FX is back with the next highly anticipated season of SONS OF ANARCHY. Writer and creator Sutter has promised this season to be explosive and he meant it. Last Thursday night’s episode was a jaw dropper thanks to Harold Perrineau who plays Pope and if you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil it – trust me on this!
Perrineau isn’t a new face to television and if you are trying to place him let me name a few shows that have made their imprint forever on the landscape of television. In THE MATRIX he played Link, in the HBO hit series OZ he played Augustus Hill and from the ABC crazy hit series LOST he played Michael, the father of young Walt.
Impressed? I certainly am and was equally thrilled to have a chance to talk to him about his new role as Pope, the highly insane pain in the backside to SAMCRO in the new season of SONS OF ANARCHY. Ending last season, Tig, in a fit of rage, kills Pope’s daughter by running her down on the street. Pope is out for revenge and he doesn’t care who he has to take down to do it because his intention is to make the Sons pay for his pain. Lets get right into it.
Thanks for sharing your time.
Of course, thanks.
Your character is pretty nasty. How you prepared for it because I was shocked!
I had talked to Kurt Sutter a bit about the character. We talked at length a bit about his ideas about “Damon Pope,” some of the people that “Damon Pope” reminded him of; one of them being Frank Lucas who was the movie American Gangster that Denzel Washington did, was based on his life. And then, I started doing a bunch of research on my own about a different guys who took their sort of street life and then turned them into more legit businesses and that’s kind of how I sort of setup “Damon Pope” and how he might think or the way he may act in retaliation to things that are very emotional for him like that. So, basically, I just sort of pulled on these different sorts of businessmen and gangsters who I thought had similar kinds of backgrounds.
How did you hear about the role?
I knew they were looking for “Damon Pope” for a while. Kurt Sutter was tweeting about it and I followed him on Twitter. My wife is always reading it and one day she said, “You know, they still haven’t found ‘Damon Pope.’ Maybe you should try to send Kurt an e-mail.” And so, I did and sent him an e-mail just to see if I could get a meeting with him and he took the meeting and we sat and talked about it. By the time I got home, he bravely said, “Let’s do it.” And so, there I am.
Your character is pretty scary.
He’s angry. He’s very angry.
You’ve done work on LOST and OZ, what do you look for in the characters you play and are there anything you especially look for?
Certainly, I look at the character that I’m going to play. I’m largely aware of the characters I’m going to play, but often, I look for the content of what’s going on. OZ is one of those things — when I did OZ back in the day, we didn’t know where it was going to go, but I was really interested in this idea of whether prisons were for retribution or actual redemption and I knew that that was part of the conversation that we were going to be having with OZ as well as being entertaining; the same with lots of other things that I pick. I kind of try to pick things that I would be proud to be part of, that I’m really happy to say, “Yes, I was part of that conversation,” even if it’s a hard conversation about some of the entertainment things or whatever. I like to do things that are fun, entertaining and also kind of help you think. I’m not so interested in a lot of like mindless things that sort of take you away from your life or take you out of your experiences, but things that are just plain stupid, I guess.
What did you see in Pope’s character that drew you in?
I like the show SONS OF ANARCHY. I like Kurt Sutter. I like the idea of this guy who’s not just rolling in as some gangster to be tough, but he’s a guy who just lost his child. One of the things that I felt like might be really challenging and kind of fun is to see if the audience members just go like, “Oh, he’s just a terrible guy” or if someone can go, “Hey, if somebody had killed my daughter for a frivolous reason that Tig killed his daughter, what would I do” and actually have some empathy for Pope. I’m really curious about whether that will ever play out, or if it’s just going to be like, “He’s just a bad dude.” So, for me I thought that was an interesting thing to try to spot and then try to bring to the character.
Is there a lot of pressure being the main bad guy this season?
It was a little daunting I have to say because they are a bunch of dudes who play bad asses. They’re great actors and they do really, really well. And so, I felt in the very beginning it was going to be sort of interesting trying to ingratiate myself into this group of guys while also keeping a bit of distance because I knew that my character is just going to be an adversary and I didn’t want any of my own personal feelings about liking them or any of that stuff to come across with Damon Pope because I think Damon Pope is very focused and serious about what he needs done and wants to do. So, it was a little tricky, but they’re a great cast of people and great actors. And so, they made it really, really easy.
