At the end of my “Sons of Anarchy” set visit, I was surprised to find myself alone. The other journalists had gone home or to other engagements, but since my schedule was surprisingly free, I said I’d hang around for a few more minutes. Less than five minutes later, I was presented with the opportunity to conduct exclusive interviews with Katey Sagal (Gemma) and Maggie Siff (Tara), and naturally I immediately accepted. Sagal is, of course, the brilliant actor of “Married With Children”, “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter”, and “Futurama” fame. Maggie Siff, in addition to her major role in “Sons of Anarchy”, also currently appears in the immensely popular AMC show “Mad Men”, so it was a real treat to be able to sit down with the two and talk about the show. We talked about shaping their character’s personal motivations in the new season, the inherent misogyny of biker gangs and how it’s been overcome, and how the characters they play on “Sons of Anarchy” are different than anything they’ve ever done before. Check out the entire interview after the jump.
Obviously, Gemma is a very strong matriarch, and she’s also got a pretty strong political gender of her own beyond that. How do we see that come into play in the new season of “Sons of Anarchy”?
Katey Sagal: I think in the new season, you see a sort of upheaval of the previous season, and everyone is starting to change their basic nature out of situation, or in my case, yeah, it’s all situation. You’ll still see the kind of loyalty she always has, but she keeps certain things to herself.
I’m really interested to see how the relationship between Gemma and Tara will play out over the season, because I know it’s always been kind of combatative.
Katey Sagal: I’ll answer that first. I know from Gemma’s perspective, it’s always better to keep someone close, and join them rather than lose them. And I think it became pretty apparent by the last episode, when Tara kisses Jax at the funeral, that she’s going to stick around. So for Gemma, in order to keep Jax close to her, it’s best to embrace her rather than to alienate her and alienate her son, and of course there’s able, and who better to take care of him, her grandson. I think her motivation is always sort of self-serving, but I think at the same time Tara becomes an ally for Gemma, and I think that they grow pretty close out of circumstance.
Maggie Siff: Yeah, I mean I think Kurt did a smart thing in that he created a way for them to have a kind of connection that isn’t purely political, and cuts through to something personal, and allows them to connect in a way that’s very personal, in a way that they might not have otherwise.
Katey Sagal: Tara gets in deeper than she planned to, because it’s an interesting group of people, and they all sort of do things that they might normally do, and in Tara’s situation she’s jumping into things she might not except for the love she has for him, for Jax. And the love she shows for me, which kind of takes me by surprise.
Maggie Siff: There family, and as much as Tara has tried to get away from them, at the end of the day this is the only family she’s ever had, and this is a kind of return to all she’s ever known.
I noticed that in the first season you didn’t really see what’s happening with Jax and SAMCRO and how it affects your work life as a doctor. Is that going to be something we see developed in the second season, where your work life is brought into conflict with the Club?
Maggie Siff:Yeah, I would say the lines start getting crossed, and blurred, and a little fucked up – I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that –
You’re allowed to say that.
Maggie Siff: (laughs) Yeah, I think her involvement with the Club is such that it would be naïve of her to think that she can avoid conflict. It’s a small town, there’s a lot of violence, so SAMCRO finds its way into the hospital a lot, and she makes a lot of decisions in a way that the impulse decisions strike the same kind of loyalty chords that Gemma strikes.
As far as Gemma is concerned, you can see that she’s kind of torn between her loyalty to her son and grandson, and her loyalty to Clay and the Club, but you can tell that when all is said and done, she’s going to come down on the side of the Club, because really that’s the family that she’s trying to hold together and the family that is trying to keep Charming safe. With the conflict between Jax and Clay, who are slowly starting to polarize, how is that going to change Gemma’s relationship with both men, and how does Abel (her newborn grandson) complicate that relationship?
Katey Sagal: Wow, I think you just leapt out of Season 2 and jumped into another season. I think ultimately Gemma would like the Club to stay intact and Jax to stay in the club. I think that’s her goal in this season. As far as choosing or picking, we haven’t really walked down that path yet, and I don’t know if we will. I mean that remains to be seen.
I was referring to a moment early in the first season when you told Clay he needed to “nail Jax down” and “keep him close” so that there wouldn’t be that kind of polarization.
Katey Sagal: I think she still believes that, but I think there are things that are kind of beyond her control and what’s happened to Gemma in her personal drama has been kind of all encompassing, so she’s aware of the rift that’s happening between Clay and Jax, but she’s also distracted by her own issues.
A big question that I’d like to ask, Maggie, is that in the middle of Season 1 your character was an accessory to murder, I guess you’d say, and it hasn’t come up again since it happened. There’s a mention of him disappearing, but then you don’t hear anything more about it. Is that going to be a plot that’s resurrected, and when?
