I am at a loss with the finale episode of the FX series SONS OF ANARCHY. Everything is coming to a close and all I can think of is how will it all end. If you have been following the show, and this last season especially you know what’s been happening and where the characters are landing on the Mayhem spectrum.
This past week fans were stunned (and no there will be absolutely no details of explanation) to the point of needing a breather before the final episode airs next Tuesday. Before that happens I had the chance to hear from Katey Sagal herself about her seven year journey as the matriarch Gemma Teller Morrow.
Thank you for talking with us today Katey and hello. We spoke at Comic Con this year and you had a few things to say about Gemma then. Now that we know more as the SOA comes to a close, do you think Gemma has gone to far trying to protect her family?
Hi and you’re welcome. I think what we’re seeing now is her own conscience finally grabbing her. I still think, though, she believes that her momentary rageful act at the end
of Season VI killing Tara was not premeditated and was not something that—she really did believe that Tara had turned the entire club in and her son and it was the downfall of her entire existence. At that moment it was just sort of a perfect storm, and not that she doesn’t realize the heinous nature of it, but I do believe that what’s happening now is that in times before, she was able to compartmentalize and almost rationalize. I think this one was just too much for her.
Looking back, what do you see as some of Gemma’s high points and instead of low points let’s say challenges playing this character.
It’s constantly challenging, which as an actor you only hope for, so I felt every season brought a new set of things that I’ve never done before and needed exploring, so it was that kind of job where week to week, episode to episode there was always a little something that I felt like this will be great. I guess the overall challenge of it was playing somebody that was so very different from myself. Her maternal instincts are similar to mine, but her ways and means of doing things were something very foreign to me. I don’t live in an outlaw world and I don’t carry a gun and I don’t do those things. And the high points were numerous, so it’s difficult to zero in on—that’s a hard question. I’m about to rewatch the whole thing.
Have you found that you and Kurt are coming down off a seven year high and mourning SOA a bit?
It’s been an interesting, we’ve all sort of known the end was coming, but I don’t think any of us really acknowledged it till the last couple of weeks. We’d have moments on set where people would tear up and we’d say good-bye to one director, but the work really requires you to be pretty much where you are. It’s complicated to keep everything in place in your brain and your character and where you are, so that pulled focused. I think Kurt and I are just—part of us are in denial and we have lots of other stuff in life, so it takes the onus off it. I’m sure at some point we’ll probably crash from it all and we’ll recognize it, but I think overwhelmingly we’re both so grateful that it’s seven years and it’s been such a great experience, so I don’t know that you get too sad really. Things happen. I think it’s ending at the perfect time, I really do.
Why do you think Gemma felt the need to “talk” with Tara?
I think it’s very indicative of her unraveling. They’re super easy to do, because I felt very close to Maggie, who played Tara, and so it’s easy for me, and Gemma felt very close to Tara, ultimately. I think that they had such an intricate relationship, but also very mother/daughter, so I think that I just can put her there very easily and speak to her. And it just speaks to Gemma’s own—as the season goes on, her remorseful moments get stronger and start to eek out and the walls start closing in, but I think that it keeps her connected. It’s like I keep reiterating it wasn’t intentional what happened. It really wasn’t and so it kind of shows her just continuing to connect. To me it’s interesting; too, that she believes that it speaks to what she believed happens after we die. Clearly she thinks she’s being heard, I would think.
We know the guys are keeping their cuts from SOA, what are you keeping from the show?
The thing I really wanted and I did get was in the pilot Gemma wore a brown leather coat down to her knees, and I wanted that coat. That was the first piece of clothing that we had made for her, so that’s my keepsake. That’s my cut. I might have taken another leather jacket, but no, that was the one I really wanted.
Wendy and Gemma have highs and lows, can you speak on that dynamic?