What else can we expect from Pope?
You can expect a guy who is looking for satisfaction and he will not be denied. He wants some satisfaction for the death of his daughter and he won’t be denied, period.
Was Pope already a scripted character or did you help in the creation of him?
No. He had already started scripting Pope and he had an idea about Pope at the end of Season 4. He had been down the line of meeting people and stuff like that for the character and I guess those things didn’t work out. When they didn’t work out and I knew I had some free time, I kind of thought whatever that idea was was a long shot—what his idea for Pope was is probably a long shot for me because I don’t normally cast like that, but I had confidence that I could probably pull something off. So, it wasn’t fashioned after me at all. I think as it’s going on there is a working together as I’m doing it, as he’s writing it, that somehow they start forming like the same person. It all starts gelling together. But yes, I’m pretty sure he didn’t have me in mind when he originally wrote Damon Pope.
You have worked with Tom Fontana and Lindelof and J.J. Abrams and now Kurt Sutter. What is the SONS OF ANARCHY experience like for you?
Well, without giving too much away, it is different in that with LOST and with OZ, there was such a huge cast of people and there was always tons of people and personalities around all the time and so, you’re negotiating that when you’re working and playing the role and stuff like that. The sort of luxury I’ve had with SONS OF ANARCHY is while there are lots of people on the show itself, Damon Pope is very specific and he’s very focused. And so, I’m really not around everybody as much. And so, for me, it doesn’t feel like there’s that much to negotiate. I feel like I can really focus in on what this one character has to do and who he has to do it to or with or whatever. So, in that sense, I don’t feel how big and broad like the rest of the cast is like I did in the other two shows.
With other shows you started from the ground up, what is it like to come in with a fan base already in place? How does that affect you?
This all feels like new because I just sort of walked into this house that was already built. And so, yes, you’re right. Earlier on, you kind of get to feel it like growing and growing and growing and its really fun and exciting and watching it grow is pretty cool. But this, I was really shocked by like how passionate all the people are about the show, how, like you said, available Kurt is to his audience. So, I feel like a little like I’m playing catch-up, like I don’t know what people expect or what they do and they’re already in there and they’re settled in. They really love the show and they know everything about the show and I really am trying to like catch up as much as I can and do all of my homework and see the shows and know what the people are talking about because they really do seem to love the show and are passionate about it. I am feeling the love. I’ve got to say that. They’re really loyal even if they don’t like Damon Pope.
Now that you’ve played both good and bad guy roles, which do you prefer?
That’s an interesting question because it really feels like we’re not getting too like esoteric. It feels like a real ying-yang for me. I like them both. I need them both for very different things, like I like to do the softer things because I do like to consider things not so violently or romantically or really loving, but I grew up in the United States, in Brooklyn. So, there’s a certain amount of rage and pent up anger that is just kind of always there. So, to get to express that in a really healthy way and sometimes a cool way is really good for me as well. So, I really like them both because they both serve real big needs in my life.
What do you find drives you in your role at Pope?
It’s really interesting for me. There’s something about the level of violence that Damon is capable of and the positive way people respond to it. There’s something really curious about that for me. He has the ability to be really, really violent and people get really super excited about it and there’s something I keep going like, “I don’t know if this makes me happy or not,” you know what I mean? This guy, he just burned a girl and everybody’s really excited about that. So, it leaves me really in this strange place. I’m really happy that people like the work and really confused because it’s really violent. It is kind of curious for me.
How did you feel when your first episode was filmed with you as Pope?
I mean I guess for me the obvious is like my first day there, the very first thing I’m doing is burning someone’s daughter in front of them, while they stand by helplessly watching that. What sticks out in my mind is like, “Oh, my. Oh, my. Where can this go? How much heavier can this really be and how do I bring a real depth and honesty to this while I’m cringing at the thought of the whole thing.” So, my first day was a little confusing. It sounds like I’m confused a lot. I’m not really, but that was a little confusing.
