Talkin’ With … Katey Sagal, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Red Hot Mama Gemma

Talkin’ With … Katey Sagal, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Red Hot Mama Gemma

WARNING: Minor season one spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t finished that DVD box set yet …

First, a mini review of the Sons of Anarchy season two premiere: six stars on a scale of one to five, an 11 on a scale on one to ten, three thumbs up … you get the picture. For a show that had as great a first season as a show could have, SoA tops itself with tonight’s sophomore season premiere (10PM ET, FX).

The premiere delves right into the action, with Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and Clay (Ron Perlman) butting heads (especially after Jax’s realization about Donna’s murder), just as outsiders threaten the SAMCRO gang. “White separatists” led by guest stars Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins are as evil as they wanna be, and they reveal just how far they’re willing to go to oust the Sons of Anarchy from Charming with a shocking, brutal, heartbreaking move that will set up the rest of the season.

A central figure in the plot: Gemma, “old lady” of Clay, mother of Jax, who’s not only caught in the middle between her hubby and son, but is also thrown into the middle of this new war.

I had the chance to chat with Gemma portrayer Katey Sagal on Friday, just as the cast and crew – including Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, who plays Big Otto on the show and who is married to Sagal in real life – prepare to shoot the season two finale.

Sagal (who should have received an Emmy nomination for Sons of Anarchy‘s first season, and, based on the first five episodes of season two that I’ve seen, has already made her case for one again) talks about Gemma, her relationships with her motorcycle men, the comeback of her other hit series, Futurama, the likelihood of a Married … with Children reunion and whether or not she might be resurrected for the final season of Lost.

One more note: Tune in to on Wednesday for Sagal’s thoughts on the season two premiere (to share them now would be very, very spoilery).

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today, Katey. Is it true that your husband wrote the part of Gemma for you?
Yes. He was approached by the Linsons (father and son producers Art and John Linson) about writing a television show about this world, and he started writing it and somewhere in the middle of it he said, ‘I have a part for you,’ and I said, ‘Oh, fantastic.’ And that was the last I heard of it until he gave me the script and it was really fantastic.

That must have been flattering, given how strong of a character that Gemma is, that he wrote her with you in mind.
Oh, yes. Especially considering that I think my husband is an amazing writer. So yes, I was flattered that he would give me that challenge. I don’t think he would have done it if he didn’t think I could pull it off.

What was your reaction the first time you read the script?
I thought it was really amazing. And I hadn’t seen that world explored the way he was exploring it, and I just loved the epic nature of it.

It is, uniquely, a very respectful treatment of this motorcycle club world …
Oh yeah, (Kurt) is treating it very respectfully. And realistically. He pays a lot of attention to detail, which is important to him, and I think it really enhances the storytelling. Sometimes I watch the show, and I think ‘Really?’ You know, like, ‘Really, that just happened?’ And that’s just in the details of the goings-on, the formality of the club, the rules and regulations, the things you’re supposed to do and the things you’re not supposed to do. I think that all contributes to the world that he’s created.

How much research did he or you and the rest of the cast do into this world, this motorcycle club life?
Kurt did a lot. And then he also created an entire mythology for these characters, where they’ve come from, and how they got to where they are. So there’s a lot of backstory that (viewers) may never really hear about, but we did. He researched a lot of the world. I tried to find research on the women (of motorcycle clubs), but there’s very little. You know, it’s really a pretty misogynistic group, so Gemma is a lot of creative license. Gemma has been there since the beginning. She grew up in Charming and kind of ran away from home, hooked up with the motorcycle club and brought them back. So she’s been there since the inception. That’s just part of her history.

How much did you help shape Gemma?
The part that I had a hand in was her physicality. I decided to put those big blond streaks in my hair. I thought she’s a woman who would wear a lot of makeup. She dresses … it was written that she’s a very sexy woman. I think she’s always led with her sexuality. She’s a woman in a very strong man’s world. It’s not a demure world, for sure.

Gemma’s a hot mama.
Yes. She’s a hot mama.

Does Gemma see herself as a mother first or a wife first?
I think as a wife first. But I think that having been there since the inception of the club, she’s always envisioned herself as the mother of these boys.

