I had the chance to talk to Katey Sagal and Ron Pearlman for Sons of Anarchy, the new series on FX starting tonight at 10PM ET/PT. Sons of Anarchy is a drama that explores an outlaw motorcycle club’s desire to protect its livelihood while ensuring their little town stays safe and charming. I’ve seen the first two episodes already and I really think that this is the next big break out show. It’s really dark, but it keeps you glued the whole time. In support of the show Ron Pearlman and Katey Segal took some time out of their day to talk to me. (*note: the interviews were conducted separately and then put together…background infor: Katey: Gemma, Ron: Clay)
Here’s the interview:
Nads: Ron, how did you come into this part?
Ron: Kurt Sutter asked to have lunch with me and told me that they were interested in exploring the idea of me playing Clay and that I was going to have to audition for the network, and so I did and here we are.
Nads: Katey, this role was written for you, does that make a difference going into it? How is it different having it with you in mind when it was created?
Katey: When my husband came to me and said he had written me a part, he didn’t actually tell me what the part was. I knew that he was writing a show in the world of outlaw motorcycle clubs and I knew she was the mother of the lead character, but that was all I really knew. I don’t know that it was necessarily inspired by me, but when he says that he sort of tailor made it to me, I’m not quite sure what he meant by that.
Once you see her, you’ll kind of think, “Huh?” Gemma is a fiercely loyal mother not only to her son, but also to her sort of family of club members. They’re kind of this counter-culture group, and she is the matriarch of that group. In my personal life, I’m a pretty fiercely loyal mother, but I don’t practice the same ways and means as Gemma does.
Nads: Ron, What do you think about the writing of the show?
Ron: It’s incredibly smart, very, very, very vivid, completely ungratuitous for a show’s that as hardcore and violent and explosive and radical behavior, these are not your average conservative Republicans, these guys are ruthless and badass. And the way it’s depicted is very organic, which you could only do if you’re a brilliant screenwriter, as Kurt Sutter is, and as an actor you know you’re always going to be supported by–you’re never going to be made to look gratuitous or silly because everything is incredibly well supported in a very organic and very brilliant way.
Nads: Katey, can you tell me a little bit about what we can expect from Gemma as the series goes on?
Katey: Yes, she’s all that. She’s vicious. She’s ferocious. She’s a hard ass. I look at her as a survivor. I look at all of these people. They’ve created their own little world. They all come from their own fragmented lives to kind of come together and form their own family. Whatever her history is it has left her being somebody that is a fighter. What we can expect is that, if she’s at all threatened by any kind of potential for breakup of her family or harm to her son, she will go to any lengths to protect that. You will see that in various forms.
Nads: Katey, how much did you know about motorcycle gangs or clubs before signing on?
Katey: I knew a little bit. When I was in my 20s, I definitely kind of ran with a fast crowd. Some of that involved people with bikes. I don’t know very much about the actual club situation. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I didn’t have a lot of real experience, per se, no.
Nads: Ron, did you know anything about bike culture before starting the series and had you ever been on a bike, did you know anything about the ins and outs?
Ron: I knew zero. I’d see motorcycle clubs whiz by like the rest of us and just consider it to be very loud and an annoyance and I just thought that these guys were men without a country, just purely rebellious. I never thought about it beyond that. I’d never been on a bike, I don’t have that in my own fun psyche, so everything I did was kind of filling in a very blank slate, and my eyes got really opened to the sociopolitical aspects of the impulse to start these clubs.
And most of the guys who are members of these clubs were veterans, probably most of them fought in wars, in different wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the current Iraq war, so they’re warriors to begin with, and they come back to America after the most patriotic of acts, which is the act of self sacrifice for their country and not only are they not welcomed as heroes but they’re kind of shunned because their psyche is such that it’s okay for a warrior to go kill and die but it’s not okay for them to come back to the United States and marry your sister.
Ron: So it’s kind of like, if you don’t mind a little salty language, f*** me, f*** you.
