Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to ask questions of Katey Sagal (8 Simple Rules, Married…With Children), along with other outlets, about her new show on FX, Sons of Anarchy. We each got a chance to ask a couple questions.
The things I wanted to know going into the interview were: what about her character most interested her, what the difference are between working on a half-hour comedy as opposed to an hour long drama, and whether she likes to watch TV or not. I was able to ask the last two, but the first was covered as well.
Question: My first question for you, with this role being specifically written for you, does that make a difference going into it? How is it different having it with you in mind when it was created?
Katey Sagal: When my husband came to me and said he had written me a part, he didn’t actually tell me what the part was. I knew that he was writing a show in the world of outlaw motorcycle clubs and I knew she was the mother of the lead character, but that was all I really knew. I don’t know that it was necessarily inspired by me, but when he says that he sort of tailor made it to me, I’m not quite sure what he meant by that.
Once you see her, you’ll kind of think, “Huh?” Gemma is a fiercely loyal mother not only to her son, but also to her sort of family of club members. They’re kind of this counter-culture group, and she is the matriarch of that group. In my personal life, I’m a pretty fiercely loyal mother, but I don’t practice the same ways and means as Gemma does.
Q: Okay. As a follow-up to that, can you just tell us a little bit about what we can expect from Gemma as the series goes on? The descriptions sound like you’re fiercely loyal and—I can’t remember what the word was—vicious.
Sagal: Yes, she’s all that. She’s vicious. She’s ferocious. She’s a hard ass. I look at her as a survivor. I look at all of these people. They’ve created their own little world. They all come from their own fragmented lives to kind of come together and form their own family. Whatever her history is it has left her being somebody that is a fighter. What we can expect is that, if she’s at all threatened by any kind of potential for breakup of her family or harm to her son, she will go to any lengths to protect that. You will see that in various forms.
Question: I was just wondering, how much did you know about motorcycle gangs or clubs before signing on?
Sagal: I knew a little bit. When I was in my 20s, I definitely kind of ran with a fast crowd. Some of that involved people with bikes. I don’t know very much about the actual club situation. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I didn’t have a lot of real experience, per se, no.
Q: Okay. As a follow-up, do you get a chance to ride while you’re filming? Will we see you on a bike at all this season?
Sagal: Yes, I just shot a scene two days ago where I get on the back of the bike. I’m not actually riding a bike. I’m just on the back of the bike.
Question: You’re a pretty unusual mother in this show from what I’ve seen so far. We don’t usually see a mom who is actually involved in the group in which her son is doing some illegal activities and questionable things. Do you think she has conflicted feelings over this or is her main dedication to the motorcycle family?
Sagal: I think she has no conflicted feelings about it. I think that she is all about the club. She’s all about her family. She loves her life and the lifestyle that this has provided for her. She sees nothing wrong with what she does.
Question: I just wanted to know what your feelings were on Gemma’s flaws. You said that she’s a fiercely protective and loyal mother, but do you see that getting in her way?
Sagal: With that getting in her way? From Gemma’s perspective, no, absolutely not. It’s so interesting, because from her perspective, which is really, as the actor, that’s what I’m doing is her perspective, she sees nothing wrong with what she does. It’s all a means to an end for her and whatever she needs to do. In the pilot, you see her do some pretty harsh things when her son and grandson are threatened and, from her perspective, what needs to be done.
Q: Okay, thank you. Just one other question, I heard, in the end of the second episode, the song Son of a Preacher Man. I just wanted to confirm if that was you singing.
Sagal: It is.
Q: And if you had any plans to do any other singing in the show.
Sagal: It is me. Kurt wanted to use that song for the montage at the end, and we decided to re-record it. Aretha Franklin did kind of a gospel version of it, so we did a track like that, and then we kind of did a different vocal on it, having me sing the vocal. It was fun to do. I don’t know if there are any plans for it. It wasn’t really planned out; it just spontaneously kind of happened. I hope so, though. I love to sing.
Question: Could you talk about any difference for you as an actor in appearing for an hour-long drama as opposed to a half-hour comedy?