I think that she has allied with Wendy, Gemma is smart. She needed to have someone to help her out with those boys. Wendy has proven herself, she did leave rehab early, but she allied with her on the whole juice of it all and Wendy didn’t throw her under the bus. She kept the secret. She tested her all season and I think the thing with the boys and Jax, I think she really—Wendy was giving her empathy and for seeing what was happening. I think that Wendy loves the boys in a similar way to Gemma does. Abel is her real child. I think the journey for Wendy is so not what she’d expected and all of a sudden like she’s in the boys’ lives; she’s accepted by Jax. I think Wendy has sort of a grateful thing about her, and I think Gemma is aligned with Wendy at this point.
What do you think is the legacy of SOA worldwide?
I think Sons, it’s an entertainment show and I always look at what I do and what the services entertainment is that it is just that. It’s service, so you’re providing something for people. The fact that people had become so engaged and so invested in the story and the characters, that’s done something for them. I think that’s its own legacy is that it has become a successful way for people to be entertained. And so I think, too, that it’s sort of in that wave of everybody talks about of cable dramas that have—it’s sort of like the little independent film world now in television. I think that Sons has helped to open all those doors just as The Shield did, so I would imagine that it will be in the wave of those shows, the Mad Men and those kinds of shows that have come around at this time. I think legacy is such a big word. Really our job is to entertain and I think we’ve done that.
What advice would Gemma have given to her younger self if she could have?
What advice would she give to her younger self? That’s so interesting. I don’t know, because I’ve always thought of Gemma as somebody who doesn’t—she doesn’t reflect back. She is in forward motion. She doesn’t sit around and think—I don’t think she has a lot of regrets. At this point in her life, she probably does, but I don’t think that’s been her MO. I think she’s more a reactor; she just moves forward, so I’m not sure what she’d tell her younger self. It might have been about the John Teller of it all if I speculated about that. Maybe she would speak to herself a little bit more about forgiveness. She’s been on sort of this underlying spiritual quest all these seven years actually, so maybe some of that would have come to her in her younger years.
Do you thinks fans will be satisfied with the final show of SOA?
You’ll be really satisfied with the ending. I think Kurt has even spoken about this, but he was trying to approach it like another episode, like the story keeps going. But I think it’s very satisfying and it was very satisfying filming it and I will say that for Charlie and myself. Both of us sort of felt—you’ll have to talk to Charlie, but he liked it, too. It was satisfying for all involved; that’s what I’ll say.
Gemma has been on the edge of crazy, when push comes to shove do you think she would kill no matter what?
I think she would kill anybody. I do. At the end of the day if it was to protect her grandchildren, her son or herself, I think she would kill anybody.
What are you going to miss about SOA?
I’ll miss so many things. It was a great working environment. I’ll miss the people. That’s what you really connect to and I’ll miss the writing. I’ve been in television a long time and you don’t find great parts that readily and you don’t find great writing that readily. It’s been just a great creative experience to be able to have both of those things, and it’s a colorful bunch of people to work with, so going to work was never boring. I will miss them all terribly.
You have gotten to work with your husband Kurt Sutter. Can you tell us about the this role he created for you? Also, working with FX if you could.
My husband was working on an idea about an outlaw motorcycle club and he came to me and said that he wanted me to be in it and he was writing me a part. I had no idea what it was, but I liked the idea of that world. I knew him to be a really excellent writer, so I was excited about that. And then we had to go get approval and he had to write the script and the network had to sign off, so it wasn’t just a slam dunk, but it was really that’s kind of how it happened. FX has been incredibly creatively supportive. I know they all wear suits, but they never feel like a bunch of suits to me and they just really stood by what they’ve always said that they’re about, which is that they stand by the creator and that they are there to support the vision of who they’re putting their trust and faith and money in; and that’s what I’ve observed them to do. They’ve really nurtured Kurt along the way, and it’s just been a very compatible relationship I would say. And then the same with us as actors, I’ve never felt anything but supported by the FX network.
You have worked with Ryder Lando, who plays your grandson. How were the intense scenes done with such a little boy?
He’s wild. It’s funny when we’re shooting the scenes, you don’t get the impact about it as much as when I’ve watched them. It’s like with a lot of actors, you’re not quite sure what’s going on. He’s a little kid. He’s five years old, so the fact that he can sit still that long is impressive to me, and they’ve done great. There are two of them, Evan and Ryder and they’re just they’re very committed and between shots, they’re playing with their
Gemma is one of the strongest women on television, how has it been for you portraying this character?