Ron: (cont.) I’m out of here. I’m going to go create my own reality. I’m going to show you what patriotism really looks like and I’m going to be patriotic to what I consider to be things that are worth living and dying for. And that’s the impulse behind the motorcycle club and it’s very, very anarchistic and very sociopolitical. It’s a reaction against something, which turned into a huge disappointment. Those are the things that, when my eyes were really opened as to how compelling these clubs are.
Nads: That’s really interesting. I didn’t even think about that.
Ron: I hadn’t either.
Nads: Okay Katey…You said that you used to kind of run with the motorcycle crowds in your early 20s. How true to the storyline are you finding these episodes to reality? Maybe it wasn’t this crazy when you used to run with the crowds, but are you finding it pretty true to life?
Katey: I never ran with a real motorcycle club. I want that to be made clear. I just had a lot of boyfriends with bikes. From what I’ve now learned of this world and how the show is being formed, it’s really true to life. They have their own kind of code, and they have a lot of rules and regulations within their club. They’re like their own little society. The families are very close and the guys are really bonded, so there seems to be a lot of reality to it. Certainly some of the goings on are not true to what exactly happens, but I don’t know.
Nads: Ron, did Clay have a first wife that you know of, according to Kurt Teller? Is Gemma his second wife, and do you think he has any kids?
Ron: He has no kids, I can tell you that for sure. I don’t know whether he’s had another wife. That was a wedding photo, could’ve been a girlfriend at the time. I haven’t seen the second episode so–
Nads: Ron, What kind of different challenges do you find between working for television as opposed to movies, since you’ve been in a lot of movies?
Ron: Well, the approach is the same. The general work is the same. The only difference is with a TV series you go a lot faster, you have to get more stuff done in a day than you do in a movie because the constraints of the schedule are really austere. So it’s speed, and it’s concentration and focus because it’s relentless. I mean, you finish one episode at midnight on a Tuesday and then on Wednesday morning at seven you’re in the makeup chair getting ready to start the next one without having a chance to take a breath in between. So that’s basically the difference, but fundamentally you approach the work the same way
Nads: Katey, a lot of people are saying now that the best shows are actually on cable TV rather than on the broadcast networks, do you agree with that?
Katey: I think it’s fantastic, and I think that’s definitely true. We have network television; I’m a big fan of that, too. I’ve made a very good living and career on network television. I think that it’s going through some kind of transition. It’s just a looser creative reign on cable. You’re more like the independent film morals. You’re allowed to do more outside-the-box kind of things. It’s not a formula.
For someone like me that was really looking to do something different, I sort of felt that what I’d done I’ve done for a long time and I’ve been pretty successful at it. I wanted to find a different thing to do, and cable has definitely provided that. I think for women it’s just opened up a lot of doors.
Nads: What do you think of Ron’s character? Do you think Clay is more of a father figure for Jax or more of a partner on the gang?
Katey: I think he’s a little of both. He’s his stepdad, and he came into his life when Jax was about 15, 16 years old. That’s an interesting relationship. I think that he’s fatherly, but he’s also brotherly. It’s both; I guess that’s the answer.
Nads: Could you talk about any difference for you as an actor in appearing for an hour-long drama as opposed to a half-hour comedy?
Katey: There are a lot of differences. It’s a serialized show, the nature of it, in that you’re dealing with 12 episodes and there’s an arch for all the characters. The work that I did for this part was a lot of back story and history, sort of figuring out where these people came from and how they end up in a motorcycle club. For just me individually, I needed to understand all that back story and all that history, so I did a lot of exploration and imagination, figuring that out. My husband is really good and sort of builds that whole world for himself and to write from, so he was a good source for that material. When you’re doing comedy, a sitcom, it doesn’t require quite the same depth of work, I’d say.
Nads: Ron, were you surprised with all the violence on the show?
Ron: I’m not surprised by the level of violence in the show. I knew these were pretty ruthless, rough guys, but there are certain things that we’re doing that shock even me, and I thought I was shockproof. It’s pretty hardcore. I mean, you start getting to the third episode, the fourth episode, the fifth episode, I mean, we do stuff that is like–I finished reading it and I was just like, I’ve got to lie down. It’s definitely–the envelope is being breached.
Check out Sons of Anarchy tonight on FX at 10PM ET/PT.