Having seen the first two episodes of the new season of Sons of Anarchy, I can say that I will never look at actor Harold Perrineau the same again. As ex-drug lord gone legit businessman Damon Pope, his restrained performance is equal parts menacing and chilling, and gives every indication that he will be one of the most terrifying antagonists SAMCRO has ever seen. The show stars Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff, Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst, Theo Rossi and Dayton Callie, among others.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, to promote Season 5 of the hit FX drama series, Harold Perrineau (Lost, Oz) talked about how he came to be playing this brutal new role, how he was able to understand who Damon Pope is, that the tight-knit cast has been very welcoming, how it takes a little bit of time to shake such an intense character when they’re done shooting, and who he’d love to see Damon Pope have a confrontation with. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: What were you told about the role of Damon Pope, when it first came to you? Had you watched the show and did you have an idea of how brutal it might be?
HAROLD PERRINEAU: You know what? I had watched the show a couple of times and one of the reasons I didn’t keep watching it was because I saw a scene where someone got stabbed in the kitchen after a fight. I thought, “Yeah, that’s enough. I got it.” In my whole career, I’ve seen it all the time. So, I was like, “Cool, I understand,” I didn’t really feel like having that kind of stuff in my head. And then, this year, I was in India and one of the things that was on a lot was Sons of Anarchy. I started watching it again ‘cause that was what was on in India, so I caught up with it. And then, when I got back, I heard that there was this role. (Show creator) Kurt Sutter and I had had a brief conversation last year about me maybe being on the show, so I was like, “I hear there’s something coming up, and I would love to do it,” but he had someone else in mind. And then, he talked to me again and said, “Come do the show. I’d love you to do the show. But, there are going to be some brutal things, so get ready for it.” I said, “Yeah, don’t worry, Kurt. I’ve been around a lot of brutal things. I’m good.” Then, I read the first script and I was like, “Come on, man!” Right away, I was a little taken aback.
Kurt Sutter has talked about casting you in this role is great because it’s unexpected. Was that part of the appeal of the role for you?
PERRINEAU: Exactly! People have seen me a lot, over the years, and some of this stuff you won’t expect. I didn’t expect it because of the writing. So yeah, I thought it would be really interesting to take on, to see if I could get people’s opinions to change. I love to be an actor. If I get you believing in Damon Pope, then I’ve done my job.
This cast is so tight that it must be a little bit intimidating to come in as the new guy. What was it like to join this show?
PERRINEAU: They were really welcoming. They’re all really, really nice. Everybody was like, “Hey, man! Welcome to our family!” But, it was all with a bit of separation since I can’t be too close to anybody because my character is really angry. We’re actors, but you don’t want all of that nice stuff to overflow, and then you don’t believe that they’re actually adversaries. So, while it’s really nice that they’ve been really engaging, I’ve also kept a little bit of a distance ‘cause I get to like people really quickly and you can see it in my face, so I try to stay away.
Was there one specific thing that really helped you to understand who Damon Pope is and how you wanted to approach playing him?
PERRINEAU: There was, yes. It was about understanding what can of pain I would be in, if someone killed my daughter. I had the same sort of issues on Lost because I had a child that went missing. It came from a place of understanding what I would do or how I would feel, and then I added on also having the power to do what he can do and thought about how far I would go. It became pretty easy, after that.
Is it more difficult to figure out a character when he’s somebody who gets other people to do his dirty work for him?
PERRINEAU: No, it’s not. You just have to figure out his motivations, and I think he’s really motivated. I’ve played a bunch of grieving fathers, so he’s motivated. It’s pretty easy to figure out why he makes the moves that he makes. That’s the key.
At least when we first meet him, Damon Pope doesn’t show much of his emotion. Will viewers start to see his emotions, as the season progresses, or will he stay very hardened?
PERRINEAU: He’s a very smart guy. He’s really calculating. Emotions are going to be hard for him to express because being emotional is not how he got where he is. If he does show emotions, you know it’s going to be really deep.
