Sons of Anarchy, which spotlights the antics of an outlaw motorcycle club, begins its fourth season on September 6th. The highest rated series in F/X’s history stars Ron Perlman as Clay, the President of the Club, Katey Sagal as Gemma, his wife, and Charlie Hunnam as Jax, Gemma’s son with the late John Teller (Nicholas Guest), who was the original leader of the group.
The series was created by Executive Producer Kurt Sutter (The Shield), who also plays the role of Big Otto Delany on the show. This season writer/producer/director Paris Barclay (NYPD Blue, The West Wing, House, The Good Wife) joins the series as Co-Executive Producer.
Both Kurt Sutter and Paris Barclay joined the TV Critics tour to talk about the new season of their cult hit.
Mr Barclay, what brought you aboard?
Paris Barclay: You only get maybe two or three chances to find a show where the passion is as good, the writing is as good, the cast is as good. I’ve had a couple. NYPD Blue was one, and Sons of Anarchy, which I did a couple of episodes before, had that nexus. What Kurt’s created, what the cast is able to do, it’s lightning in a bottle.
I almost did it last season, but I was doing In Treatment at the same time. Kurt bought me an expensive dinner. I said, ‘I want to do it. I want to be there. I want to play.’ And this time, I did it and I’ve love this entire season. I think you will see very shortly we’ve done something extraordinary here.
And Mr Sutter, why Mr Barclay?
Kurt Sutter: As Paris said, I had been trying to get him on board as a director/producer as early as his episode on Season One. It’s a ‘role’ that’s difficult to fill. Most other Fox shows have that position filled. I love all my other directors, but I was putting somebody in that position and giving them the authority and the trust and the creative freedom to help run the show.
I knew it had to be somebody of Paris’ caliber, who knew the show. So I tried to get him for Season 3. And I did buy him an expensive dinner, and it didn’t work. But I knew Paris had loyalties to In Treatment. It was a show he helped create, and it just worked out this season. We continued to whittle away at him, and we broke his spirit.
What reaction do you get from the biking community to this series?
Kurt Sutter: My experience is that the feedback has been generally very positive. I have friends that are in [that] life. So I know it’s a drama and we take a lot of liberties with how these guys live their lives. But my experience is that they embrace that. And I’ve mentioned this before, they consider it their soap opera. And I do keep the lines of communication open so that it remains an homage and not exploitation, because I never want to cross that line where they feel like you were exploiting their lives.
And so that’s really been the experience and it’s been very positive to the point where I’m usually getting head shots and stuff like that when I enter into these [biking] events.
The opening of this season there’s some issues between Jax and the rest of the club, but you also introduce Ray McKinnon as an eccentric new prosecutor and Rockmond Dunbar as the new sheriff. How do you decide how much is going to be about the club fighting within itself and how much is it going to be of people coming at them from the outside?
Kurt Sutter: I think the idea always is to use those external pressures to incubate what’s going on inside the club. When you have these dynamics set up, as we set up this season with the Russians in the premiere and then ultimately with the Mexicans, there are all these internal conflicts going on. And then, when you add the external pressure (like we do with) a new sheriff, for me, it’s always about using those external things just to torque up and create more tension on the things that are going on internally.
Not to open up a can of worms, but [according to your tweets] you were somewhat perturbed by the lack of Emmy attention last month that the show got. I wondered what your theory is as to why the show can’t get arrested by the TV Academy?
Kurt Sutter: Clearly, we know why we won’t get any Emmy nods now! But I’ll just say my tweets were more about my bad relationship with my father than they were about the actual Emmy nominations (he laughs). If you want to lay me down on a couch and talk about that afterwards, I will gladly open up that can of worms, and perhaps pay you!
Mr Barclay, can you compare working with Kurt Sutter on this to David Milch on NYPD Blue?
Paris Barclay: Well, both are geniuses. Both really know what every character thinks and feels in a way that I find is highly unusual in television. Usually the writer is hoping that the actor will fill it all in.
These guys know when they’re sitting down to write what the life of that character is. David likes to direct the actors more than Kurt does, if you can imagine such a thing. And Kurt is much more timely than David is. But both of them, I would say, with Aaron Sorkin, those are the three great living television writers now.
Kurt Sutter: That’s why I hired him!