MIKE FLEMING: So I am here at the lovely home of Sons Of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter to witness the pageantry of the 66th Prime Time Emmy Awards. I asked him to be my play by play partner because I have watched his show from moment one, and for my money, it is the best drama series that most consistently gets ignored by the Emmy voters. I figured that since he is going into the seventh and final season of a show that is headed towards an explosive conclusion, maybe this will be the year that voters show the Sons a little love. From Katey Sagal to Charlie Hunnam on down, there are great performances here, and I thought it high time for a reconsideration. Kurt, do you think that is possible?
KURT SUTTER: You lost me at pageantry.
FLEMING: Well, then, what do you think of the outfits?
SUTTER: I think Seth Meyers looks great in a tux. Actually, I appreciate the desire for some love. I think I stopped really trying to figure it out three seasons ago, the season we killed Opie. Landgraf had theories and so did I. whatever the reasons, it doesn’t really matter.
FLEMING: But it’s clear you’re not making the show for the voters?
SUTTER: If everything was going downhill, I might have doubted myself. Viewership, critical praise, the general buzz about the show, was all on an upward trajectory.
FLEMING: I always wondered if the honest and salty response by the cast and yourself to the snubs might not have helped. What do you think?
SUTTER: As far as the voting body of the Emmys, it’s ultimately schlubs like me. There’s part of me that makes me thing that’s possible, but I’m not that powerful. It’s grandiose to imagine my harsh opinions would influence the Academy in a bad way.
FLEMING: The thing that gets me is; you could imagine them marginalizing the show because it’s set in a biker club. But Emmys love Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos, both set in seedy criminal enterprises.
SUTTER: The whole dirty white boy thing plays into it. I also think the pulp factor in my show is something that peole don’t necessarily associate with brilliant character dramas.
FLEMING: Well, if we can’t change hearts and minds, can we at least try to use all those seven words that George Carlin warned us about?
SUTTER: Fuck Yeah. My sound mixer for the show does that for Modern Family. Every year he wins the Emmy. He’s got a car full of Emmys. I say, just give me one.
FLEMING: Isn’t it wrong to touch the money before you win it? Have you held that Emmy? Could that be the cause for this injustice?
SUTTER: I’m at the point where I am just going to buy a few on E Bay.
FLEMING: We should probably pay attention to some of this Emmy stuff. Seth Meyers got them off to a good start. Ty Burrell won an Emmy. Kurt, I’m a movie guy but I love the stuff that TV is doing. A lot of it is coming from frustrated feature guys like yourself who are kings of the small screen. What shows do you love?
SUTTER: My favorite shows…I know how great TV is now, but it demands a certain amount of time and loyalty. The shows I watch religiously are The Daily Show, I watch Boardwalk Empire, and my new favorite is The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof’s show. He’s an amazing storyteller.
FLEMING: Wow, after you wrap the show, you’ve got a lot to catch up on. I was blown away by True Detective’s Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and I remember after LA Confidential, writers would pitch movies and say, imagine bud white as a…Everybody wanted to channel Russell Crowe’s breakout performance. Well, the first actor to do it is Liev Schreiber in Ray Donovan.
SUTTER: I like Orange is the New Black, though I haven’t caught up to this season yet.
FLEMING: You a Louis CK guy?
SUTTER: Love Louie. And he looks like he hit a tanning bed.
FLEMING: Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers look like GQ models. Weren’t these guys schlubby?
SUTTER: I think Jimmy’s great, much more the everyman than everyone else.
FLEMING: Gotta say I’m a Conan O’Brien guy.
SUTTER: Like him too.
FLEMING: I’m glad we are watching from your house. My most useful wardrobe accessory would have been a shoehorn. Deadline puts a lot of weight on you, if you stress eat and don’t exercise like i do. When was the last time you put on a tux?
SUTTER: tux? black suit? probably…Golden Globes. Three years ago?
FLEMING: Wow. did you turn it into the rental shop or is it in the closet?
SUTTER: Allison Janney just won for Moms. I don’t know why, but she always shows up at our Christmas party?
