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Sons of Anarchy: Katey Sagal Interview

    I was very lucky to participate in a conference call with Sons of Anarchy’s Katey Sagal (Gemma Teller Morrow). She was lovely and thoughtful with her answers. What follows is a selection of the questions and her answers. These are not meant to be exact quotes but rather what I was able to capture in the moment. I’m also just hitting the highlights and a complete transcript of the phone call will be up in a couple of days. As always, “Q” designates questions and "KS" indicates Katey’s answer.

Q: Gemma has a complex relationship with a lot of characters. Tig and Unser for example, and is there a history there with Tig?

KS: They’re a very close knit group, like their own family members, so there is a sexual tension among all of them. They are bonded but it’s not by blood. Gemma is really close to all of them, and it’s a bit of a blurry line, but Tig isn’t likely to step over that line out of respect for their code. Gemma grew up with Unser, so he’s like an older brother. Her relationship with her own family was really strained, so she relies on him.

Q: What’s your reaction to the PTC’s reaction to the first episode? (There was some discussion of censoring the first episode which ended in a school shooting.)

KS: I have strong views about censorship. I don’t like it. I tend to agree with my husband (Kurt Sutter). It’s important to continue the conversation about gun control. Continuing the conversation through the narrative isn’t a bad thing. It’s a conversation we can never seem to get to the end of. I agree with what Kurt said. He’s telling a story about gun dealers and for him not to tell that story didn’t seem true to that world.

Q: How does Gemma balance her feelings for Nero and Clay?

KS: Like all the relationships in the show, it’s a duality. Clay crossed some lines she can’t get past. She is very family oriented. She has a new relationship with a different kind of outlaw from Clay. This one isn’t as ruthless as Clay.

Q: The show feels so real. Gemma has to make a lot of tough decisions. Which was the hardest to play?

KS: Sending Clay to prison was a tough decision for her. She has to think on her feet at the moment. They aren’t decisions she gets to think about – it’s what she has to do in the moment. It’s high stakes all the time and there’s not a lot of time to think.

Q: Are you getting sad that next season is going to be the last?

KS: There’s a great vibe on set. It’s fulfilling to know people are responding to the show so strongly. It’s really rare for a show. We’ve all made such close relationships – it’s a bonding, and everyone clings on to every moment. It’s bittersweet. What’s cool about our show is that it’s one big story. A long arc. Nice is a strange word to use because it’s gonna be bloody.

Q: How much of Gemma is you and how much of you is Gemma?

KS: Some aspects we share in common. I’m a family person. It’s of utmost importance to me, how my children are raised.
Gemma tends to be vain – and so am I! (laughter)
This season, Gemma is taking a more zen-like approach. She’s been influenced by Nero who’s not as ruthless.
I love how Juice and Chibs are changing. There’s not just one way. As an actor, that’s fun – to be able to see different aspects of the charcter. Our responses change as we change.

Q: Gemma has traveled a long road and she’s managed to justify every act of vengeance and betrayal as taking care of her family. What do you attribute this to? Is Gemma afraid to be alone? Is it that she needs to be in control? She’s a strong presence in a very patriarchal society.

KS: They are a group of people outside the grid. That’s the whole point of anarchists. This is the world that they created and you are against everyone not in that world. There is an intensity to protect each other. These are her roots. She ran away from home, hooked up with these guys fresh from Vietnam, got pregnant. That became her life. It’s their own little society, and without it, she would have nothing. On top of that, they have no security. They have no social security. They live dollar to dollar, not even paycheck to paycheck. There is a certain amount of intensity around protecting that.

Q: How did you like working with your dad and Peter Falk (on Columbo)?

KS: I actually worked with Peter Falk more recently on a tv movie. He was both charming and grumpy. My father was a director and he worked long hours. Our house wasn’t full of tv stars. It wasn’t glamorous. I had a grounding from him, knowing this was a hard job. I get my work ethic from him and I don’t take it for granted. It’s a hard job; I’m blessed to be able to do it.

Q: One of the fans said that Gemma is the most evil and least redeemable character on the show – how do you respond to that?

KS: I don’t see her as evil. I like her. She’s protecting herself. From my perspective as Katey Sagal, I see what they’re doing is heinous, but from within that life, they are doing what they have to to survive. They have a code that they live by and there is an honor to what they do.

Q: How far will Gemma go? Will she take Tara out if Tara goes through with leaving and ripping the family apart?

