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article imageKatey Sagal's closing words on 'Sons Of Anarchy' — The Final Ride Special

By Earl Dittman     Nov 18, 2014 in Entertainment
With only three episodes left before the series end of 'Sons Of Anarchy' — the brutal drama about the criminal inner workings of an outlaw motorcycle biker gang — Sagal opens up on the journey's end for her character and the groundbreaking FX series.
The countdown to the end has begun. After seven spectacular seasons, Sons Of Anarchy — writer, producer and series star Kurt Sutter's tale about the ruthless world of outlaw bikers who live, ride and die for brotherhood in the small town of Charming, California — is heading for a bloody, brutal and epic conclusion. With three episodes remaining, Sutter's real-life wife, Katey Sagal — the brilliant actress who portrays Gemma Teller, the matriarchal head of the outlaw motorcycle club SAMCRO — discusses the deteriorating emotional and mental state of her character, her feelings about the end of Sons Of Anarchy and her plans for the future (which includes working with Kurt again in the upcoming series The Bastard Executioner).
First off, there’s been so much speculation about what is going to happen to Gemma as SOA comes to a conclusion. What do you think of the speculation? Secondly, whether or not there is a Sons prequel, what advice would Gemma give to her younger self? "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 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. In terms of what happens with her next, I don’t know a lot of the speculation. I read some things. I don’t read a lot, but I’m sure some people want her dead and I’m sure some people want her to live forever, so I can’t really speak to where it’s going. You’re going to have to watch."
A large contingent of the fans definitely want to see Gemma punished and made to pay for her crimes and sins with her life. There's another subset of fans that think it would be a more fitting punishment if she’s forced to live with the fallout from everything that she had done. What is your perspective? What would be the more fitting punishment for Gemma? "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."
Katey Sagal is Gemma Teller on  Sons Of Anarchy
Katey Sagal is Gemma Teller on 'Sons Of Anarchy'
Do you think fans will be satisfied with the series' ending? What are your thoughts? "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 (Hunnam) and myself. Both of us sort of feel — you’ll have to talk to Charlie, but he liked it, too. It was satisfying for all involved; that’s what I’ll say."
What are you most excited for fans to see from the final three 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 at all."
Gemma with her grandson Abel
Gemma with her grandson Abel
At what point during this past season do you think Gemma really crossed the line beyond any help of redemption? Do you not think that she hasn’t crossed that line, because she does act out of trying to do what’s best for her family and protect them? "I think what we’re seeing now is her own conscience finally grabbing her. I still think, though, she believes that her momentary rage-filled act at the end of Season Six, 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."
During this final season, Gemma has been talking to the ghost of Tara. Can you talk about doing those and why do you think they’re so important for Gemma? "I think it’s very indicative of her unraveling. They’re super easy to do, because I felt very close to Maggie (Siff), 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."
Tara (Maggie Siff) with Gemma (Katey Sagal)
Tara (Maggie Siff) with Gemma (Katey Sagal)
To a lot of fans, Gemma's cover-up of Tara's murder has been kind of exclusively for her self-preservation. Gemma claims that all of the things she's done has been in the name of protecting her family, but it seems like she is just trying to cover her own proverbial ass. "Well, 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."
Why do you think it is important for the story for Gemma to have Abel, who she’d been trying to protect, to be the one to ultimately undo her? "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."
Jax (Charlie Hunnam)  Gemma (Sagal) and Wendy (Drea de Matteo)
Jax (Charlie Hunnam), Gemma (Sagal) and Wendy (Drea de Matteo)
Can you talk about the dynamic between you and Wendy (Drea de Matteo) this season, because we’ve seen a multitude of highs and lows between the two of them? In a recent episode, Jax asked Wendy to move in and the look in Gemma’s eyes and on her face that was just priceless. Was she finally realizing that all these efforts to be the main influence in Jax’s life has completely backfired at this point? "No, I thought those looks were a little bit — she was despondent. 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 situtation, and Wendy didn’t throw her under the bus. She kept the secret. Gemma 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."
A lot of fans have really been disappointed with where the character of Jax (Charlie Hunnam) has gone. Many believe that it took him going to these very strong places to finally make Gemma realize what she’s done. "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."
Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal
Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal
If Gemma had come clean at the beginning to Jax and just told the truth, what do you think his reaction would have been if that had happened? "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."
Gemma almost killed Juice earlier this season or at least she intended to. With that being said, is there anyone on the show aside from Jax, then her grandkids, of course, who you think Gemma would never be able to kill no matter what, like even if they had her backed into a corner?"No, 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."