FLEMING: Hopefully she doesn’t bring that Emmy just to taunt you.
SUTTER: I only invite people who’ve won and I make them bring their trophies.
FLEMING: So tell me about where you are taking us Sons addicts in this final season?
SUTTER: We are definitely heading down a dark road. And I’m not sure yet if there’s any light at the end of this tunnel.
FLEMING: Star sighting! The great Katey Sagal has just shown up and said hello. Is it wrong to name drop, particularly since she lives here?
SUTTER: Yes, she lives here. I am lucky. Our guy Paris Barclay just got nominated for Glee. It’s such a natural companion piece for the work he does with us.
FLEMING: Finally, we’ve got a rooting interest. Paris kept a nice face even though he didn’t win.
SUTTER: That was his, I already have six Emmys and am president of the DGA so I don’t give a fuck smile.
FLEMING: When you find yourself coming to the end of a seven year road, how much of this journey did you have worked out when you started the trip with that first episode?
SUTTER: Modern Family is sweeping again. I could see Orange is the New Black surprising people. As for Sons, I had a good sense of the big mile markers. I knew Tara was going to die at the end of season six.
SUTTER: I didn’t see that coming. I thought he’d making it to the end.
FLEMING: Why veer from that path? He was everyone’s favorite character, no disrespect to Otto.
SUTTER: I love Ryan and as sad as it was to see him go, it’s part of the magic of what I get to do. i have actors who bring their own interpretaion to their characters and Ryan played Opie with such empathy, that I got to the point where there was no place else I could go with him. We’d taken everything from him and he just couldn’t sit at the table anymore.
FLEMING: Would it have dulled the edge of the show?
SUTTER: It would have pushed the credibility of who he was. we had taken his wife and his father. Knowing what he knew, I couldn’t see him across the table from Clay anymore. I wanted him to go out in service of the club. That scene between he and Jax in the jail cell, it’s one of my favorite scenes I ever wrote.
FLEMING: Either on The Shield or in Sons, ever kill someone or make a plot move you regretted?
SUTTER: Hmm….no. I think there were some circumstances where, on Sons, there was the sad case of Johnny Lewis. I had no intention of getting rid of that character. None of what ultimately happened to Johnny, I saw no foreshadowing of that on the show. He was professional and together. He felt marginalized, didn’t know what he contributed. He didn’t really want to come back and I’m not going to keep an actor on the show that doesn’t want to be there. That’s poison. I’ve been forced to make decisions I wish I didn’t have to, but none that I made on character and narrative do I regret.
FLEMING: Ever have an actor try to talk you out of their character’s demise?
SUTTER: Yeah. It’s the Seven Stages of Grief. It’s, Nooo!. Then Why??? Then various stages of sad acceptance. But Ron Perlman still hasn’t accepted it. I had lunch with Ryan a year ago. It was so gratifying having a post mortem with him about the character. he was so grateful and he understood it. Once they distance themselves from it, they see the big picture.
FLEMING: I saw Ron in Cannes. He seemed happy. He’s raising money, setting up stuff. Guillermo del Toro wants to do another Hellboy. He still hasn’t gotten over it?
SUTTER: I just read an interview he did where he talked about how difficult it was, to let that character go.
FLEMING: You sympathize?
SUTTER: Absolutely. I think Ron always assumed the final conflict would be between he and Jax. For me, the final conflict is between Jax and himself.
FLEMING: Not his mother Gemma?
SUTTER: Jax has always been a conflicted guy. too deep a thinker for that life. Yeah, obviously there’ll be conflict between he and his mom and other club members. And external antagonists this season. The ultimate conflict for Jax will be more about his legacy and coming to terms with who he is as a man.
FLEMING: I read you studied classic literature and plays. Is there a storied protagonist Jax is inspired by?