Just as Gemma is one of the best female characters on TV, her relationship with Clay is also one of the most interesting. It’s nice to see a married couple who isn’t twentysomething, but is still portrayed as very sexual, who basically love each other and aren’t sniping at each other all the time. Did you have chemistry with Ron Perlman right off the bat?
We actually did. We read together and there was a real sort of bond there. And I think Kurt’s intention for that couple is to not show ‘The Bickersons.’ His intention for them is to show that these people like being married to each other. These are people who have fun together. Sex is still good. We’re not gonna have the middle-age crisis of, they’re only together because they have to be. And I think that’s an interesting depiction, too. I mean, in season two, you’re going to see some strains on that relationship based on some of the goings-on, but it’s not for lack of love.

Gemma’s relationship with Tara is another of the show’s most interesting relationships. Do you think they begrudgingly like and respect each other?
I would say, from Gemma’s point of view, she realizes at the end of season one, in that finale when Tara kisses Jax at the funeral, that Tara is going to stick around. And Gemma’s no dummy. The last thing she wants to do is alienate her son. She sees the benefit of having a nurse around for Abel … you know, she quickly goes through the checklist … ‘OK, I see how I can make this work. Better to embrace the situation than to alienate everybody.’ So she makes that adjustment, and then through the goings-on of season two, you do see a very vulnerable Gemma, and Tara steps up and basically takes care of her in a way. So you kind of see that go on, and you see … you know, Gemma is a woman with a big heart, as far as I’m concerned. She’s all about loyalty and family and bonding, and for her to see some of those qualities coming out in Tara makes her feel safe around Tara.

Do you think she sees Tara as being a lot like her?
In some ways. And I think she’s also grooming her a little bit. Tara’s journey is a really interesting one, too, in that she comes from this world, too, but decided to leave. Tara kind of set out on her own, got herself educated, became a doctor, and to have this pull to come back to this world, what does that mean? So, I’m sure Gemma, in her own way, is testing her. It’s like, ‘Look, if you’re going to do this, if you really want to be in this environment, this is the deal. This is what you’re gonna have to do.’ Kind of ‘The Education of Tara.’

Because Gemma has relationships with almost everyone on the show, and her relationship with all of these people is different from what Clay’s is, or what Jax’s is, for instance, with Chief Unser, I think of her as really the center of this whole world … she, in a lot of ways, keeps things going smoothly even when those around her don’t know she’s doing it. What do you think about that?
I think that what she is is the matriarch to sort of the lost boys. If you look at the motorcycle culture as a bunch of displaced souls, in a weird way, who have bonded to form this union … you know, they all need a mom. (Laughing). And in that sense, I think that’s what she provides. She is the … you know, it’s all very sort of tribal. That’s how I sort of look at it. The guys are out doing the hunting and gathering, and the women are keeping the home fires burning. But who’s to say what’s most important, really?

What’s it like on the set as one of the few regular female cast members? Does the on-camera guy bonding continue off camera?
Oh yeah, they’re wild. Not only on the set, but out on the town. They have bonded like a real group of guys. Last week, they all got motorcycles – Harley-Davidson gave them motorcycles, sort of a promotional thing – and they all took off together and spent the day together. They are bonded. And to be around them is really fun.

Do you ride motorcycles now?
I don’t. I will go on the back. But I have three children, so my safety is most important to me.

The show does a great job of mixing the intense drama with comedic moments, especially with the dialogue, and so many of them come from Gemma. Is that harder, that dark comedy, to pull off than a straight sitcom situation?
I don’t really think of it as hard. It’s not like set-up/joke. So really, the dialogue comes out of the character and the circumstance, so you’re not looking for the laugh. And I think that it doesn’t really strike me as difficult, it’s just different.

Do you enjoy those little moments, those little interjections of humor?
You know, I have to tell you, I don’t even know when they’re going to be funny. To me, it’s (Gemma’s) point of view, just how she is. When we were at the premiere, and when Gemma says the line in the premiere, ‘I don’t want to turn him into a little vegan (p-word),’ and there was this big laugh. But when I said it, when we were filming it, I didn’t realize that that was funny. Do you know what I mean?

You were just in the moment of being the character …
Yeah. And she just has a point of view.

You’ve lived with this character, in this world, for more than a year now … are you getting good at anticipating where Kurt is taking the storyline?
Oh no, I’m totally shocked all the time. Wait until you see the season two finale. We just got the script today … it’s like, ‘Huh? What?’ You don’t always see things coming. You kind of think you know, but then something different happens.