Sagal: There are a lot of differences. It’s a serialized show, the nature of it, in that you’re dealing with 12 episodes and there’s an arch for all the characters. The work that I did for this part was a lot of back story and history, sort of figuring out where these people came from and how they end up in a motorcycle club. For just me individually, I needed to understand all that back story and all that history, so I did a lot of exploration and imagination, figuring that out. My husband is really good and sort of builds that whole world for himself and to write from, so he was a good source for that material. When you’re doing comedy, a sitcom, it doesn’t require quite the same depth of work, I’d say.
Question: Many of your fans know you from your comedy work on shows like Married…with Children, Eight Simple Rules, and Eli Stone. Do you have a different work method when it comes to more dramatic projects, like Sons of Anarchy?
Sagal: Yes. Just like I answered the previous question, it just takes a little more history on my part and sort of understanding a lot of back story and where this person comes from. Doing a serialized series where the character is actually going somewhere, there’s a beginning, middle and an end sort of, until the next season, so there’s a broader arch.
Q: Just one more thing. I notice you are a huge comedy television icon, and Ron Perlman is a huge movie icon through his role as Hellboy. What was it like putting two icons together and as a married couple for a TV show?
Sagal: Very nice of you to say that. Ron and I have a very good, intense chemistry. The important thing about Gemma and Clay, one of the important things, is that they’re a happily married couple. They’re not an uptight married couple. They like each other. They have a lot of passion for each other. It’s a fun relationship. Ron and I have that chemistry together. I’m sure he doesn’t think of me as an icon, and I’m not looking at him that way either. We’re just doing our job.
Question: I wanted to talk more about Gemma’s, what are we calling it, bad-ass-nicity. Do you think there is any line that she won’t cross in protecting her family or, as an actress, are you protective of her ultimate morality?
Sagal: As an actress, I don’t get involved in that. I’ve faced that issue a lot with parts I’ve played and what are my values as opposed to what the character’s values are. That’s not my job. My job is to interpret the writers, the vision, so I don’t have my morality on it. In terms of her, I would say she pretty much goes to any length. People that do things that seem nefarious to other people sometimes don’t really feel that they are; do you know what I mean? They have the reasoning and motive. They’ve made that okay for themselves. I think that she sees what she does as what she needs to do.
Q: So there hasn’t been a point in any script yet where she has drawn the line at the length she’ll go to?
Sagal: Not yet.
Question: My question is relating to the influence Gemma has towards the gang. In the first episode, we kind of see that, even though she is not the face of the gang, she does have some influence on Clay. I was wondering if we’re going to see more of that and how it’s going to develop during the season?
Sagal: She may have more. Gemma has been there since the beginning. The history is that Gemma and her first husband, John Teller, were married when that club was formed. She’s been there, and then Clay also started the club with her previous husband. She’s aware and witness to all the goings on.
The influence that the women have in that world and particularly someone like Gemma is a very overt one actually. I don’t think it would be an obvious role over any situation. It’s pretty much a man’s world, but there are always some pretty strong women behind that man’s world.
Q: My second question is I was wondering if you were still shooting the season or if you were done and how many episodes were going to be aired.
Sagal: We just finished episode 5, and we’re doing 13 for the cable.
Question: I was wondering if you think, as far as the character goes, if the action she has done in episode one and the pilot will eventually affect her relationship with her son, drive a wedge between her and her son.
Sagal: Those are kind of questions for the creators and the writers. I don’t really know. Jax is conflicted, and that becomes apparent in the first episode that he is sort of questioning what was the original vision of this club and are we doing what my dad had set out to do? Will it cause a wedge; I don’t know. I haven’t read that far ahead.
Q: I know you talked about your music earlier. Are you planning on maybe releasing a full album in the future?
Sagal: I’d love to make a new record, but I haven’t really had time to work on it right now. I’m playing gigs. I’m going to be in Nevada—I think it’s Hendersonville, Nevada—on October 17th. We were just up in Seattle and up in San Francisco. I love to go play live. I don’t have any plans to record anything new right now, but that can change.
Question: I was wondering if you get a chance to watch much TV and, if so, what types of shows do you like to watch?
Sagal: My TiVo is full right now. I like to watch TV. I like Weeds. I like that show. I like Mad Men. I watch a lot of HGTV.
FX PR Guy: And a lot of FX. Go ahead, Katey; say it.
Sagal: Of course I watch FX, oh my gosh.
FX PR Guy: It goes without saying. Thank you.
Sagal: It goes without saying. I didn’t think I needed to say it, exactly.