Because of how intense this role is, is this the kind of character that’s hard to leave on the set, when you’re done shooting for the day?
PERRINEAU: A little bit, yeah. Whenever I’m going or coming, my wife always looks at me and is like, “You’re working, right?,” and I’ll go, “Yeah,” and she’s like, “Okay, I’ll excuse the way you just talked to me.” I’m really short and abrupt when I’m playing him. Damon Pope’s mind is working really fast, all the time and in a lot of different directions. Whenever I’m about to go into it, a couple of days before and until a few hours later, it just lingers. I’m trying to train myself so that, if anything happens on set and we’re improvising or talking, I can stay in that mode and answer as him, not as me. So, it takes a little bit of time to enter into it and a little bit of time to pull out, but not too much.
Do you need to get to know a character pretty well, before you can improvise as him, or does that come pretty easily for you?
PERRINEAU: I need to get to know him. At first, I didn’t know him. Kurt and I talked about not really knowing much about him. He’s got all the characters of the show to figure out. I’ve only been thinking about this character for these few months, but he’s been thinking about it for awhile. We both recognize that, as the character starts off, he’ll be a little two-dimensional until we get more time with him. I needed to find a little bit more about him, so I just did a bunch of work before coming in. I talked to Kurt about a couple ideas, just trying to fill it out. And as it’s gone on a little bit, you start to understand a little bit more about him and he becomes more three-dimensional. So, I really do have to understand the character to go from there.
Do you think Damon Pope is a man who likes what he does, or do you think it’s just come out of the situation he’s been in with what he’s made for himself?
PERRINEAU: I think it comes out of what he’s made for himself. He’s decided to make certain choices, and not all of his choices are good, but they are for the betterment of not only himself but what he considers his family, and taking into consideration the world that he lives in. He really has a lot of legit businesses, and we talk a lot about that. Those legit business are really community oriented. In many African American communities, to have another prominent African American man drilling hope into those communities is really powerful. But, how he gets there is the funny little clip. We have those same things that parallel to our country, so it makes sense when our president decides to go to war, and make that regrettable call to send young men and women off to die for the betterment of the country. For some leaders in certain areas, and Damon Pope in particular, there are choices that you have to make, in order to be an effective leader. So, they are the circumstances that he’s found himself in and that he’s created as well, but it’s just part of business.
How difficult was it to play out that scene in the first episode back, when Damon Pope retaliates against Tig (Kim Coates), who’s the one responsible for his daughter’s death?
PERRINEAU: We played with a lot of different things in that scene. We played with just pure anger. We played with regret, which I think is the right way. It’s a regrettable, though necessary circumstance that we find ourselves in. We played with sorrow. We played with all those things. That night, we went through a bunch of different things, so it was a really long night. I remember driving home from that night, and I almost pulled over. When you have emotional days, you’re more wiped out than if you ran a marathon, though running a marathon is pretty hard. But, I remember being really wiped out. It was so early in the process, and we were just playing with all this stuff. What do you do, when somebody hurts, maims or kills your family member? What does anybody do? That’s really interesting. People are like, “Oh, you’re going to be a bad guy on the show,” but I’m like, “They’re all bad guys!” They’re a motorcycle gang. They hurt people and sell drugs, but you love them. That’s the really interesting thing about this show and its followers and being part of it, and Kurt keeps asking those questions. For me, that’s what makes it a lot of fun. We’ll see where it goes.
Is there anyone on the show that you haven’t gotten to work with yet, that you would love to have a confrontation with?
PERRINEAU: I would love to have a confrontation with Ron Perlman. He’s just somebody who I’ve been watching his whole career, and because he’s such a big guy and I’m not. That would be really interesting to see. You’d just see the will of two really bull-headed men, and that kind of conflict is always interesting, when men get to that place where they’re defending their territory and their families.
Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesday nights on FX.