SUTTER: Hmm. Obviously the nod to Hamlet is an archetype theme. I’m a big, not to sound pretentious, a big Jean Genet fan. In general. But there was something in his work that fascinated me…also in who he was as an artist. That he had this felonious default, where he couldn’t no matter what he tried to do, he couldn’t escape where he came from, and no matter how famous and celebrated Genet became, he still always lived on the fringe. That fascinated me. That complexity of who he was, as a man. A lot of my heroes struggle with that. And Jax definitely does.
FLEMING: Seth Meyers is doing a good job with the crowd banter. How’s this rate compared to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler with the Globes?
SUTTER: the what?
FLEMING: Enough said. So did you ever have that Genet or Hemingway self destructive streak as you found your way as a writer?
SUTTER: I definitely battled my own demons.
FLEMING: So you are influenced by these great authors. How long was Jax rattling around in your mind?
SUTTER: A lot of the qualities of Jax came to me while I was working on The Shield.
FLEMING: Was that because that show broke all the rules?
SUTTER: I think so. For me, Vic Mackey was…I love Kathy Bates. An FX win! Awesome…Vic Mackey, who was technically 60 percent good guy 40 perxent bad, and Jax was 60 percent bad guy and 40 percent good guy.
FLEMING: Even at the beginning when he was idealistic and reading his father’s diaries?
SUTTER: Yes. Because of the life. Ruthlessness is necessary, by nature of the outlaw.
FLEMING: when during The Shield did this series become clear?
SUTTER: It was more seeing the character.
FLEMING: I have watched the first few episodes of the final season. After the death of his wife, Jax is in full Man On Fire mode, Denzel Washington all the way. How is that as a writer, when your protagonist risks losing audience empathy because he is raging as much as grieving, and his actions are unforgivable?
SUTTER: I feel like, as long as the shift in story and the turn of character is organic, and everything we’ve done up to that point lays track to it, that I think people might struggle with it, but won’t feel betrayed by it. Because it all makes sense. There’s a great little speech running in one of the preview commercials. CCH Pounder is telling him, revenge, rage is a natural part of grieving. Most people can have fantasies of striking back, but that is part of the grieving process. Because of the world he lives in, it becomes more an action than a thought., Because of the world he lives in, people will not only be okay with it, they will feel betrayed if he didn’t go down that path. It would be false and pandering.
FLEMING: I am having computer issues, Kurt. I ask you to bear with me. I watch Sons Of Anarchy, and I could never imagine harming another human. But I could kill a fucking cojmputer and sleep like a baby.
SUTTER: I’ve killed a few in my day. Fargo won! Another won for FX.
FLEMING: Whatever empathy you lost when Ryan Hurst’s Opie was killed, you regained a lot of it by bringing Jimmy Smits in to play Nero. How did that happen and why is that guy so empathetic
SUTTER: We were at an event where Paris Barclay was receiving an award, I saw Jimmy and said, fuck, that’s the guy. I wrote that character, not even knowing if he would do it. I knew he would work. I knew it as soon as i watched the first episode of season five. He understood every nuance. the humor. I bought him as an ex thug. The complication of having open heart surgery. there was that weird bond between him and Gemma. When you ahve an actor who shows up on set who is at once incredibly professional, incredibly talented and just such a mensch…and watching him on set with Charlie, he was such a positive influence. The level of everybody’s work rose. For me, no matter how good an actor someone is, if they’re a dick, i’m not going to hire them.
FLEMING: You’d do that?
SUTTER: Oh yeah. Because ultimately, no matter how good somebody’s performance can be. for a serialized drama, where they work week in and week out, if their impact is negative on the cast, your show will suffer.
FLEMING: Jimmy certainly had a healing effect on NYPD Blue when David Caruso left after that first season to try a movie career. Was that the best first season of a crime show ever?
SUTTER: Excluding The Shield? I’d have to say yeah. Ultimately, Homicide, Hill Street Blues were great shows. but there was this perfect match of great writing, great acting, and a trendsetting stylistic approach to NYPD Blue.
FLEMING: The stuff that seemed so groundbreaking then now seems tame compared to what you guys do today. Why isn’t regular network TV edgier? Could you see yourself doing a show for one of the big networks?
