By Troy Rogers
FX's explosive new series Sons of Anarchy taps into the gritty underbelly of outlaw biker gangs inside northern California's Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Charter. At the center of the club's control and violent intimidation of the fictional town of Charming is actress Katey Sagal, who takes on the role of Gemma Teller Morrow, the street-wise wife of Sons of Anarchy president, John Morrow, played by the great Ron Perlman. It's a role that strips away Sagal's lighter image from Married with Children, Futurama, and 8 Simple Rules to show a grittier, gun-toting side of the actress that we've never seen before.
With the cast of Sons of Anarchy about to ride into the FX schedule for its premiere on September 3, we hopped on our hog and headed for our recent conference call with Katey Sagal to learn more about the world of outlaw bikers, what fans can expect from the show and her character, and whether we'll see her fire off a few rounds during the upcoming season.
Katey Sagal on her familiarity with motorcycle gangs and clubs:
"I knew a little bit. When I was in my twenties, 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."
Sagal on whether we'll see her on a bike during the season:
"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."
On how much gunplay her character Gemma will be involved in:
"There's one episode I just shot where I take out a hatbox filled with guns. That's all I'll say."
Sagal on whether she's fired a gun:
"No. I haven't actually shot a gun yet."
Katey Sagal on whether her character is conflicted over the illegal activities her son engages in:
"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."
Sagal on whether Gemma’s loyalty and protectiveness gets 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."
On doing a cover of the song "Son of a Preacher Man" for the show:
"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."
The differences between working on a one-hour drama and a half-hour comedy:
"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 arc 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."
Sagal on Gemma’s influence on the bike gang over the course of the first season:
"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."
On having so many good opportunities on cable:
"I think it's fantastic... 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."
Sagal on having the role of Gemma written with her in mind:
"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 counterculture 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."
Katey Sagal on whether there will be upcoming Futurama projects:
"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."