That’s been great. That’s been absolutely great and I like to think that that is a contribution to why we have such a strong female following, even though I know we have beautiful men around us. But I would like to think that she is—even though not her actions per se, but her strong stand is something that I think is really awesome to see. I think you’re seeing it more and more on television and I think it’s there.
Peter Weller has been a director on several episodes through the course of the show, how is it working with a different director?
For me I love to work with directors that are also actors. They have a certain way of speaking that we just relate to and Peter definitely comes at it from that standpoint. He’s a really interesting guy. If you’ve ever talked to Peter very much, he’s certainly a Renaissance man and knows a lot of things about a lot of things. Each director has their own sort of way of doing things and with Peter, you can really talk about the emotional landscape of where you are at that given time and it’s great.
What are you excited to see in these last episodes?
The conclusion, I’m excited for them to see the conclusion. I feel like this season overall has been so strong in the character department. It’s not that there’s not action, there’s a lot of action, but there’s also a lot of character to character conversation and slower beats. And I think the whole season just has a more fluid approach, so I’ve really enjoyed watching this year and I think that all of the characters have been serviced really well. I just think it’ll be really great for fans. I don’t think they will be disappointed
What do you think Gemma felt when it was Abel who was her undoing?
I suppose, how can she do anything but forgive him really? It’s out of the mouths of babes and I wonder sometimes if Gemma really thought she could get away with all of this. I don’t know; it’s really an interesting question. I don’t think that she has animosity towards her grandson whatsoever. You have to watch; you’ll have to see some more. I don’t want to talk too much about that.
Why do you think SOA became such a fan favorite?
I think there are lots of things. I think that people are fascinated with the outlaw world on bikes. Everybody thinks that’s a sexy world. I think that the family drama element of it has really been a strong component that we see people that we have a view into a world and then we see that they’re just like us in a lot of ways. And then I think the action of it all, I think that it really has an exciting action component to it. And then there’s that you just don’t know who knows what? I don’t know why; it’s the unspeakable, the unknowable, who knows. I’m just glad they do.
Do you seem Gemma as an embodiment of how far we will take something for the people we love or is it just what we tell ourselves to explain our actions?
If you remember in the first episode of this season, she explains to Juice that they need to have this secret about who killed Tara because if Gemma goes to jail, the boys will never know a strong woman. So her motivation is absolutely to protect herself, so that the boys have her, so that Jax has her. Sure, is she selfishly motivated? I believe so, but I think her most— most of her motivation comes from what will happen to them if she’s in jail. It will do no good. It won’t do any good, so because she also believes that this was not done premeditatively or even maliciously, I don’t think she—it was a blind rage. She had no intention to do it, so afterwards she doesn’t see the benefit in turning herself in or telling herself what happened, because then ultimately everybody is left without her, and she feels that she is absolutely—I think that’s one of the reasons that she starts to rely more and more on Wendy, because I think she realizes more and more that she may need Wendy to also be helping her with those kids, because who knows what’s going to happen with her as things start to unravel.
What has it been like for you playing Gemma from beginning to end going through everything she possibly could?
It’s fantastic. It was fantastic as an actor and it was super fun to watch and that’s what I love to watch myself all the time. I definitely had my critical moments, but this was something I really wanted—I’ve worked in television for so many years in comedy and I really, really wanted to do more dramatic work because I never even think I’m funny. I always thought I’m supposed to be in a drama, so it’s been very satisfying for me to push myself and go places I haven’t gone. It’s been great. It’s been absolutely great. That’s what you want.
Everyone has an idea of how Gemma should be punished, what do you think is a fitting punishment for her?
