On the FX drama series Sons of Anarchy, actor Michael Marisi Ornstein stars as Chucky, a man who clearly knows how to make a mean bowl of chili. An associate of SAMCRO, Chucky handles basic tasks at Teller-Morrow Automotive Repair shop and helps out around the clubhouse. Throughout the seasons, he’s proven to be a good, loyal and useful friend.
During a recent interview to talk about Season 4, Michael Marisi Ornstein talked about how much he’s enjoyed shooting every single episode, what he loves about playing people who are complicated, how one episode in season one has turned into a much-loved character on the series, how fans are surprised that he actually has fingers when they meet him, the he enjoys using various mediums to communicate a story or emotion, and how he’d like to do a multi-media tour with his artwork. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
MICHAEL MARISI ORNSTEIN: Oh, man, I so love shooting this season, and I’m so loving watching this season. It is just so exciting. Every single show is so exciting, the way it’s unfolding. Shooting the chili episode was incredibly fun. I was looking at the heads and I had a hard time believing that someone actually made them. They actually looked so real that it was unbelievable. Like every episode, I just have a complete blast on the show. I just love existing in this world. I thought that particular episode was really, really deep and serious, and very funny. I thought it was really cool, and I loved it.
What can viewers expect from Chucky, in the episodes to come?
ORNSTEIN: Well, more of the same. Chucky is a guy who has found a home in this club, and he is extremely loyal. He basically makes himself completely available to whatever anyone needs, at the moment. I think he’s real attentive to what’s going on, and he knows when it’s time to either get out of the way or help out. If he can help out, he just jumps in and helps out. He’s a cool person. I really dig Chucky because of that. I love that he’s a very selfless individual.
ORNSTEIN: I love that. That was what I loved about it. I love people who are complicated, and I love playing people who are complicated. I always have. I developed the character of Louis in Angels in America, and he was a very complicated guy. I played people, like Ivan from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. I love being an actor because I love that. I love being presented a character that boggles my mind. I have to do a lot of work and explore how I can make the guy absolutely real and absolutely believable to myself. And then, I go to work on doing that for other people.
When I learned about Chucky and the compulsive masturbation, it wasn’t very difficult for me to believe that that could be true. No matter what you think up, it has already happened somewhere in the world. There are so many people that exist, and I felt like it was just a tick that I really loved. What was cool about it was that I was able to separate the tick from the guy, so that he could be sitting next to Clay and Jax in the van, just have a conversation, and be wickedly masturbating while he’s talking, and not even be aware of it. That’s really a challenge. It ended up being really funny, and I’m very happy about it. I really dig Chucky, and I really dig that whatever is thrown at him. He just survives. His fingers get chopped off, and he survives. He figures it out. He gets shot, and he figures it out. I just love that about the character.
At what point did you actually find out what he would be like? Was it during an audition?
ORNSTEIN: I read the script and I just was able to see the whole journey that he makes, during that first episode in Season 1. It starts out with Otto up at Stockton, and the first thing that I thought of was, “I bet that Otto is the first friend that Chucky ever had, in his whole life. I bet that he was the first person Chucky ever connected to.” That, right there, is the key to Chucky. He has such a loyalty to Otto and to this club, and I think it’s because of that. Otto is probably the first person who ever really talked to him and connected to him, and I find that to be really beautiful.
What has the progression and evolution of Chucky been, on the show? Were you originally only signed for a certain amount of episodes, or did you know that you’d be on for this long?
ORNSTEIN: I was just hired to do that one show in Season 1, and that was it. Then, he got thrown back in the Chinese club and that was it. What I did on the last shot, when they threw me in the car, was that I said to myself, “Well, this is not a guy who would just sit in the car and let them take him away.” So, when they threw me in the car, I just opened the other door and took off out of the car, and they chased me. I thought that was what this guy would do. He’s a survivor. I did that one show in the first season, and then they brought me back in the second season. Since then, Chucky and me have been trying to figure out what’s going on. Chucky seems to have found a real home there, and he’s useful.
Chucky is often used as the comedic source on the show. Do you have more room to improvise then the other actors do?
