True confessions time. We’re not Sons of Anarchy fanatics. We appreciate the show but it’s not on our heavy rotation the way some others are. But when we got an opportunity to talk to show runner Kurt Sutter, we jumped at the chance. What we have seen of SOA has led us to have the utmost of respect for the motorcycle club series’ Executive Producer — and he did not disappoint.
This interview is a must read for anyone who is interested in the craft of creating a show, maintain its integrity and knowing when to say enough is enough. Whether you watch Sons of Anarchy or not, what Sutter address applies to the craft of creating quality TV. In fact, his words were so significant we’re running select excerpts in two installments. Check back on January 9 for Part II.
On the Importance of the Little Details
“I’m really sort of tyrannical with the little details of the show in terms of costume, and a scene, set design and transpo, 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 those really rich, small details what that then allows me to do is then tell much bigger, epic, dramatic stories. I feel if I can root it firmly in the reality of the subculture, to all the grittiness of it, all the fine details of it are true and accurate. Then it just gives me a lot more freedom than perhaps push the boundaries on the realities of perhaps the stories and their circumstances. That’s always been very important to me from the beginning, and we’re a pretty well oiled machine now. We get it all done. I can’t tell you, just choosing the crucifix was at least a dozen conversations, me looking at about 30 or 40 different crosses.”
On Crafting a Finale for a Season that Had a Major Twist Earlier
“That’s always a challenge, doing something larger in the beginning. I really wanted to do that with Opie. I didn’t want to drag it out, have people not see it coming because of bad execution, but see it coming because of the natural progression of the world. I really wanted it to be shocking, 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 really with the death of Opie, and not so much about worrying about having the rest of the season be a let-down, but really what it gave me was such a life-altering circumstance for my hero that it really allowed me to accelerate his journey. I really wanted to get to the place where we had to force Jax’ hand to see what kind of a leader he was going to become. I feel like the death of Opie, that deep tragedy, that’s such an unsettling event, really allowed me then to accelerate the emotionality of that journey, so we could organically push Jax to the edge to see what kind of a man, what kind of a leader he was going to become. In that way, it really probably opened up my story possibilities rather than hindered them.”
On Finding the Balance with His Characters
“It’s always a fine balance with any of our three major characters: Jax, Gemma and Clay. A trilogy with such strong familiar characters that have won the hearts of the audience, yet they live in this very dangerous, dark world and have to make decisions all the time, and 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.
Gemma, and I mean this in the most flattering way, Gemma is just a cockroach. She’s just hard to kill. She was really adrift at the beginning of the season… She hit a bottom. She crawled her way back up, and she made some really very defining decisions. My intent for her was at the end of the season for her to have her balls back. We got there at the end of the finale. Yes, it’s hard to cheer that on, but yet at the very least there’s that sense of 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. It’s definitely a fine line.”
On Casting Sons of Anarchy
“I’m pretty much involved. I don’t go to [the sessions]. 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 with a major cast, a major role I’ll have meetings and I’ll sit down. I sat down with Jimmy Smits, obviously, and I sat down with Harold [Perrineau] and with Donal Logue. At that point, it’s not making them read or audition, it’s more of a creative discussion about whether or not it’s a good fit.
“In terms of the day players, what will happen is they’ll do a general audition. Paris, my line producer, Jon Pare, is on those. Wendy O’Brien, my fantastic casting director, is running those, and then whoever is the writer or producer is on the episode. They’ll do a general audition and then they’ll do callbacks. Then I’ll usually get their top three or four picks with their recommendations.
“The director is obviously in on those auditions. I’ll get the first pick or the second choice of the director. Then they’ll send me their choices. I would say 70% of the time I’ll go usually with the director’s choice. Sometimes I’ll see something in a character or in an actor that I feel is not right or would be better served because I know where the story is going to and then I’ll make a different choice than the director. That’s pretty much my involvement. I’m pretty much plugged in to every actor that is in the show.”