So you’re still filming season two?
Yep, we have one more to go. We’re about to start shooting the finale.

Do you and your husband ever disagree about Gemma?
Not so much. You know, I just think he’s amazing. What he writes … amazing. I mean, I’ve had some questions, like in the beginning, about her relationship with Tara, and what am I doing, and he always has a great answer. He’s thought out all these things. So it’s never been, ‘I don’t think (Gemma) would do that,’ it’s more like ‘Why would she do that?’

You’re a musician, have recorded, still do live performances, and the show makes such great use of music … “John the Revelator,” in the first season finale, for instance, was so powerful. Do you have a hand in selecting the music?
Well, I helped hire the great music supervisor we have.

So, yes …
(Laughing) Well, he’s a collaborator of mine, who produced my last record, and he’s just amazing. Bob Thiele, he’s the music supervisor. And Kurt has a lot of input into the music as well. They kind of work together on that, but no, I actually don’t.

Is this the best role you’ve ever had? Or your favorite role?
Hmm, well … it’s my favorite role for today (laughing). You know, because I love doing comedy, too. I loved being on Married … with Children. That was fantastic. And I’ve played a lot of parts that I’ve really enjoyed. But this is really stretching me in ways that I really wanted to be stretched. I really wanted to be challenged. I had never done an episodic, dramatic show before, where you have a storyline that carries out for 13 episodes. So you’re having to clock where you are. In any given episode, you need to know where you were three episodes ago. It’s a big arc. And you kind of don’t know where you’re going until you get there. So that’s an interesting process. It’s really been fantastic, and I’m having a great time with it.

And you are heading back to work soon, or maybe already are at work, on the new Futurama episodes for Comedy Central?
Oh yes, we started. We’ve already done three episodes so far. It went right into production. We’ve done just the voices so far, I should say. Then they go to the animators. So I’m not sure how long it all takes, but we’re definitely up and running.

Obviously, there’s always been a big fan base for the show, but were you surprised at all at how loyal those fans have remained, to the point where there’s going to be this whole season of new episodes?
Haha, well, I’m never surprised with Futurama anymore, because we’ve ended it so many times. But it really is a tribute to the fanbase, because they’re the ones who keep it alive. So no, I wasn’t totally surprised, because we’ve never really said goodbye to each other.

And would you be happy if Futurama continues on after this new batch of episodes?
Oh yes, absolutely. I love doing that show.

Given the Futurama “reunion,” any chance of a Married … with Children reunion?
I don’t know … we had a little reunion of sorts when David (Faustino) did his Web series (Starved), which was really wrong (laughing). We did all kind of get together for that. And every once in a while someone mentions doing a reunion, and then nothing ever happens. I’m sure we’d all be open to it, but time is moving on. They better get on it fast.

And what about a return to Lost? We think we know that Helen, John Locke’s girlfriend, is dead, but that could change with whatever is still to be revealed in the show’s final season.
Well, I’m holding out hope. I don’t know anything specifically. But you know, with Lost, they call you at the last minute if you’re going to be on the show, so I wonder about that, too. I love Lost. My son and I, my 13-year-old, and I, are just addicted to it. So yes, I’m holding out hope that Helen will be resurrected.

Are you a big TV fan in general? What else do you watch besides Lost?
I watch … I love Nurse Jackie. I like Hung. And I’ve watched Weeds the whole time. Mary-Louise Parker is great. I don’t watch a lot of mainstream, network TV, though I have been watching The Big Bang Theory, and that’s really funny. You know, Kaley (Cuoco) is on it, and I was on 8 Simple Rules with her, so I do like to watch that.

You mentioned Nurse Jackie and Weeds, and those kinds of shows, along with Sons of Anarchy, are really where the great roles are for actresses these days …
Oh, definitely. Thank God for cable. And not just for women, but ‘women of a certain age.’ It’s just awesome.

    • Robin said at May 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm
    • Reply

    I have enjoyed watching you on the different shows, I think I like you the best as Gemma. She is so strong! As an old Lady myself I like her alott!!

    • stephanie said at March 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm
    • Reply

    hey katey i like how u an ur husband are doing the sons of anarchy i like the part u do because people use gemma as a person to look up 2 and use her strangth in their own lives so it was a good thing for the show

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