ORNSTEIN: No, I never improvise. There is no improvisation, at all. Everything is completely scripted. Basically, I get the script and I figure out what’s going on, and it’s inherently funny. He is inherently funny. I don’t even really think about the comic aspects of it. I just let that be what it is. I go in and play the truth of it, as the character. I’ve been playing the guy for awhile, so I really know who he is, and I know his relationships with everyone in the club and the town. It ends up being funny because it’s inherently funny.
What kind of reactions do you get from fans of the show, when you meet them?
ORNSTEIN: They say, “Wow, you have fingers!” I’ve met so many different people who love the show, and I’m always interested in that. I just talked to an 80-year-old woman who is a diehard fan of Sons of Anarchy. There are so many different people. That’s my favorite part. It’s like, “Wow, you too? You watch Sons of Anarchy?” I’m just amazed at the large span of our audience. I love it and I think it just reflects the basic honesty that everyone relates to, which is a real credit to (show creator) Kurt [Sutter], and everyone who is working on the show.
In filming this show, what have you learned about the motorcycle club culture that surprised you?
ORNSTEIN: What I’ve learned about it is that it is an incredibly American culture that goes back to the Wild West and it’s still in existence. It’s a really cool American fact that this part of American culture has survived through time. It’s about loyalty, it’s about family, it’s about friendship, and it’s about being involved in something that’s larger than you. If you take a look at all the charity stuff that clubs deal with, and if you take a look at how they add to a community, and if you take a look at American history, it is just a really interesting part of our culture that I actually love.
ORNSTEIN: Yes, and they really love it. We honor and respect the reality of the world, and they really enjoy the show because we respect the reality of the world so much. That’s real important.
You paint as a creative outlet. What do you think Chucky’s creative outlet would be?
ORNSTEIN: I think Chucky’s creative outlet is probably management of whatever is in front of him, at the moment. He probably lays out a lot of tasks for himself, at all times. I think he wakes up in the morning, gets dressed, and goes to work on whatever he can find to go to work on.
How do you channel your artistic skills into your acting and your painting?
ORNSTEIN: Well, I feel it’s all coming from the same exact place. When I get a script and do my work, and then show up on set and work, it’s the same zone that I’m in when I’m in front of a canvas, or when I’m writing a story about one of my paintings, or when I’m playing music. Whatever I’m doing at any given time, it’s the same exact zone. I’m a creative person and I use painting, acting, writing, writing songs, or whatever, as tools to just get a point across, in order to communicate a story or an emotion.
If I’m feeling something, I know if it’s a song, or if it’s a little story that I’m going to write, or if it’s a painting or play. I might sit down and write a play. I have done that. I used to write and perform a lot of my own material, with my friends. I made a film, at one point, about something I was going through. I didn’t want to make a film. I didn’t say, “Hey, I want to make a film now.” I was just going through something and I said, “Wow, man, this is a film.”
So, I got together with my friends and shot a feature-length film on a budget of like $500. I used digital video, and it was actually the first film ever to be shot on digital video, in the world. I did that by accident because I didn’t want to spend any time trying to raise money for the film. I started shooting on Hi-8 and just didn’t like the way it looked, so I went to be in B&H Camera in New York City and bought a digital video camera and went to work. I actually shot the film by myself, and all the actors acted as crew, and it was awesome. That could have been a play, or a painting, or a story, but it was a film, so I went and made a film. What I’m saying is that it all comes from the same exact pool of creativity.
Do you have any definitive plans yet for touring your artwork?
ORNSTEIN: I’m working on that. What I’m doing with my oil paintings is really interesting. It’s actually the first time it’s ever been done. I’m using hand-mixed oil paints and I’m linking media that I’ve created, and I’m adding music to it. It’s very much like rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve written these stories that go along with the paintings. I’ve been working this way for quite awhile now. And, I’m using QR codes, which is really cool. It’s cutting edge modern technology.
So, in the live show, I have a QR code next to the painting, and people can scan the code and get the media delivered to their phone, in a matter of just a couple of seconds. They can listen to the story of the painting, and actually hear the painting talking to them. I’m trying to tour that, and work out some kind of live performance because that’s how these stories originated. I wrote the stories and used to get together with my friends in New York and L.A., and perform these stories in little cafés and bars, or wherever we could find a space. It was a whole lot of fun. I think that’s what the tour would be. It would be the exhibition, and then some element of a live show. I was even thinking about going to London with it.