Question: You said that you used to kind of run with the motorcycle crowds in your early 20s. How true to the storyline are you finding these episodes to reality? Maybe it wasn’t this crazy when you used to run with the crowds, but are you finding it pretty true to life?
Sagal: I never ran with a real motorcycle club. I want that to be made clear. I just had a lot of boyfriends with bikes, let’s put it that way. From what I’ve now learned of this world and how the show is being formed, it’s really true to life. They have their own kind of code, and they have a lot of rules and regulations within their club. They’re like their own little society. The families are very close and the guys are really bonded, so there seems to be a lot of reality to it. Certainly some of the goings on are not true to what exactly happens, but I don’t know.
Q: Right. Was this based on a Hell’s Angels type thing?
Sagal: You’d have to talk to my husband about that, because I don’t know how much it’s based on that. I’m not sure how much is loosely based or actually based.
Question: I know a lot of people are saying now that the best shows are actually on cable TV rather than on the broadcast networks, and FX is right up there. I was wondering if you agree with that assessment and kind of how that changes the opportunities, having so many good opportunities on the cable channels.
Sagal: I think it’s fantastic, and I think that’s definitely true. We have network television; I’m a big fan of that, too. I’ve made a very good living and career on network television. I think that it’s going through some kind of transition. It’s just a looser creative reign on cable. You’re more like the independent film morals. You’re allowed to do more outside-the-box kind of things. It’s not a formula.
For someone like me that was really looking to do something different, I sort of felt that what I’d done I’ve done for a long time and I’ve been pretty successful at it. I wanted to find a different thing to do, and cable has definitely provided that. I think for women it’s just opened up a lot of doors.
Q: Maybe a personal question here; with your music and your acting, which one do you find the most fulfilling for your artistic self?
Sagal: I’d say for today, my acting, this is so exciting to me, what we’re doing on the show and everybody is getting to stretch. As an actor, it’s a great experience. Music for me is always kind of the most organic thing I’ve ever done, because it’s what I’ve done since I was a kid. I love to do that as well. I love them both.
Question: I was just wondering how much gun play will we see Gemma involved in?
Sagal: Gun play?
Sagal: There’s one episode I just shot where I take out a hatbox filled with guns. That’s all I’ll say.
Q: Did you have to train in weapons at all?
Sagal: No. I haven’t actually shot a gun yet.
Question: A bit of a two-part question. How long have Gemma and Clay been married, and then how would this have made a difference of either a fatherly figure of Clay towards Jax versus being a brother in the motorcycle family?
Sagal: The second part I don’t really understand. The first part; we figure they’ve been married for about 15 years.
Q: Okay. Has that made Clay more of a father figure for Jax or more of a partner on the gang?
Sagal: I think he’s a little of both. He’s his stepdad, and he came into his life when Jax was about 15, 16 years old. That’s an interesting relationship. I think that he’s fatherly, but he’s also brotherly. It’s both; I guess that’s the answer.
Q: Also, how have you found it to be on a cast that’s mostly men?
Sagal: It’s fantastic. We have great women, though, too, you know. We have Maggie Siff and Drea De Mateo. Taryn Manning is there now. She’s doing a four- or five-episode arch. She’s fantastic. So the girls are really strong.
Question: I was wondering if you could tell me if there were going to be any upcoming Futurama projects that you might be involved in.
Sagal: Not that I know of. I would really like there to be. We shot the four DVD movies, and they’ve released two of them already. There is another one coming out in November. We’re done with recording, so I don’t know. Somebody has to buy some more. The blog fans and the Web fans have been the most instrumental in getting that to happen actually. So, if you want more Futurama, just let them know.
Q: Do you think that there might be any possibility of a big screen Futurama event?
Sagal: Same answer; I have no idea what goes on with all that. Me, it’s just a smart show that that would be a great move for somebody.
Question: I notice on IMDB that you have a movie in post-production called Jack and the Beanstalk. I was wondering if you’d tell me about that.
Sagal: Yes. It’s a live action; how you describe it exactly, but there are characters that are really dressed up as the characters. It’s like a specialized deal, but it’s a really cute movie. It’s a different version of Jack and the Beanstalk. Christopher Lloyd is in it, and I’m in it and Wallace Shawn is in. I’m not sure when it will be out, but I’m doing ADR on it actually this week.
Sons of Anarchy premieres tonight, Wednesday, September 3rd on FX.