So your career has been pretty rewarding yes?
The thing that’s making the career the most rewarding and is also kind of the most frustrating is that I’ve gotten to play a lot of different things. I’ve gotten to do a lot of different things and that’s really what I wanted to do. I really love being an actor and for me, an actor really gets to step into many, many different lives and experience them and try to bring them to life and tell the story that the writer is telling. I’ve been able to do things that you wouldn’t expect me to do or things that I think I should be able to do, but no one else does. And so, you can bring life to that kind of thing, but it’s also the thing that’s the most frustrating because people will see a thing and sort of because the way the business is and the branding is, it’s hard to just pin down, like, “Oh, he can do that one thing.” So, I feel like I’m constantly, constantly having to prove like, “Oh, yes, I can do that too,” not like in a bragging way, but it’s like this is what my job is as an actor. If I can’t do it right now, I certainly can figure it out because that’s what my job is. So, it is both the thing that I’m most proud of and the thing that causes me the most sort of stress because I’m always having to prove, like really, really keep proving that I can pull this off as well. Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I can’t do it, but I really like trying. So, that’s the answer.
Have you experienced any reaction to your role from fans of SOA?
Because of all the social media stuff, yes. Right after the opening episode, the very first episode, I gained a whole lot more Twitter followers and people who were really excited about it, people who were really happy to see me, had seen me do other things before, people who had never seen my work before, people who were really mad at Damon Pope, but super excited about what was going to happen next. And so, pretty immediately I got to experience a lot of the SOA fans.
So does Pope have any good qualities?
I think he has many redeeming qualities. I think we’ve structured a man who really isn’t just a guy out there being violent for violence sake. Damon Pope, he’s more complex than just being an angry man and we’ll find out as the season goes on. So, I think there are many redeeming qualities about Damon Pope, none of which I can talk about at this particular moment, but by the end of the season, we’ll be able to talk about it more.
Has anything surprised you yet about playing Pope?
Yes, I consider myself a really sort of empathetic person and so, I’m surprised sometimes, once I set myself in motion for “Damon Pope,” how unempathetic I can be and how surprisingly good that feels based on what I’m trying to achieve. Does that make sense?
Is there a role you haven’t played yet that you want to or someone you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
I get asked that question a lot and I don’t actually have an answer for it. I mean I really have been enjoying the way things have been going. I’ve gotten cast to just do a lot of things. And so, as they keep coming up, there are things that I just couldn’t have thought of. I couldn’t have thought of Damon Pope, you know what I mean, but I’m so excited that I’m getting a chance to do it. I did a movie called Woman on Top where I would never have considered that I could play Monica, the transsexual, but there it was. And so, I’m just like looking forward to reaching out and searching and finding things and finding people who I can work with and collaborate with and come up with new, really interesting, fun things to do. There are tons of people that I’d still like to work with, but I haven’t gotten to work with; people I’ve worked with and would love to work with again. I’d love to work again with Laurence Fishburne or … Berman, but I’ve never gotten to work with Denzel and that would be an amazing thing or to work with either one of the Nolan Brothers. So, there are lots of people out there who are doing really, I think, interesting work and I’d like to get in there and see what I can do.
Do you find that sometimes nerves get in the way?
They actually do get in the way and that’s fortunately the great thing about film. You get to keep trying it until the nerves go away. I had Paris Barclay on set who was—as we were both learning about “Damon Pope” and what worked and what didn’t work, I had Paris Barclay there to help me really like hone in and find very, very specific things to do. We used to experiment with a few different ways of approaching it. That really helps your nerves when you have a really great director and then you guys can actually collaborate or really think things through together. So, that helps a lot.
Do you see similarities between the role of Pope in SOA and Michael in LOST?