As the series comes to a close, we're actually seeing your Gemma struggle with the fallout from her actions. Do you think that she’s struggling more because ultimately she’s feeling that facing her son and seeing his reaction to knowing maybe what she did is what’s driving her to this level of remorse? Or do you think she misses having Tara there, ultimately, and finally realizing what she’s done just as a person? "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."
Gemma (Sagal) and Nero Padilla (Jimmy Smits)
Gemma (Sagal) and Nero Padilla (Jimmy Smits)
Can we talk a little but about Nero (Jimmy Smits) and Gemma’s relationship, because it seems like she’s finally allowed herself to open up to someone else in a way. Do you think that that love that she feels for him and that he feels for her has changed Gemma for the better? "Yes, I think that he’s a different kind of outlaw. He’s not as hard around the edges as Clay Morrow (Ron Pearlman) 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."
Over the course of the series so many characters have died, both good guys and villains and sometimes in really brutal and horrific ways. Which character death really stuck with you the most or hit you the hardest? "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."
It’s been an incredible seven seasons. Now that the end is near, in retrospect, what were some of the most memorable high points and what were some of the biggest challenges? "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. 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."
Are you going to binge watch all seven seasons? "I think I might." (laughs)
Several members of the SOA cast were recently on Conan. and unfortunately you weren’t there because you are making a movie. What you were working on and do you feel you’ve already mentally moved on to what’s coming next for you? Since your husband, Kurt, is also the creator of Sons of Anarchy, have you gone through a little bit of a mourning period at home now that everything is wrapped up?"First of all, I watched them all on Conan and I wished I was there. They were all so fantastic and you could just feel the vibe of our show. It was lovely to see, but I’m in Rhode Island. I’m doing a movie called Bleed for This, which is the life story of Vinny Pazienza. Miles Teller is playing Vinny and I play his mother, and it takes place in the ‘80s. It’s a pretty cool movie, so I’ve been working on that and that’s why I wasn’t there. I would have been at Conan no matter what, but this movie started right away.
"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."
A lot of the guys from the cast have gotten to keep their cuts and their motorcycles, so what keepsakes have you gotten 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. 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."
Nothing else, none of the wardrobe? "No, not really, no. I might have taken another leather jacket, but no, that was the one I really wanted."
Kurt Sutter and Katey Sagal
Kurt Sutter and Katey Sagal
Not every actress gets lucky enough to work with their husband on a show. Can you just talk about how Kurt created the role for you and what you thought when you first saw the role of Gemma? "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."
Kurt is developing another show for FX called The Bastard Executioner. Are you going to be involved in that project with him? "Yes, yes, I’m going to be in it. We don’t know in what capacity yet, because he’s now working on it, but that is where we’re going, yes. I will definitely be involved in it."
Now, at the end, how you feel about the legacy that Sons of Anarchy has left on the world of television? "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."
Gemma Teller is one of like the strongest and toughest female characters on TV. How has it been for you to embody a woman and a female character that is so powerful? "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."
What do you think it is about Sons Of Anarchy that has made it such a fan favorite show? "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. 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.
What has it been like sitting back and watching SOA, as a fan, because Gemma's gone through everything from an assault to murder? "It's been 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."
Sons Of Anarchy has been this great Shakespearean tragedy, sort of like Hamlet with motorcycles — although your character has been more Lady Macbeth with the way her guilt has been eating at her this season. Have the characters from Hamlet or Macbeth been any kind of an influence or inspiration of how you played Gemma? "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."
Katey Sagal receives her star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame
Katey Sagal receives her star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame
What did it mean for you to get the long overdue star on the Walk of Fame? "It was so thrilling. 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."
The last time we spoke, you had just released your incredible new album, and you had mentioned you had started out your career wanting to be a singer/songwriter. Now that this album has come out and now that you have maybe a little bit of free time after you finish the movie, are you going to pursue more music? Are we going to see you out on tour? Is that something you’re thinking about still doing? "Yes, I was just talking to my agent about that, yes. I don’t want to go out for too long. I don’t like to leave town that much, but a couple weeks here, a couple weeks there, I always play music. This was my third record that came out and music is so much a part of my expression and my life, and what I love to do. I love to play live, so I am hoping to put together some kind of touring situation."
With your time with the series coming to an end, what will you personally miss most about being involved with the show? "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."
If Katey Sagal could actually speak to Gemma Teller, what advice would you have for your fictional alter-ego? "Just calm down. Darling, just calm down." (laughs)
Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller
Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller
The final episodes of Sons Of Anarchy air on Tuesday nights (November 18, December 2 and December 9) at 10:00p.m.EST/9:00p.m.CST only on FX.
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