Maggie Siff: It’s a dangling sword that’s sort of hanging over the show and doesn’t really resurrect itself this season, but the shadow is definitely there. I have no idea how Kurt plans to resurrect it, but I would bet that he does. I mean, it’s out there, so I’m sure he’s biding his time.
Katey Sagal: I mean, I’m sure it colors Tara’s journey.
Maggie Siff: Definitely, I mean it’s present in the psyche of Tara and Jax and what’s between them. The Club is very good at keeping secrets. The ATF agent, Stahl, is very much a part of our lives, still, so she keeps the threat very close.
Before the season started, the other cast members said they sat down with Kurt Sutter and talked about their characters and where they’d like them to go during Season 2. Obviously, I think it would be a little different for you (note: Katey Sagal is married to show creator Kurt Sutter), but did either of have the same kind of sit down?
Katey Sagal: Haha, I definitely didn’t have one of those. He basically told me where he thought it was going.
Maggie Siff: Yeah, I think he kind of told me too.
Katey Sagal: Maybe he did that for the guys, but not for us.
Maggie Siff: I think some of them gave him input or feedback and stuff.
Ryan Hurst said he went in with a stack of notes and got about 99% of them approved.
Katey Sagal: That sounds about right. I have felt since the beginning, and I know he’s my husband and all, but I think he’s pretty brilliant about knowing where the show is going, and he told me what was going to be happening to my character and I was on board. I don’t think I was asked if that would be ok.
Maggie Siff: He kind of told me about the long term arc progression for the character, and Kurt is someone who I think has big events in his head that shape the story, and the big event that happens in episode one kind of shapes the season, and us being allied around it is pretty crucial for our story.
Katey, I think most people are used to seeing you in comedies, and seeing you as a very light-hearted person, and this is a very dark, brooding role for you. How do you feel about playing someone like this? I would think it would be fun.
Katey Sagal: Oh, it’s really fun. I wanted to do something different than what I was more well known for doing. That’s the mixed blessing of being on a successful show for so long, it’s not always the opportunity they think about for you first. It’s interesting because in my real life, I guess I’m sort of light-hearted, but I really don’t think I am at all, so I think I’m more on the dark and brooding side, so it’s been fun to play a character who really goes to the edge with things. It’s great to be mean, it is, it’s fun. She doesn’t think it’s mean, but it’s fun, yeah.
How do you like working on the show, Maggie? How is this different than other roles you’ve played?
Maggie Siff: The world of it is really different. When Kurt cast me for the show, he told me “You’re really going to have to work on the part of you that’s sort of calm from this world”, because I’m used to playing characters with a more refined sensibility, a different class, maybe. So, I think that’s what makes the character interesting, because she went away, and really educated herself, and spent time in this completely different world, and she’s come back to this very small place, the place that she escaped from. So that’s what’s interesting about the character, she’s from the world, but she’s different from the world, and that struggle is constantly playing itself out, and I don’t really get to do that a lot.
It seems as though in the biker culture there is an inherent sexism and misogyny that you can see, but at the same time, the strongest female characters find a way to be strong, powerful, and influential in a world that is seen as a good old boys world. Is that something you’ve felt is a part of the culture as well, or was that invented for the show?
Katey Sagal: I think some of that is creative license. I mean, in the research I did about the world, you can’t really find much about the women, because it is a very misogynistic world, but just like in any group, you’d think that there would be some sort of hierarchy that forms between the women that have been around for a long time. I haven’t met Gemma. I’ve met a lot of women from this world, but I didn’t meet one like her, so I don’t know if there was intent to make her like this, but I think it’s the whole kind of Hamlet thing, and I think there was room for a Gertrude.
“Sons of Anarchy” really shows a complication of the idea of police corruption. It really shows why Chief Unser has made the “deal with the devil” that he’s made and Hale starts to see that more towards the end of Season 1, and I can kind of get the sense that Gemma will end up being a strong bridge between Unser and the Sons of Anarchy that will help keep some sort of complimentary relationship between the Club and the Sherriff’s Department. Is that something we can look forward to seeing?
Katey Sagal: I think that’s sort of Unser’s choice, I mean the back story and the history is that Unser grew up in this town, and knows Gemma from way back when, and I think Unser is probably Clay’s peer, so I think that kind of has gone on for a long time, and I don’t think Gemma’s forcing him to be the conduit, but I think it’s Unser’s choice to try to keep Charming charming. They all sort of just turn the other cheek. I think this season is going to be a lot different than people expect, and you’ll really just have to see how it plays out.