Actress Maggie Siff has been making a name for herself with memorable roles in film, television and theater. She had a series regular role on the first season of Mad Men, had recurring roles on Nip/Tuck and Life on Mars, did guest roles on Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order, and appeared in the feature films Push, Funny People and Leaves of Grass.
Now, she can be seen on the popular FX drama Sons of Anarchy as Dr. Tara Knowles, high school sweetheart of Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), who left Charming to get more out of life, but returned, still in love with Jax and now more entrenched than ever in his world. During this exclusive interview with Collider, Maggie Siff talked about the journey that her character has been on since Season 1, how the events of the finale will affect things this season and getting to work with Stephen King, who guest stars in an upcoming episode. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Maggie: The whole season is really the aftermath of Jax’s baby being kidnapped. Things become very, very strained in the Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and Tara relationship. The relationship has been a source of inspiration for her being there in the first place, and yet the decision to stay now has deeper roots. Her commitment to being in the world is a lot stronger, but the baby is gone and there’s estrangement between Tara and Jax, so it’s a pretty tumultuous season. There’s a lot going on that I can’t talk about, but I would say everything gets thrown into question. She spends much of the season just going through that. As a character, she’s a little less controlled than she used to be. Things are a little bit more volatile, inside of her as well as in the world around her.
Now that she has a little bit more of a connection to the club than just Jax, will some of them take issue with their estrangement?
Maggie: Yeah. It’s been fun. There’s a transition that’s happened over the three years where slowly she’s become part of the family, and that is something different than just being connected to one of the members romantically. It’s different. She begins to have relationships with more of them. Even when there’s estrangement between Tara and Jax, there’s still a sense that she’s part of the world. There are relationships other than his. Obviously, the relationship with Gemma (Katey Sagal) continues to be strong. In some ways, I feel like Tara is in a relationship with Jax and Tara is in a relationship with Gemma. They’re like two wings of the same bird, but they feel almost equally significant, in certain respects.
Will Gemma absence provide a bit of a strain as well?
Maggie: Yeah. Tara ends up staying with her later on, but Gemma’s initial absence is a pretty jarring and upsetting for Tara because she’s become a source of grounding.
Tara also seems to get the strength to tell Jax that she’s not going to accept him telling her to go. Does she continue to show that strength throughout the season?
Maggie: I think so, yeah. What I’ve been playing with, and what Kurt’s been writing, is that she has a lot more conviction and certainty about her place in the world there. Her reactions to things are more visceral and immediate. There’s an emotional intensity to the character that had a control around it for the first two seasons, but that’s also fear-based. In this season, there’s a little bit less control over these knee-jerk reactions that she’s having to things. That’s strong, but it’s also more like these people who don’t censor what they say or check their violent impulses. In a way, she’s letting herself revert to something she’s probably been before, in her past, and that more resembles the world around her.
How did you see Tara in Season 1 when you first started playing her, as compared to how you see her now?
Maggie: I’ve always admired her, as a person. I like the character and I liked her from the start. I never saw her as timid. I saw her as someone who made brave choices to leave the world that she knew and get a serious education and become a doctor. She doesn’t have family. Everything she’s done, she’s really done on her own, even coming back to Charming. I guess I’ve always been attracted to characters who are incredibly strong, intelligent and self-motivated, but who have a real soft center. Most of her life has been dictated by other needs and other desires, and I feel like she continues to be her own, strong person. I’ve always thought of her as being incredibly self-guiding.
Are there qualities in her that you most enjoy playing?
Maggie: I like the way she goes between really thinking about things. I’ve really enjoyed this season. There have been a number of moments where she has to think really fast and make really quick decisions, and I enjoy playing her intelligence ‘cause she’s really smart. When push comes to shove, she knows how to make a lot of decisions in a very short amount of time. I enjoy that about her, and I enjoy exploring that more.
Have there been things that have been challenging, as far as being able to identify with Tara?
Maggie: The thing that was most challenging was the world, but it wasn’t wrong for the character. I remember our first read-through, walking into the room and looking at all the people in the cast, and being like, “What am I doing here?” I really felt alien, as Maggie, to the world that we were about to create and was really wondering how we were going to make a character that was going to be right for me in the world. The thing that I had to draw out of her to really sell that was the more visceral, violent aspect of her, and that has been the most challenging, to make it feel really authentic. When the show is working at its best, it can be a meditation on anger and violence. It’s like, “Who are these people that feel like they can just do that?” But, it does live within all of us. We don’t let it go unchecked, but the more you watch it, the more you begin to see that. You can almost get behind it because you can see why someone would have the impulse to do that. That’s why I think Gemma is such a great character. She is just totally uncensored. There is something really safe about her, and totally terrifying.
