the behind the scenes of the before the anarchy stuff, which I really loved.  HD films did a really great job.  Maybe wefll do another variation of that this season.  As we start to develop those ideas, Ifll put it out to Twitter and get peoplefs feedback on it, and whether or not they dig it.  I just try to keep people plugged into my process as Ifm coming up with these ideas.

 I think the success that Ifve had with the fans, and why itfs been helpful for the show is that itfs really just me opening up people to kind of my process with all of this, and making them feel like theyfre part of that.  My fans are very vocal, and they have a lot of opinions, and they have no problems sharing them.  It will be the continuation of that. 

 Wefre doing some really great stuff with merchandising this year, and expanding the content world.  Wefre doing novelizations and graphic novels, and really expanding the mythology in a lot of different directions.  That will be happening this year.  I will keep people plugged in to what wefre doing with all of that.  It will continue to allow me to do all of that.

Are there any specific relationships that youfre really looking forward to flushing out?  Ones that have changed, maybe perhaps with a Tig or a Bobby Elvis and Jax, between those people who were originally loyal to Clay.

K. Sutter Yes, therefs a lot to play out with what will happen with Bobby and Jax next year.  I really think that a major relationship will be between Chibs and Jax, which has really become his Opie now, his main guy, his main „Ÿ his loyal dude.  I think there will be a lot to play out with there.  Is Chibs capable of maintaining that level of loyalty as Jax goes on this sort of darker journey?  Will he then be burdened to be the guy that has the voice of reason, and what does that mean for their relationship?  I think that the main relationships that will be played out will be with Jax and Chibs, and also with Jax and Bobby.

How involved are you in the casting process?  Even for the one-liners?

K. Sutter Ifm pretty much involved. The first couple of seasons I did, but since I brought on Paris Barclay Ifm not in the physical auditions anymore.  If Ifm meeting with a major cast, a major role Ifll have meetings and Ifll sit down.  I sat down with Jimmy Smits, obviously, and I sat down with Harold, and with Donal Logue.  At that point, itfs not making them read or audition, itfs more of a creative discussion about whether or not itfs a good fit. 

 In terms of the day players, what will happen is theyfll do a general audition.  Paris, my line producer Jon Pare is on those.  Wendy OfBrien, my fantastic casting director, is running those, and then whoever is the writer or producer is on the episode.  Theyfll do a general audition and then theyfll do call backs.  Then Ifll usually get their top three or four picks with their recommendations. 

 The director is obviously in on those auditions.  Ifll get the first pick or the second choice of the director; then theyfll send me their choices.  I would say 70% of the time Ifll go usually with the directorfs choice. 

 Sometimes Ifll see something in a character or in an actor that I feel is not right or would be better served because I know where the story is going to, and then Ifll make a different choice than the director.  Thatfs pretty much my involvement.  Ifm pretty much plugged in to every actor that is in the show.

Moderator Our final question today will come from the line of Earl Dittman with The Wireless Digital Journal.  Please go ahead.

The homeless lady.  Should that have any significance for them for next season or what can you tell me about that?

K. Sutter The homeless lady is always, and not to be purposefully cryptic, but she kind of is what she is.  She does what she does.  She's a little bit of my Shakespearean ode to magic, and she kind of shows up at these poignant moments in Jax's story line.  It's not like I have some big revelatory thing that will be happening with the homeless woman that will be some kind of big reveal at the end of the series.  If people are waiting for that, I don't think that's going to happen, but she may continue to show up the way she does.


 

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Further Reading on M&C

Donal Logue Biography - - Donal Logue Movies - Jimmy Smits Biography - - Jimmy Smits Movies -
Katey Sagal Biography - - Katey Sagal Movies -
Kim Coates Biography - - Kim Coates Movies - Kurt Sutter Biography - - Kurt Sutter Movies -

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