SUTTER: Uhhh. Honestly, no. I think there’s a lot of talented people on network TV. In front and behind the camera. I think the nature of broadcast is such that they have to, because of the influence of advertisers, they have to write to the middle. that’s never going to change.
FLEMING: You need to feel safe to sell soap? you guys are selling soap, too.
SUTTER: Yes, but I think the advertisers on broadcast appeal to a much broader audience. Proctor and Gamble is never going to advertisg on Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad. And at the end of the day, no matter how much a network may want to break new ground, they have to cater to the people buying ad space. Because clearly the audience wants to be stimulated in different ways.
FLEMING: Kurt, when you pass away, do you think you will be once again snubbed by the Emmys?
SUTTER: That’s awful.
FLEMING: Anything to say about Robin Williams? Could that have been more touching? There are a few performers who hit you like that. Katey you worked with one of them with John Ritter.
SAGAL: The sweetest soul. The best man. So supportive. Otherworldly, the same energy as Robin.
SUTTER: And when he turned it off, he was so shy.
SAGAL: I loved that when he did interviews, he would put down his own tape recorder. If he was going to be recorded, he was recording it.
SUTTER: Once in New York, one of those restaurants after the ABC upfronts, he was mid interview with some reporters. he sayd, i just have to go to the bathroom, walked away from the roundtable. he went through the kitchen, out the back door, and literally climbed a fence to get to the alley and called us to meet him. He was intensely private.
SAGAL: But so fucking funny.
SUTTER: He scrap booked everything, even though he didn’t like doing interviews.
SAGAL: All John cared about was his kids.
SUTTER: I remember he called me after my first two episodes of The Shield, and talked me through in detail. Loved that guy.
SAGAL: That was the worst night. Let’s change the subject.
FLEMING: True Detective, the most disruptive show I’ve seen, I think any movie actor who wasn’t looking at the small screen will do it now.
SAGAL: Loooved it.
SUTTER: I saw the first two and it’s all stacked up from there.
FLEMING: That is when the fuse gets lit. Those guys just peeled those complex characters like an onion. Remarkable.
FLEMING: So can you tell your fans who are bearing up with my crappy computer some of the things they can look forward to this season?
SUTTER: Yeah. My favorite thing about this season , and the thing the fans will enjoy i hope, is an incredibly driven and proactive Jax. And a completely united Samcro.
FLEMING: Is it appropriate for me to toss this out there? I am so glad Charlie Hunnam didn’t do Fifty Shades Of Grey. He raised an already high bar with the SOA episodes I’ve seen. Thoughts?
SUTTER: Yeah. I had conversations with Charlie, when he was offered that role. The advice i gave him was what he knew. it has to be what is on the page. i don’t know any of this for a fact. I think he was promised a certain level of…not collaboration, but excellence with the script. And that never materialized.
FLEMING: He’s a writer himself, isn’t he?
SUTTER: Yes, that’s why he ultimately stepped away.
FLEMING: From the trailer, it seemed that using newcomers was maybe smart. 100 million books have sold globally, and newcomers have less to lose by putting themselves out there in an S&M love story about a damaged guy who seems perfect but cannot handle intimacy with his partner.
SUTTER: As far as not having as much to lose, yes. I also think it’s the double edged sword of it as well. they’re not in the position to really have sway the way Charlie was able to before he stepped away. I haven’t seen the movie, only the trailer. I can’t really weigh in on the end product. but it’s also the thing that can crush a career.
FLEMING: And coming off Jax Teller, Charlie ought to have the opportunity to take that next step as an actor. It looks like he’s got a franchise already, as they’re doing another Pacific Rim. Where do you see him five years from now?
SUTTER: I think Charlie will continue to follow the same path he has been on, which is, not worrying about fame, or money, and moving to the projects that excite him. Whether that’s acting, writing, producing, I just know the guy’s going to be successful.
FLEMING: How did you find him?