KS: I don’t know. I don’t know how it will play out. We are filming episode nine and I’m still not sure what is going to happen. The loyalty to the club is paramount, but there are kids involved. I’m not quite sure what is going to happen.

Q: What tv do you like to watch?

KS: Ray Donavon. Jon Voight is wonderful. Breaking Bad, but I’m behind. Boardwalk Empire. Orange is the New Black. Kurt and I love to watch Home Hunters International. I love dramas that are like Sons. Ones that have a complex, intricate story, where I’m screaming at my tv and I don’t know what will happen next.

Q: Nero is not a fan of guns, but they are a part of Gemma’s life. How will that tension between them play out?

KS: The school shooting really sets up the whole season. Nero is connected to that story. It’s a big statement about the misuse of guns. I have a sense that Nero is in further than he’s comfortable with, but he is in.

Q: Who do you talk to to study as an authority for the character?

KS: I tried to do research on the women in the motorcycle club, but there is very little written on them. It’s easier for Kurt to get closer to the men. I use create license. She’s the matriarch of any society. Her attitude, stand by her man-ness is universal. She’s the “Queen Bee” of any society. It is difficult to find any “real” people to talk to.

Q: Bryan Cranston has called Walter White the role of a lifetime. Is Gemma that for you?

KS: Yep. We were both on comedies, and had to break past that. Definitely this was a career changing and career opening part.

Q: How did you congratulate Charlie on his 50 Shades part? How have things changed on set?

KS: We’ve been inundated by paparazzi! He thought long and hard about taking this part. He really likes the director. He is 100% committed to the work he does. He’s like that with Sons.

Q: Can we switch gears and talk a little bit about your music? When I asked for questions from fans, so many of them wanted to know about your music. What’s next for you? Another solo album or another recording with the band. My brother-in-law would like to know whether the Forest Rangers will ever be touring in Toronto.

KS: I’d love to come to Toronto! Find someone who will book us. I have a third solo album due out on October 22 or 29. I have another song that will feature in episode 10. I call music my unrequited career. It’s the career that got away. We just sold out a big show at the El Rey in Los Angeles. It’s been very self-fulfilling. As long as a few people buy the album.

Q: What are your feelings on Kurt’s remarks about the Emmys?

KS: Underneath it all, he’d love to be nominated. Sometimes, he just has a bad day. He’d like to be recognized. I really don’t understand the whole award process.

Q: How much creative involvement did you have in Peg Bundy and Gemma?

KS: There’s the thing that develops between a writer and actor over time where the writer writes to the actor’s strengths. Both are very extreme characters, coming from their looks. Costume and makeup help in creating the character. It’s part of the entire character.

Q: Did you always want to be an actor?

KS: I really wanted to be a singer/songwriter. I started writing at 14, but in my twenties found I needed something to fall back on and I was just an artsy kid. I had no other skills.

Q: It’s a testosterone fueled show, but Kurt writes women so well. How do you account for this?

KS: Kurt is very sensitive, and he loves women. There’s a deep emotional place within him. He would tell you, he has a strong feminine side.

Q: Do you think Gemma is happy to see Tara becoming more like her?

KS: Gemma set about schooling Tara consciously. Gemma has the duality of ‘I’m proud of her’ and ‘oh shit! What are you doing?’ Gemma always loves Jax but she is conflicted when it comes to Clay and Tara.

Q: What would you like to see happen with the last season?

KS: I’m sure that I will be required to go places and stretch as an actor. Every week I get challenged. I don’t have to wish for things to happen because they inevitably will.

Q: What’s your most memorable moment? On Sons, as Peg Bundy, and on Futurama?

KS: For Sons, season 2. The rape arc and holding that secret. It was a fantastic arc. For Peg Bundy, I laughed for 11 seasons. Futurama was my first voice over experience.

Q: There’s a lot of death, violence, and mayhem on the show. When an established character dies does that also affect you personally.

KS: None of it’s another day at the office. It’s never nothing. We play these emotional scenes together plus we have real relationships from working together because we spend these long hours together. But it is our job and the nature of the job that people move around, so there is a certain amount of detachment. It’s always sad when someone leaves. It doesn’t just stop with the job. In Season 7 we’ll be dropping like flies! No that isn’t a spoiler! It’s pure speculation.

Q: What can you tease about the return of Wendy? Is she up to something?

KS: She’s up to some stuff, but remember she’s clean and sober now. That’s all I can say...

Don’t forget to watch the new season Tuesdays at 10pm on FX. And keep an eye out for the full transcript which will be up shortly...

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