How has it been to work with Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal?
Maggie: I love working with both of them, and I have since the beginning. I feel like my friendship with Katey has just evolved, but our connection has remained essentially the same. We identify with each other. There’s something about the way that we are that is just really in sync. It’s so easy. With her, the challenge has much more often been how to be antagonistic with each other, or how to play it cool when what we feel is so warm. She’s such a loving, maternal person, and I’m silly and not nearly as cagey. Sometimes I feel like our first couple of takes are a little bit too warm and soft, and then we find our way. With Charlie, I just really love him as a person. As actors, we often have an experience that’s just grown as the seasons have gone on. We’ll work on a scene, and then stop and talk about what’s really going on, and burrow in deeper. We’re good collaborators, in terms of cracking scenes open. It’s really nice to work with someone like that.
Working with such well written material, do you still like to give input into where your character is going, or do you prefer to just go with what’s in the script because so much of it is already so vivid on the page?
Maggie: Sometimes I’ll read a scene and I won’t understand it, or sometimes we’ll go in and start shooting and I’ll be like, “This line doesn’t make sense to me,” and I’ll have a conversation with Kurt or one of the writers on set. We’ll adjust things as we go along, but not a lot. Kurt is a really careful writer and he doesn’t like to change what he’s written a whole lot, and I have a lot of faith in him as a writer, so that, even if I don’t always see it, I’ll be able to find my way there. At the same time, we meet each other half way sometimes. One of the tricky things about being in Season 3 is that we sometimes feel like we know the characters better than anyone, including Kurt. So, you do have those moments where you’re like, “Really? You’re going to make me say that? You’re going to make me do that?” You start to have a lot more of an opinion about it.
Is this show as emotionally exhausting to make as it is to sometimes watch?
Maggie: Yeah, but it’s fun. As an actor, you begin to enjoy things like that. It’s cathartic. It’s enjoyable to do it.
How has it been to work with some of the great guest stars you’ve had this season?
Maggie: I got to work with Stephen King, which was really fun. I also got to work with Hal Holbrook a little bit, which was lovely. I didn’t have that much to do with Hal, but I got to talk to him a lot and he was just a really beautiful presence on our set. We were all really happy to have him there.
What was it like to act with Stephen King?
Maggie: It was great. He was awesome. He had the best attitude. He’s a huge fan of the show, so he was like, “I can’t believe I’m hanging out with Gemma and Tara!” And, we were like, “We can’t believe we’re hanging out with Stephen King, what are you talking about?” He played a really funny, creepy guy, and he just did it so well. I feel like, of anybody, who would understand the sensibility of our world.
What do you think it is that’s made the show so appealing to such a wide audience?
Maggie: I think Kurt is just a great storyteller and people want to hear a good story, at the end of the day. Even when the story gets outlandish, over-the-top or even a little stylized, especially in terms of some of the violence, the fabric of the relationships feels really authentic and the family feels really authentic. I think that hooks people in. If Kurt were a musician, he would be a real master at making a great pop song with the right power chords. He just knows how to strike emotional places that make you feel good to watch it. It’s not sentimental, but it’s rich and satisfying. His storytelling capacity just fills endless, so every episode is packed with new twists and new characters. His mind is really rich.
How did you originally get involved with this show? Was there something that specifically appealed to you?
Maggie: I just loved the script, and I auditioned for it like everybody else. When I read the script, I didn’t know anything about bikers and I didn’t know if the world was authentic or not, but I loved Kurt’s writing. It really came off the page and was very dramatic. The characters really jumped off the page, and I’d never read or seen anything like it. I was really excited about it, when I first read it. The character, especially in that first season, was just carrying a big secret around and I was really compelled by that.
What was it like to go from a show like Mad Men to Sons of Anarchy? Was that a strange transition, since they’re so different?
Maggie: Yeah, it was a very strange transition. I’d also really never done television until I did Mad Men, so the whole shift was different for me. I really only did theater up until then, and I lived in New York, so it was a huge transition to doing Mad Men. I really loved working on that show and had tremendous admiration for it, but stylistically, these two worlds couldn’t be more different. That was actually another reason why I was interested in the show. In terms of thinking about my own career, I got to go from one thing to something else that was completely different.
Is there anything you’d like to see Tara get to do or go through before the series is done?
Maggie: I don’t know if there’s anything specific. I just want to see her go stronger and stronger. That’s my desire for her. I just don’t really know what shape that will take yet.
SONS OF ANARCHY returns for Season 3 on FX on September 7th