Yes, I actually do think that they are very similar and being a parent myself, the question always becomes for me if someone were to hurt, kidnap, put in any way your child in danger, how far would you go? The answer for me is always I’d go as far as I had to. I’d go as far as I could and so, like I understand given each person’s world like what they would be. Michael being stranded on this island and not really having any resources and only to collaborate with “Ben” … in order to get his son back, which means he had to do one heinous thing and one thing he fully regretted. What would you do in order to get your child back? The same with “Damon;” he lives in a really violent world where there’s not a lot of talking or negotiating or hand-holding or like, “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t really mean to kill your daughter. I meant to kill the guy next to her.” There’s none of that like kind of friendly banter even in a world where it really is survival of the fittest. It really feels like the fittest. Having those kinds of means and having your daughter stripped away from you, all the years of work and love and care and having someone just take that away without regard, how far would I go? I’d probably go that far. I’d probably go further, you know what I mean? I’d be that mad and in that world, I’d understand, you know what I mean? Harold, I wouldn’t do it, but in that world, I get it.
Did you ever think OZ was going to be such a hit for HBO?
I called my mother. I said, “Hey, ma, I’m about to do this thing that’s a little crazy. I just want you to know that I love you. I don’t want to disrespect our family or anything.” So, when we first read the pilot script, I thought, “Whoa.” One, I couldn’t believe that we were going to do it on television and two, some of it was just so wild. There are things that didn’t even make the screen that were just so like outrageous that I was a little nervous. I really had that feeling of like, what does this do for me. Does it like help elevate my career or do I wind up going down as like, “Oh, he was part of that group of crazy people that tried to do that thing on HBO.” And so, luckily, HBO kept doing wilder stuff.
What was your reaction to the cancellation of THE UNUSALS?
Oh, man, one of the biggest bummers ever, one of the biggest bummers ever. Noah Hawley is such a great writer and show runner and we were having such a great time. We thought for sure the show would keep going. Renner was a friend of mine from before and me and Adam Goldberg just had a great time working together. So, when the show didn’t get picked up I was pretty bummed for a long time and I’ve been out there working and doing stuff for a while, so I try not to get too attached, but I was pretty attached to that. I was having a really great time playing Leo Banks. I thought we were going to get explored that some more, but I’m bummed I’m happy for Jeremy. He kept going and doing lots of amazing things and Adam and I … but I was bummed about it. That’s the answer.
You have spoken about brand and social media, how do you handle that in this business?
Hopefully I won’t have a long answer for this, but the answer is … because it’s all happening like so fast. Some of it is really uncharted and some of it is very charted. I mean like building brands is very charted, but uncharted in the social media way because new things keep happening and stuff like that. Anyway, what I keep saying to myself, what I keep saying to myself is I just keep really being true to what I like to do. If I just keep doing that, if I try my best not to make a bunch of compromises to who I am, not to what I can do, but to who I am then that will be my brand. There is only one me. There’s only me and if you buy it, cool. If you don’t, cool. And so, while I like being able to make money and take care of my family, I really am able to do that now. I hope that that doesn’t change where I can’t take care of my family and stuff like that, but I don’t want to have to sell my soul so much that I’m suddenly not happy about who I am because then I feel like even if I did make the money then I wouldn’t be able to be the kind of person I am at home. That’s all theory. I don’t even know. That’s just what I’m doing right now. That’s the only way I know how to go about it right now, just keep trying to be like as true to Harold as I can if that make sense.
So if you weren’t an actor what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t in the business? That’s really interesting. It’s a question my dad used to ask a long time ago and he’d say, “Of course, you could always get a job at the post office,” which was in that movie back in the day too and it was really real. I really don’t know. I’m one of those people who is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. There are so many things that I’m interested in and there are so many things I could probably do and don’t. So, I don’t know what I would be doing. I know that I have a certain amount of tenacity to do whatever I’m doing as well as possible. So, I’m sure that wherever it was, even if it were the post office, you know what I mean, I would be doing a really respectable, respectful job and being as successful as I could at that, but I don’t really, really know. The truth is I wish I could say I’d be fighting in the UFC. I really wish I could say that, but that’s not really realistic, but I love it so much I wish I could say that.
Two of the characters you have played were in wheelchairs, does that challenge or limit you?
