The hit FX drama Sons of Anarchy is back for Season 4, with the boys of SAMCRO fresh out of jail after a 14-month stint and arriving back in Charming, California to find that their town not only has new, no-nonsense law enforcement, but a mayor who is determined to change things. While the club is faced with a decision that could challenge everything they’ve always stood for, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is forced to start thinking about what’s best for his family.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Kim Coates (“Tig”), Ryan Hurst (“Opie”) and Theo Rossi (“Juice”), who also play three of the most intriguing club members, talked about what it’s been like to collaborate on the development of their roles for four seasons now, how the strength of the acting makes the viewers want to know absolutely everything about the characters, what makes bikers so attractive and interesting to people, how they’ve loved taking the journey that show creator Kurt Sutter and the writing staff has led them on, and how the crew dedicates everything to helping make the show the #1-rated series in FX history. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
THEO ROSSI: It’s crazy. The way the show goes is that you learn a little more about each character, with every single episode and definitely every season. I felt like, right away, we learned so much about Tig (Kim Coates) and Opie (Ryan Hurst) and who they were. They got really defined. You learn a little about different guys, here and there. With Juice, I always felt like you learned a little about him, and then a little more about him, but this year, since there’s such a huge focus on the town and the guys and the club and the internal relationships with everybody, you’re going to get a ton about everybody, really fast.
KIM COATES: In the first season, around Episode 6 or 7, Ryan [Hurst] said to me, “[Kurt] Sutter has found Tig’s voice,” and I never forgot that. I’ve never done this before. I’d never done a regular role on a television series before. I’d done arcs, but not this. I really, truly did not know what to expect. So, when Ryan said that to me, I got what he meant. Kurt was really finding Tig’s voice in that first season, near the end. I think that must be a big challenge for a showrunner to find the voice for the 11 brilliant actors that we have on this show – and that’s just the regulars, let alone the guest stars and whatnot – without knowing us as actors, and then getting to know us a little bit. We’re really good actors. These guys are great actors. We want more. We want to be involved, all the time, and sometimes that’s tough. But, I think the trust level has to be there. In the end, this will someday come to an end with the story that Kurt ultimately wanted to tell.
ROSSI: Do you not count the telenovela that you played a bullfighter on, for three years?
ROSSI: Never? You don’t bring that up?
RYAN HURST: The part that I’m impressed by is, whether it’s completely intentional or not, introducing an element or character, or the shade of a particular character, and then leaving it for a long time. I remember, in the second season, Opie and Tig are talking and we first mention Tig’s daughters. Right after that, with the next episode, I was like, “When is that going to come back into play?,” and Kurt was like, “I don’t know. Not yet.” And then, one of them shows up this season. To be able to throw it out there and have people just know that that’s out there, and then bring it in when it’s least expected, is really interesting. To be able to balance that with all the complex narrative that goes on, with fighting Mexicans and Russians, and plant the seeds for developing the more interesting parts of each of our characters is really fun to watch.
The acting on Sons of Anarchy is so strong that it makes viewers want to know more about all the characters, no mater how small the role.
ROSSI: At the end of the day, for me, I’m such a huge fan of the show and the reason I’m a huge fan of the show is ‘cause I’m a huge fan of the cast, before they ever got on this show. The second every single person was cast and I would hear another name, I didn’t have to look up who they were. I knew exactly who every one of them was and I knew every one of their roles, and I loved every performance they had ever given. And then, watching them develop, seeing their different things every episode, and reading stuff with them and then seeing it on set, it’s brilliant. For me, being a younger guy watching this, I love it. It’s an honor. That’s why I’m a huge fan of going to work. I love watching these guys work. I love watching their choices. I love seeing what they do. So, on top of the writing and the amazing stories that are given to us, it’s about watching these people perform every week. That’s what everybody comes back for. A guy might have three lines in an episode, but they identify with him so much. That’s for any character on the show. We have little characters that have popped up, like Tom Arnold, that people know about. Kim and I did a bike show in Baltimore, and there were 45,000 people there. We were doing a giveaway and I asked a trivia question. I said, “Okay, whoever can answer this question will get this signed DVD,” to however many people were there. I said, “Who knows the name of Tig’s two daughters?,” and before I even finished the question, they were like, “Dawn and Fawn!” I was like, “I just learned that.” So, they really do know everything. You never meet somebody ever who says, “Yeah, I watched one or two episodes and I didn’t really like it.” They’re like, “I’ve seen every single episode. I know everything about the show. I’m obsessed with it!”
COATES: I went to this charity bike show recently, and some of us have new tats. I have a new tattoo, and it means something to me, and Kurt and I really discussed it a lot. And, there was a girl – actually there were three of them – who came up and said, “Is it a girl? What’s the gun mean?” How do they know this stuff? I haven’t talked about it with anybody.
ROSSI: Which tattoo were they talking about? The one that says, “Three and a half inches,” or the other one?
COATES: The other one. But anyway, with the internet and people talking, they hear one little thing and it’s viral, it’s everywhere.
ROSSI: Everybody is so passionate about the show, and that’s what you love about it. That’s why you want to be on a show like this, before you ever want to be on some type of procedural or something where you’re morphing from an alien to a motorcycle into a truck.
COATES: Ryan [Hurst] is also a director, and an amazing one. He did two of the appisodes. This show is so cinematic. I can’t take it. The music, the montages, the babies – it’s real. It’s not pretty. It’s just real filmmaking, and I love that about this show. You cannot deny the power of something so different, like bikers, in a world like Charming, with a Hamlet metaphor. There’s nothing like it.