SUTTER: It was such providence. I finished a draft of the pilot and was doing a rewrite for The Punisher reinvention. Lexi Alexander was the director. I watched her movies. One of the movies was Green Street Hooligans. The Punisher rewrite ended up being a clusterfuck and the movie sucked, but what came out of it was my introduction to Charlie. I remember seeing this guy. I had never seen an actor who was that good looking and charismatic, but authentically raw and street. Charlie grew up in Newcastle, this working class town in the north of England. His dad was a scrap metal gangster. Scrap metal is a huge industry. Gathering up scrap and selling it by the pound. but it’s like the garbage industry in New York. Run by the underground. There was something about Charlie. When we started casting, I was thinking who is Jax, and where is he? Turns out he was living in Los Angeles and hadn’t been excited by any roles he was being offered. And was primarily writing.
FLEMING: This just in. Bryan Cranston wins another Emmy. I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but c’mon on. No McConaughey?
SUTTER: He and Woody must have canceled each other out.
FLEMING: So Charlie’s movie ticket is punched. What about you? I wrote so many times about Delivering Gen. Why didn’t that get made?
SUTTER: Delivering Gen will get made. I’ve been blessed that it is now owned by Brian Oliver at Cross Creek, who brought the script back to me at the start of Sons and asked me if I wanted to direct my own movie. We had tried to do it between seasons at one point. The window wasn’t big enough. The plan is to do it after Sons.
FLEMING: So doing television has made you a movie commodity?
SUTTER: Yeah. The separation between TV and film gets smaller and smaller…
FLEMING: Wow. Modern Family won another Emmy. What a shocker. Is that like the 100th one?
SUTTER: Yeah, so now my sound mixer has yet another Emmy to taunt me with.
FLEMING: You also wrote Southpaw, which finally got made. What happened with the fast tracked version that had Eminem playing the boxer?
SUTTER: Ultimately, Marshall decided he wanted to focus on music, and wasn’t ready to jump back in to doing films. My understanding was that 8 Mile was very difficult for him. Curtis Hanson was tough on him. It was his first foray into that, and very difficult for him. That was also the beginning of the end of his slide downward. Proof, one of his best friends, had been killed in a club shooting. My own opinion is that there was a certain association of bad things with perhaps jumping back into that arena.
FLEMING: What you’re saying reminds me a bit of what you said about Charlie, not being captive only to ambition and opportunity. It sounds like you respect Marshall, who might have had a hard time but really lit it up in 8 Mile. Such natural talent is hard to find.
SUTTER: I agree and i understood. He was newly sober at the time and I respected the decision. I’ve stayed good friends with his team, Paul Rosenberg is a friend. And then the script was out there, and Harvey loved it, bought it, and who I credit this movie to getting made is Antoine Fuqua. He was attached at DreamWorks, and the guy we wanted. He was the one who pushed it at the Weinsteins. He was the one that ultimately when we weent out to Jake, Antoine and I sat down with Jake and he was completely plugged in, understood the dedication, the transformation, and once Jake was on board, it was a go. I love Jake. Even though he was never a boxer, he’s an athlete, a big guy like 6’2″. i saw him in New York, me him and Antoine were at a boxing gym in New York. He was fucking ripped and I didn’t doubt for a minute that he was a boxer. And strong. That young kid on The Strain, he’s a boxer in our movie. He said he’d think twice about getting in the ring with Jake.
FLEMING: The Strain is one scary show…Hey, guess what. The Emmys are fucking over.
SUTTER: Oh, wow. Who won?
FLEMING: A ton of upsets. Modern Family, Breaking Bad, Julia Louis Dreyfus.
SUTTER: And not Jon Hamm.
FLEMING: So have we made the Emmy community love you tonight, or are you destined to be the Jon Hamm of show creators?
SUTTER: I’m much cuter than Jon, that poor bastard.
FLEMING: Closing thoughts?
SUTTER: Spray tans. What the fuck? Louis CK had a spray tan. Is that insane?
FLEMING: Shall we stick a fork in this puppy?
SUTTER: Yes, lets.
FLEMING: Nobody lost an eye, unlike pretty much what happens on every episode of your show, mostly to the character you played.
SUTTER: All I’ll say is, no spoilers please.