I’d say that is a tough call. That’s a really tough call, because I don’t know given where she’s at now, I don’t know. This is what’s interesting about denial. You know how you read in the news and like you’ll see some, like that one guy they arrested this guy in Santa Monica. He was a mob guy and had been hiding for 40 years. He killed a bunch of people and there he is living in Santa Monica and he’s fine and then they arrested him. So you wonder what the psychology is of somebody that’s really done heinous things how far can we hide that from ourselves and would Gemma actually be able to. I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s gone so far. To me it seems like either way is horrible, so you will see the way it all pans out, but it’s a tough call. It’s a tough call, but people do do heinous things and continue to have lives. Yes, they do.
Through everything, what do you think is Gemma’s biggest struggle now?
I think it’s all of that and I think it’s all of the war that she has seen now come about. Bobby was killed. The lie has snowballed. No good has come from it and I think that even Gemma, who’s able to rationalize and compartmentalize things, I think even she cannot avoid the fact that her action has caused all this. If her and Juice hadn’t told the story about the Chinese, none of this would have gone down, and it’s gone down big, so there’s remorse on so many levels.
Charlie’s character went into some dark places. How do you see it?
He didn’t know what Gemma had done. His darkness is in response to losing his wife. His darkness is born out of just the worst of the worst that could have happened and his guilt about that. He brought her back into this world and Tara was always struggling with getting out, you know what I mean, so I think that’s where the darkness of Jax began and then it just continues. The lie has caught him up, too, as the war keeps getting bigger and the behavior gets worse and worse and worse and worse, but you know at the core of it, it all began with the lie Gemma told and with the killing of Tara. To me it makes perfect sense that that’s where Jax went.
If Gemma had told Jax from the beginning about Tara, how do you see that playing out?
I don’t know. I’d like to think maybe this all could have been avoided; the war could have been avoided. I don’t know. I think that all those decisions were made; maybe I think ultimately Gemma might be afraid of Jax a little bit and it always gets back to the Gemma like she needs to stick around, because she’s afraid if she’s not around, everything will fall apart with the kids, with Jax. So I’m not sure what would have happened. As we saw Jax is off the chain from the junk.
The show has been Shakespearean and tragic. Do you see it that way?
I had from the very beginning I tried to do some research on women in that culture, in the motorcycle culture, and there’s not a lot of information about them, so I took creative license and modeled her after some royal figures and some high political figures and not so much a Shakespearian. I think that those are sort of the prototypes that Kurt shaped the series around, but no, I didn’t use a lot of those myself.
Do you think Gemma’s love for Nero changed her at all?
Yes, I think that he’s a different kind of outlaw. He’s not as hard around the edges as Clay Morrow and not as sort of wimpy as John Teller ended up being, so I think that she had deep love for Nero. I think there’s a lot of regret about where that’s going to go with Nero given that he’s moving away and we don’t know what’s going to happen with her. I think she’s kind of bittersweet about that whole thing.
Which characters death hit you the hardest?
Emotionally what hit me the hardest of the bad guys are you talking about? I thought June Stahl went out in a great way. I thought that was great the way they got Ally Walker. I cried and mourned for Opie. I cried and mourned for Donna at the beginning. They’ve all had impact really, but the bad guys, I would have to say June Stahl. I thought she was a great character.
How was it getting your star on the Walk of Fame?
It really was great. You know it’s interesting because I grew up my dad was in show business and my family, it was sort of the family business, so it wasn’t that I aspired to that, but I like to work. I’m always pleased that’s the best reward. I’m glad to get the job. I’m glad to go to work. I know this sounds somewhat self effacing, that’s not where my emphasis is. It’s not about popularity or celebrity or awards really. Even though the few things that I have won have felt very, very good, but it’s never been my goal or my aspiration. I’m glad to go to work, so I didn’t think too much about it till I got there. Then I was just so humbled by the whole experience. It was fantastic, especially it’s my hometown. I was born right near there where my star is, so that was really cool.
Trying to end on a note that wouldn’t give away my sadness at never seeing Gemma again (except when I go on a bender with my awesome season collection); I can not wait to see what Katey Sagal does next.
From the iconic Peg Bundy to her vocal stint in Futurama, it will be Gemma Teller Morrow that will have left a mark on fans that will be hard to let go of. We at Movie Maven will miss SOA but look forward to the next incarnation of Katey Sagal!
The series concludes next Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX.