The hit FX drama Sons of Anarchy has just wrapped up its fifth season with the series’ most-watched finale, ever. With loyalties in question and the fate of more than one character undetermined, it will certainly be interesting to see where the characters are headed next season.
To discuss where things were left at the end of this season and to look ahead to Season 6, show creator/executive producer/writer Kurt Sutter, who also directed the finale, did this interview about where Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is at mentally, what’s to come for Gemma (Katey Sagal), what Clay’s (Ron Perlman) role will be now, the fractures that exist in SAMCRO, the condition Otto (also played by Sutter) is now in, whether Donal Logue and Jimmy Smits will return, his plan to still end the show in seven seasons (unless he feels he can’t fully tell the story he wants to, in that time), and that he’ll return to the writers room for Season 6 in February. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: You have such a rabid fan base that goes into such deep detail on the show. How important is it for you to focus on all of the little things, when you’re creating a character and designing a scene?
KURT SUTTER: All that stuff is really important to me. In fact, I’m really tyrannical with the little details of the show, in terms of costume and set design and transpo of the bikes. I’ve done a lot of research on the subculture and I have a really pretty solid working knowledge of how these guys live. I feel, by rooting it in all of those really rich small details, what that then allows me to do is tell much bigger, epic, dramatic stories. I feel that if I can root it firmly in the reality of the subculture, with all the grittiness of it and all the fine details of it being true and accurate, it just gives me a lot more freedom to then push the boundaries on the realities of the stories and their circumstances. That’s always been very important to me, from the beginning. We’re a pretty well-oiled machine now, in how we get it all done. Just choosing the crucifix for Episode 10 was at least a dozen conversations with me looking at about 30 or 40 different crosses. All that stuff is really important.
When you have a season like this, where you have a major death early on, is it difficult to then build to a season finale that lives up to those earlier moments?
SUTTER: Yeah, it’s always a challenge doing something larger, in the beginning. I really wanted to do that with Opie (Ryan Hurst). I didn’t want to drag it out and have people not see it coming because of bad execution, but because of the natural progression of the world. I really wanted it to be shocking and come as a complete surprise, and knock the wind out of, not only the audience, but the club, as well. What I was able to do with the death of Opie was not so much worry about having the rest of the season be a let-down, but what it gave me was such a life-altering circumstance for my hero that it really allowed me to accelerate his journey. We had to force Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) hand to see what kind of leader he was going to become. The death of Opie was such an unsettling event that allowed me to accelerate the emotionality of that journey, so we could organically push Jax to the edge to see what kind of man and what kind of leader he was going to become. So, in that way, it opened up my story possibilities, rather than hinder them.
SUTTER: I can definitely tell you that Donal will be back. We’ve made a deal with Donal for a total of 10 episodes, so far. I think he was in two or three this year, so I know we definitely have him locked up for seven or eight next season, and most likely it will be more than that. What we usually do is make a minimum deal with an actor, and then, if we need them, we can do more. But yeah, I believe that character will be a big character next season, and probably the most dangerous threat that the club’s ever had, just in terms of a guy with law enforcement weight and credentials, or connections. And yet, because he’s retired, he does not have the legal handcuffs or morality hurdles that maybe some of our other law enforcement members have had. And with a guy like Donal, who’s just really fun to work with and such a great actor, we have a lot of places we can go with him. I would love to bring Jimmy Smits back. I think Jimmy adds such a gravitas to the show with his experience. I loved bringing that new culture into the show with his Latino past. Mixing that energy into our world is really fascinating for me. I love the relationship that’s going on with he and Gemma (Katey Sagal). I would love to bring Jimmy back. We left it open-ended because I wasn’t sure on his availability. I feel like there’s enough emotional weight on the table and enough relationship weight on the table for us to continue that storyline, and yet I was careful not to pin any major story arc to his character, just in case that couldn’t happen. But, I think we’re in the process right now of figuring out Jimmy’s availability, in trying to make that work.
Did you have Otto bite off his own tongue to write yourself out of the show?
SUTTER: It was my way of writing myself out of having to learn dialogue. If Otto comes back, it will just be grunts and me scribbling shit on paper.
As one of the most shocking moments from the finale, were you eager to play that scene out?
SUTTER: When I pitched that, everyone just laughed at me. And then, we got to the end and, as Donal Logue’s character says, it was my way of Otto committing. I didn’t know if we’d actually get a chance to do it. We joked about it. But then, we got to the finale and there was an opportunity for us to organically play it out. I thought, with a guy who’s as fucked up and damaged as Otto, what better way to say, “I’m not talking,” than literally removing the organ that articulates speech.
How does Otto biting his tongue off actually prevent him from testifying, when he can just write things down?
SUTTER: I think he’s such a damaged soul, psychologically and emotionally, at this point. It was really symbolic. It was him telling the club and him telling the authorities, “You’re not going to fucking get a word out of me!” It was him basically saying, “I won’t be talking,” and sending that message to the club.
In terms of Gemma, how do you find the balance between her being completely despicable while also having viewers root for her relationship with Nero (Jimmy Smits)?
SUTTER: It’s always a fine balance with any of our three major characters – Jax, Gemma and Clay (Ron Perlman). That trilogy are such strong familial characters that have won the hearts of the audience, and yet they live in this very dangerous, dark world and have to make decisions, all the time. Some of those decisions are really bad and reprehensible decisions. It’s always difficult, trying to find that balance. What I try to let be my guide is the story. I’d like to think that things happen organically and they’re never forced, one way or the other, in terms of trying to manipulate a reaction from the audience. I mean this in the most flattering way, but Gemma is just a fucking cockroach. She’s just hard to kill. She was really adrift, at the beginning of this season. She was fucked up. She hit a bottom and she crawled her way back up, making some really defining decisions. My intent for her, at the end of the season, was for her to have her balls back, and I think we got there, at the end of the finale. It’s hard to cheer that on, but at the very least, there’s that sense of, “Fuck, man, she always lands on her feet.” Her justification is always, “I’m taking care of my family.” That’s what allows her, in her mind, to do the things that she needs to do. But, it’s definitely a fine line.
SUTTER: What I tend to do is come in with a blueprint, in the beginning of the season, and sit down with my writers and lay out what I want to do for the season, but it’s a loose blueprint. The more I do this and the more confident I get with the show, in terms of the stories that we tell, I’ve really been able to hold onto them a little more loosely, each season. My grip gets a little looser, as the mythology progresses. That was the case, this season. I had these ideas, and we started writing towards those ideas, but if something happens organically, in the process of telling a story, and something else comes along and we want to play it out and we have the room to do that, or if I see something that’s popping on screen, in terms of a relationship or conflict that’s taking on a much more compelling quality then I thought it was going to be, I’ll throw some energy or story at that. So, I have some lee-way. Then, at a certain point, usually in the back four or five episodes, your lee-way really starts to diminish. It’s not that you have to start writing to tie everything up in neat stories, but I do have the reality of having a certain amount of time left in the season to tell these stories. So, as time progresses and the episodes pass, that doorway gets a little more narrow.
After Tara’s (Maggie Siff) arrest, where would you say Jax is mentally, going into the next season?
SUTTER: I really wanted to get to a place where perhaps Jax realizes that he’s better at being an outlaw than he is at being a husband and a father. There’s an allure that comes with power and prestige that he wasn’t aware of, or maybe was aware of, but didn’t necessarily have to make a decision about. As much as he said he wanted to leave, perhaps he wasn’t really ready to leave. So, the intent was to have this very successful, although bloody and tumultuous and painful, run as president of the club, but ultimately have all that stuff come out almost flawlessly. The way he maneuvered the execution of Pope (Harold Perrineau), he pulled that off like a Spec Ops solider. All of that stuff went flawlessly and was incredibly smart. While all of that was going on, on the outlaw side, all the stuff with his family was essentially falling apart. He couldn’t keep any promises to Tara. Everything was a false promise. The bottom fell out of everything. So, at the end of it, he does one incredibly well and one incredibly bad. There’s the idea of, “Maybe I’m supposed to be doing this, and not be doing that.” I’m not saying that’s where we’re ultimately going to be, but in this moment, there is a sense of, “I’m completely successful, on the one hand, and yet I’ve completely failed at this other thing. Maybe I’m just supposed to be doing the thing I’m good at.” That’s really where I wanted to have Jax land, at the end.
SUTTER: I’d love to bring back Drea. Drea got a pilot, so it will remain to be seen if that gets picked up. That’s always a tricky thing. Sometimes networks and shows are open to having an actor step out and do some episodes, but some aren’t. But, I definitely think there’s more story to be told, with that character. I love where we went with it, this season. The timing felt right. It felt really organic. I think Drea had a lot of fun, having some bones and meat to chew on again, with that character. I would definitely love to bring her back. I definitely have more story to tell there. We’ll just have to find out her availability, as we get into next season.
What will Clay’s role be now, in the coming seasons?
SUTTER: At the end of this season, when August (Billy Brown) tells his guy, “I want him dead before the hearing,” I really wanted to give the sense that there’s a death nail for Clay. He’s really a dead man walking, or in this case, a dead man riding between lots of black men. I really wanted to set it up so that Jax was successful in his death by proxy option that he’s chosen for Clay. How that will play out exactly, I’m not sure yet. Whether or not Clay will make it through Season 6, I’m not sure. There’s definitely some more story to tell, in terms of the mythology. What I don’t want to do is get into another situation where it’s another almost death of Clay. I think that is very unsatisfying. I’m not quite sure where Clay’s end date will be, but I do think it ultimately has to be near. But, there is still some more story to tell.
Now that Clay is off to prison and Bobby (Mark Boone Junior) has turned in his VP patch, will you be exploring how that fractures the club?
SUTTER: Part of the tragedy for me is that the writers had this checklist for Jax, in the beginning of the season, of things that he wanted, which included getting out of the drug business, getting out of the cartel business, getting rid of RICO, and having Clay get his payback. He had all these things he needed to do, and he methodically and brilliantly achieved all those goals this season, but at the end of it, the fall-out came on the personal side of that. Both families are now in shambles. He has a club that has no more external pressures, he’s gotten rid of the RICO case, he has this relationship with Eli (Rockmond Dunbar) so that there’s also no pressure in town, he’s gotten out of the drug and gun business, he has this new business that’s making money and there’s Charming Heights, and yet the club itself is in complete shambles. His inner circle is really reduced to two guys now. Bobby was the last voice of reason, and Bobby turning into that VP patch is not that he’s leaving the club, but he’s saying, “I can’t do this job because you won’t let me do this job.” The club has all these new opportunities and it’s ready to flourish, so part of Jax’s job next season will really be about, now that he’s removed all the external things, how will he fix it from the inside.
SUTTER: Yeah, I think there’s a lot to play out in what will happen with Bobby and Jax next year. I really think a major relationship will be between Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) and Jax. Chibs has become his Opie now. He’s his main guy and his loyal dude, and there will be a lot to play out there. Is Chibs capable of maintaining that level of loyalty, as Jax goes on this darker journey? Will he then be burdened to be the guy that has the voice of reason, and what does that mean for their relationship? I think the main relationships that will be played out, will be with Jax and Chibs, and then also with Jax and Bobby.
How involved are you with the casting process for this show?
SUTTER: I’m pretty much involved. The first couple of seasons I did, but since I brought on Paris Barclay, I’m not in the physical auditions anymore. If I’m meeting for a major role, then I’ll sit down with actors. I sat down with Jimmy Smits, Harold Perrineau and Donal Logue. At that point, you’re not really making them read or audition. It’s more of a creative discussion about whether or not it’s a good fit. But, in terms of the day players, what will happen is that they’ll do a general audition with Paris, my line producer and my fantastic casting director, along with whoever the writer and producer is on the episode. And then, they’ll do callbacks and I’ll usually get their top three or four picks with their recommendations. The director is in on those auditions, and I’ll get the first and second choice of the director. I would say 70% of the time, I’ll go with the director’s choice. Sometimes I’ll see something in an actor that I feel is not right because I know where the story is going, and then I’ll make a different choice than the director. That’s my involvement. I’m pretty much plugged in to every actor that is in the show.
SUTTER: Season 7 was always my goal because I know how this cable model works. I know, at the end of seven seasons, the above-the-line costs usually outweigh the value of the show. I thought, “Can I tell this story in seven seasons? Do I have enough story?” I’ve always had that number in my head and I thought, “Yes, I can do that.” I had the loose constructs of those seven seasons in my head, and I still had those. We’re still heading in that direction and working towards that. But, if I get half way through Season 6 and I’m feeling like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this and tell the story that I need to tell in seven seasons,” then I think I can probably have a conversation with John Landgraf. I don’t know what the solution would be. Perhaps the solution would be to extend the amount of episodes in the last two seasons, or determine if there was enough story to do a Season 8 and see if that would be viable or if we could even afford to do that. What I definitely don’t want to do is just extend the show for another season, for the sake of doing an eighth season. What I don’t want to do is pad and fluff and pull and drag shit out that really should be happening in seven seasons, for the sake of just doing another season, even though I’m sure the fans would love another season. I know I don’t want to do that. My sense is that, when I get half way through the storytelling of Season 6, I’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not I can tie it all up in seven seasons.
Will you take a breather, before you start writing Season 6?
SUTTER: I have a little downtime. I’ve sold two other projects to FX, so I’m co-writing one project and writing a pilot, over the hiatus. That’s always fun for me to do because it’s my own schedule. And then, I’ll jump back in with the Sons writers in early February for Season 6.
Could you ever have expected the level of success you’d have with Sons of Anarchy, or has it been a complete surprise?
SUTTER: It’s always a surprise. The first thing you hope for is that the show is actually going to get on the air, and then you hope that the show will actually stay on the air. All of that is a blessing. We’re all really thrilled and surprised that the show has had its best season ever, in the fifth season. That’s pretty rare. Not that I’m comparing my show, in terms of quality, to these shows because I’m not, but there are shows like The Wire and Friday Night Lights that maintained that level of quality and level of interest, five seasons deep, and we’ve been able to do that. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to the digital availability of this show. We didn’t have that luxury with The Shield. We didn’t have Netflix or iTunes or Amazon Instant. If people wanted to catch up, they had to buy the DVD. So, I think the success of that growing fan base is, in large part, due to the accessability of those previous seasons. Because the quality of the show is good, I think those people who watch the previous seasons are then interested in seeing what’s to come. So many people catch up with this show, not just on DVR, but through those outside sources, and we sell a tremendous amount of DVDs, in what is an ever-shrinking market. So, I have to say that that is probably the reason why the numbers continue to explode, from season to season, and we continue to add fans, every year. I can only hope that that continues.
Sons of Anarchy will return to FX in 2013.