There was a little bit of challenge and I really felt grateful that I had a long history as a dancer before I was an actor because once I sort of kind of learned what you would do as a paraplegic, I knew what capabilities you had, then I could try to work on enhancing those things that I was able to use while not using my legs. So, it took a little bit of practice. It took a little bit of practice and rehearsing and I went to a couple of different places and talked to some people. Every year, we tried to make it look like his legs were atrophying some more. So, I’d buy bigger and bigger pants that I would wear on the show. So, it took a little bit of work and practice. And so, when I did it again in Lost, it was just kind of a throw back. Even Damon Lindelof said, “I think it was funny to put ‘Michael’ in a wheelchair.” It’s … “what’s up” to all the Oz fans.
People might not know that you have done musical theatre?
Yes, I was a musical theater major in college and my first show was off Broadway and then eventually on Broadway were all musicals. I was in the chorus of the revival of Revival of Dreamgirls and this is like back in the ‘90s. I went out on tour, like an international tour with Dreamgirls and then that show came back to Broadway again. So, I did that on Broadway and then off Broadway I did like Godspell and Street Dreams and like all these other little musicals, but yes, those are my first jobs. I was a dancer, singer and musical theater guy. I would love to do another show. I haven’t had the opportunity lately. The coolest thing that actually happens, I did the show that’ll be on in November, called The Wedding Band and that’s the closest to a musical that I’ve been able to be part of. It’s going to be a lot of really great singing and a lot of great songs. I got to play like, I don’t know, 10 different instruments in this thing. So, it was just a ton of fun. So, that was the closest to a musical I’ve gotten in a while. I just haven’t had the opportunity lately.
Are there any characteristics about Pope that you can relate to and is there any character you have played that you can relate to?
Yes. I would say—okay, so the first part of it is there are lots of—like I said earlier, there are lots of other things that I really do relate to about Pope that I think are great and spectacular. Because the show hasn’t aired yet, I can’t really talk about it now. As the season goes on, you’ll see he is a very interesting man. As I said, many great men are or many men of power and influence, there is always the side of them where there are people who are really happy to be in their good graces because they make their life better. Now, as to whether I feel—I don’t feel really like I’m like any of those characters at all, me personally, though there’s a lot of me, a lot of sort of my ideals about myself, a lot of things that I kind of wish I could be, but I think the difference in each of those people are the flaws. I have my own set of flaws that don’t necessarily relate to those characters. You always try to bring your strengths anyway and so, I try to bring some of my strengths and some of my flaws, but they all have very different flaws. I had the thing with drugs and that was a big thing. That’s never been a thing for me and Michael has this sort of like—Michael might be the closest because the writing was—I feel I had to like just grab stuff really quickly because we didn’t have a lot of press time. So, Michael might be the closest because some of the flaws Michael has—I don’t know if I can contribute it to the writers, you know what I mean – the stuff about him not being with his kid and stuff like that. I break my neck to try to be with my children all the time. So, those are different. And with Pope, yes, his access to violence is not necessarily mine. And so, I wouldn’t say that I’m really like any of those things, but I do embody a bunch of different quality. I couldn’t say that any of those folks for me necessarily.
Can you tell us how many episodes you are in this season?
Eight. Eightish. I don’t remember. I think we talked about eight, but we’re not finished just yet. So, eightish.
What is your favorite memory of LOST?
Favorite memories from Lost; well, the first season of Lost was really my absolute favorite. I mean I feel like we all worked together. We all had no idea what was going on. Right and no one did and it was all happening, we really, really bonded. Somehow, I sort of remember standing next to like Maggie Grace and Ian Somerhalder at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and just like hugging them, almost crying, going like, “What just happened to us this year?” It was the last year we were all together. So, the first and only year we were all together. So, that very first year, I really do miss. Like we’d get together for details at episodes. Like at my house for “Michael’s” episode, I came on. Me and my wife, we did this southern cooking thing and invited everybody over and then when Evie had her first episode, she invited us over and made all these really exotic meals. I really do miss those, miss that very first year. It was so much fun and we were so bonded together and we were just doing all these things to like recall it and entertain each other. I really miss that and love that about our very first season.
Thanks Harold for being candid, open and excited about the newest bad guy on SONS OF ANARCHY.
As a reminder, Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific. If this past Thursday night is any indication, this season is going to be powerful!