If you caught tonight’s episode of Sons of Anarchy on FX, you witnessed the inevitable death of a major character. Fortunately, EW was on the set of the actor’s last day to snag an exclusive interview.
But first, a spoiler alert! Don’t read beyond the jump if you haven’t watched the gut-wrenching episode.
Clay Morrow may have deserved to die, but there probably isn’t a fan who was completely eager to see the big guy go — Ron Perlman was that good at playing the ruthless ex-president of SAMCRO. “As much as people say that they want Clay dead, they don’t want Clay dead,” creator Kurt Sutter told EW. “They want to see it be complicated. They want to see how Gemma feels about betraying Clay. They want to see how Juice feels about betraying. They want to see that play out even though they, in their gut, they know the guy should be dead.” (For more from Sutter about Clay’s passing, click here.)
EW met up with Perlman on his final day of production to talk about his shocking scene, the past six seasons, and what’s next for his career.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you told at the beginning of the season about your impending death?
RON PERLMAN: Yeah. There was not a whole lot that was shared in terms of how it would play out. I’ve always been a fan of not knowing, of getting the scripts and dealing with what I see when I see it. So I was okay with not knowing what it was going to look like. Kurt Sutter did mention that Clay would be seeking some sort of personal redemption. I didn’t know how that was going to play out, whether it was going to be a material kind where he was given back some of the things that were taken from him or just a spiritual kind, where he was going to commit some sort of act of self-sacrifice.
Were you surprised to die this season?
I’m playing Claudius, and Claudius doesn’t make it to Act 5. So I was ready for this. If it’s an examination of power, you have to see the new king when he’s not mirrored by the resonances of the old king. You have to see what he does when he stands alone in the world. And as long as Clay is around, he can’t do that.
Do you think Kurt made a mistake by talking openly about how the drama was inspired by Hamlet? It almost made it easy to predict your death this season.
Anything you’re going to assume about Sons of Anarchy is pure speculation. We’ve already seen that Hamlet is the superstructure … the guy who kills the king and marries the queen and takes over the crown. The stepson who’s trying to put all this together with the help of these voices that are visiting him in the form of the manuscript. But we’ve already broken many, many of the patterns of Hamlet itself. Now that I’ve reached the end of my cycle, I actually think the thing that fascinates Kurt the most is the examination of the corruptible nature of power. No matter what you set out to do and no matter how purely you set out to reinvent, you make the same mistakes your forebears made. When you put on that crown, some sh– happens and it ain’t pretty and it ain’t ordered and it almost controls you. I wouldn’t be surprised if the seventh season is going to really shine a light on the price that Jax Teller plays, simply because he’s risen to this level of power.
What’s it like around the set when someone dies?
It’s a very traditional right of passage. There’s mourning. When the dynamic of a family is asked to change, people scratch their heads. Is this necessary? People get very sad, a little frustrated. Sometimes people go, who’s next? There’s an examination of how we’re all just passing through here. You have to cherish every moment because we’re already in rarefied air that we’ve made it this far.
Did you have a wish on how you wanted to die?
I just wanted it to be connected to something completely unselfish. This is a sociopathic world. We’re not nice guys. We’re outlaws. We’re ruthless.
What do you think Gemma was thinking while she saw Clay getting gunned down?
She’s got to be harboring some feelings of guilt. She’s responsible for all of this. She’s the one who tagged Clay to kill John Teller. Everybody knows it. And he’s going out, looking at her going, I love you. I’m not mad at you. I wouldn’t change a thing. That’s the redemption. I’m not mad at you after all this. You’re the only thing that matters.
Talk about Clay’s state of mind this season.
I’ve lost everything except my life. I’ve lost Gemma. I’ve lost the club. I’ve lost every friend I ever made. I’ve lost all my material, earthly goods. Every single thing that I spent my entire life working to obtain has been taken from me except for my life. So that puts you in some sort of contemplative state …. I always wanted to play a hero. I always wanted to find, no matter how nefarious, no matter how dark, no matter how questionable the things that Clay did were, I always needed to think that I was playing a hero.
Hero? You beat up Gemma! What do you recall of that scene?
That was difficult. Physical violence between a man and woman is very hard for me to play. When I had to kill Piney … you know, Ron didn’t want to kill Bill Lucking but Clay had to kill Piney. That was one of those days you just — God give me the strength to get though this when all I want to do is give this guy a hug. The scene where Ryan realizes that I’ve killed his father, comes to get me and actually shoots me twice. That was a really difficult day because Ryan Hurst was so in the zone and he was so angry and so hurt. Also, Clay could have died right there because that was Opie’s objective. That was a very big challenge to shoot.
You were pretty vocal last season about how Kurt had written Clay.
I started to have trouble with the stuff that I was being asked to do because I couldn’t find a way that I can justify it to myself. I had to resign myself to playing this guy in a detached way. Looking back in hindsight, I’ve come up with this treatise: Clay lost his way because he was in a position where the pressure got to him and he started blurring the lines on a daily basis between right and wrong until wrong and right almost looked the same. He was completely on his own. What can he do to put his house in order and return back to the guy who became the leader? He was a guy that knew how to think for everybody else and was ruthless enough to carry out whatever one needed to carry out in a violent outlaw world. That was his job.
What has this show meant to your career?
I don’t know. I made some friends that are lifelong that I will carry with me to the end of my days. So it’s been really good.
Were you part of the off-camera brotherhood that formed?
There were a lot of drunken evenings in bars with the boys that sit around the table. Some of the best nights of my life, especially in the first three or four seasons, before it all started to splinter off. But I’m 63 and all the other guys are in their 20s, 30s, 40s. So, I’m a different generation. I was always Clay Morrow, the asshole in the club. So it was always the boss against the workers. But those five … Kim Coates, Theo Rossi, Charlie Hunnam, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan … we’ve been partying, officiating at each others weddings, kissing each others babies when they’re born. A lot of water has gone under this bridge and we really, really, really like each other a lot, as much as I’ve ever liked a company of guys.
Are you taking anything from the set?
Just the memories. I don’t want a thing. I have never taken anything. I’ve taken a couple of things from movies. I tried to steal the shoes from Pacific Rim because they were the coolest f–kin’ shoes anybody’s ever seen. They wouldn’t let me keep them. They were made out of gold. They were actually made out of gold.
So how does it feel saying goodbye?
I feel really proud of who I was in this whole cockamamie caravan. It’s been a little bit of a journey coming to full peace with the fact that I’m having to say an early good-bye. I mean I’m there. I’m already about 700 miles down the road in terms of what’s next for me. So, I’m incredibly excited about what lies ahead. And, I’m very proud of what we’ve left here. I’m very proud of it.
What’s your fondest memory?
I remember the chapel scenes. When I’m sitting on my rocking chair in the old age home and all the other actors are sitting there thinking about great moments in their lives, I’ll be thinking about the chapel scenes with Tig on my right and Jax on my left, me at the head of the table where I’m smoking cigars and we’re making plans, kicking ass and taking names. That’s what I’m gonna remember about the show because that , to me, was quintessential Sons of Anarchy.