ROSSI: What we try to capture with the show and with Charming is these guys protecting and making the residents feel protected. With any organized crime, from back in the day, originating with the Black Hand in Italian neighborhoods to different types of clubs and organizations, most of the neighborhoods, in certain ghettos and places, feel more protected when the gang is there than they do from the police or whatever. That’s where these guys live, so that’s where they protect. I think that’s what the appeal is. Hopefully, we portray that the right way.
HURST: Bikers, in general, have just been so attractive to people. Photographers would follow them because there’s this weird warrior gravitas that comes with it. The bikes are loud, they have tattoos, they have artwork that they all wear on their jackets. It’s a very all-inclusive, sensory experience, just to be around a regular biker. They just exude something, and hopefully the show captures that in a cinematic way, with music and everything.
From where you guys started on this show and the journey that your characters have taken, could you ever have foreseen the paths that they have taken and the response that you’ve gotten?
COATES: A reviewer in New York came up to me and said, “We hate to love Tig, and we love to hate him.” I think that pretty much says it all. I love playing this guy, and I love playing him with this cast. I want to know more about him. I’m still finding stuff out. I didn’t know that the whole Missy thing was a dog. In television – and Sutter does this so brilliantly – you get some gems to think about during the year, but not the whole thing. I would have perhaps played something a little different, had I known it was a dog and not a girlfriend or a sister. But, that’s just the way it goes, in television that is so well written. We just don’t know where this is going, really, so we’re just along for the ride and doing the best we can with what we get given.
ROSSI: For me, just in the first part of this new season, it’s sensory overload of what I’m learning about the character. What Kurt’s brilliance is for me, in this character, is that he writes stuff and I read stuff, and I almost feel like there’s some kind of secret camera on my life. He pulls out stuff where I’m like, “Wait a second, I haven’t thought about that in 13 years.” But, because he does know these characters in and out, it’s really cool. Tig and Opie are my two favorite characters because they’re so on the opposite sides, but at the same time, they’re so similar in how they are.
COATES: We get asked, “What’s your favorite scene?,” or “What’s your favorite moment?” I don’t have a favorite because I love working with everybody. The day that Tig went up to Opie to tell him that he’d killed his wife, and he was working on that bike, I almost want to cry right now. It was one of the most powerful scenes. I really wanted him to go ahead and kill me. It was like, “Go right ahead. It wasn’t really my fault, but I did it.” To see him, over and over, and look at his face, was so difficult. As actors, we’ve gotta hear it for the first time. We rehearse it, but I don’t want to give stuff away in my emotions ‘cause I’m just rehearsing. I want to save it for that first time Tig is going to tell Opie about his wife, and he needs to hear it for the first time. To pick up on those emotions, and do it over and over like we did, it was very, very powerful.
How much will the 14 months away have changed this guys?
HURST: I don’t know because my character wasn’t in prison. Opie was one of the guys who wasn’t. But, I don’t think there’s going to be a huge amount of that because it’s not like these are white collar criminals who went to prison and now they come out having had a spiritual awakening. These are bikers who have probably done little stints of time before. In biker years, 14 months is nothing. It’s not five years or 10 years. It’s more of an approach of, “Well, what did you guys do over the summer?” “We were all in prison.” But, I think there is going to be a subtle dynamic shift for the entire club. When everybody goes away, especially with everything with Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and Clay (Ron Perlman), they start to go, “Wait, why are we doing this again?” There has to be an end result. It’s not just about a brotherhood. It’s about each of us getting our own. With this season, I think you start to see that play out. We’re just getting into that now with Episode 8. You start to see how that poisons the club from the inside.
ROSSI: Fourteen months is a long time. For my character, it this was his first long prison stretch and it’s really made him delve much deeper into the club and really get involved with these guys because it’s real now. It’s more real than it’s ever been for Juice, and his prison stretch only established that more for him.
COATES: Yeah, the dynamics of the club are just unbelievable this year. Just wait. Just watch.
ROSSI: It’s exciting.
COATES: I don’t even know how to talk about it.
HURST: You work with casts and a lot of the time you go, “Yeah, we really get along.” But, at the end of the day, with this show, I still remember showing up for when we were re-shooting the pilot and going, “What the hell’s the guy from Waterworld doing here? And Tommy [Flanagan]? And [Mark] Boone?” I signed onto this show because I got to grow a beard and ride a motorcycle. I liked the show. There was good dialogue. I knew it was going to be fun. But, when I showed up and saw those guys, I was like, “Fuck!” This is the strongest group of actors that I’ve ever worked with.
COATES: That’s so cool!
HURST: It’s still a fucking grind to make this show. We do the show in six to seven days, and we really do save each other. Each of us take turns, getting to the end of our fucking rope. You’re in the middle of the desert and you’re going into your 15th or 16th hour with five layers of leather on, and you’re sweating and you’ve had it. You turn to your cast and they go, “We’ve got it. Let’s go! It’s all right. We’ll find a way to get through it.”
ROSSI: They just say, “Dry your eyes, tiny dancer. Let’s go!”
COATES: And we do need to mention the crew, who are there all day long. They are absolutely, relentlessly brilliant. I think we’ve got a return rate of almost 95%. It’s crazy. This show means so much to them, and they were there at the beginning, and we could not do this show without the crew. They’re phenomenal.
ROSSI: And they come back because it is a very family atmosphere that was created, so they love it and they want to be around for that, and that keeps us all going.
HURST: These guys show up and bleed for this show. It’s no small task for the crew. I’ve done war movies and I know what it’s like to work long hours, but this is different. People show up and they bleed for the show because they believe in it, and they believe in each other. I find that really, really important.