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'Sons of Anarchy' star Theo Rossi talks Juice's wild ride

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SoA Theo Rossi
James Minchin/FX

Spoiler alert: The Oct. 7 episode of Sons of Anarchy finds Gemma (Katey Sagal) driving fragile Juice (Theo Rossi) to a location where she can presumably kill him, only he figures out her plan and ends up pointing her gun at her as she begs for her life. Rossi spoke to EW about the scene, that promo that shows Juice offering intel on SAMCRO to Alvarez, and the end of Sons.

EW: Let’s go back to episode four when Juice has that breakdown in front of Wendy and Gemma and admits he doesn’t like to be alone. You’re hoping that’s his low point, but isn’t?

Rossi: Definitely not. Not even close to the low point, sadly. I think it’s the true expression of what I felt he always was, which is just lonely. His loneliness, his wanting this family so bad, has been the reason for all his errors. This has never been a malicious guy, and some people don’t understand that. There are people who I challenge when they say, “Oh, Juice is a rat.” I’m like, “Where?” He’s actually talked to the cops less than Jax, less than Chibs, less than anybody. Anything he’s done has been to help other people, even Gemma: Before he processed what was going on, he was shooting someone [Sheriff Roosevelt] that looked like he might be hurting Gemma. This is why Kurt [Sutter]’s doing such an incredible job with this character: it’s almost like this trick that people believe that Juice has done these things wrong. He has, but if you really think about it, everything he’s done wrong is trying to make things right. When I’m playing him, I don’t ever feel like, “I’m going to really hurt this person.” It’s always just, “I gotta get myself out of this situation.”

At the end of that episode, when Juice and Gemma are both packing their guns for the trip, do you think he already knows that breakdown will likely lead to the confrontation we see in episode five?

I think at that point, he knows that the walls are getting really, really, really tight. We’ve talked many times about survival mode. Ultimately, no one cares about his well-being. At that point, whoever gets in his way—whoever it is—he has to be ready. The one person who truly has always had his back was Chibs, and if Chibs is saying “kill yourself,” why would he trust anybody else, ever?

What was it like filming that car scene with Katey?

We were so excited by it. There’s that turn, and you go, “Oh my God. These are two of the most unstable people. This can’t be good for anybody.” You know what’s coming, and there’s so much tension leading up to it. When it all goes down, it was just so much fun.

I know you won’t say how that situation is resolved, but we have already seen that promo in which Juice goes to Alvarez. What has the reaction been like from fans? If people believe that Juice is going to turn on the club in that way, I worry for you, the actor.

(Laughs) I worry for myself, the actor, as well. I was really surprised they showed that. First there was a lot of, “I knew it! The whole Latino/Hispanic thing, I knew he was going to do this.” And then a lot of, “Oh my god, I’m so happy because it means he’s still alive for a minute or two.” The love-hate balance for Juice is pretty incredible. You can truly feel such huge swings of emotion. Recently Kim [Coates] and I were at a charity event in Canada, and a guy came up to meet us, and he literally couldn’t even look at me. He was like, “I’m so mad at you, man. I don’t know how to be around you.” This was a fiftysomething-year-old business guy. I had to explain to the guy that one, it’s television, I’m an actor. (Laughs) And two, that it’s okay. I almost had to talk him off a ledge. A part of me was so happy, like wow, I somehow convinced this guy, through Kurt Sutter’s writing and this storyline, that this person’s almost real. And I remember the vitriol for Clay: If you were associated with the show, and you went to, like, Macy’s, someone would walk up to you and be like, “Make sure you kill Clay. You gotta kill Clay.” That was this amazing character that Ron [Perlman] created. So if you needed to give anyone more fuel to the fire, that promo with the Mayan stuff gave it to them. They’re like, “Nooo!” And it really keeps you so intrigued. So intrigued.

You brought up Clay. I remember Kurt saying once that Ron would ask him all the time, “Am I dying? Am I dying? Am I dying?” Do you find yourself doing that this season, or did he tell you at the beginning, “It’s going to get bad for Juice, but you’re going to be around for a while, so just ride it out?”

No, no, no, he never said that. I don’t think I’ve ever asked that question. Whatever is right for the character of Juice, I’m cool with. At the end of the day, this is Kurt’s vision from day one. He knows everything about these characters inside and out. As hard as I’ve worked, no matter what I feel, I will never know Juice Ortiz like he knows him. He’s put everything into him. If he felt that the character should die in episode three, episode five, then that’s the way it’s supposed to be. He’s changed my life, from beginning to end. I had a crew member who’s been there from Day 1 write me a note after watching the premiere, and he’s like, “Can you believe that you went from the guy with the diaper to a guy that holds this giant secret in his hand and is in this mix of Gemma and Jax?” Whatever Kurt writes—it can be the craziest, it could be the most beautiful—I just say, “Great, I can’t wait.” Because the truth is, I can’t wait. It’s just a compelling, complicated character.

In EW’s cover story on Sons, Kurt says a core character will be killed in episode 9 or 10—and that it’s not Juice. As we try to imagine how in the hell he survives that long (at least), how would you describe the road ahead?

I think it gets tremendously dark and tremendously sad. I think that there’s a huge point to it, and I think the point is that it’s not about betrayal, it’s about this life, this heightened reality we’re in. I think certain people can handle this club, certain people can’t. I think with Juice, it’s almost like, “God, how did he get into this world? How did this happen?” You see tortured characters on shows—like Reek or whatever his name is on Game of Thrones. A lot of those people are victims. Juice is not a victim—he’s a victim of his own circumstances, but ultimately he makes his own decisions. Yes, Jax told him to do certain things, [but he decides to do them] out of love and wanting a family. I think the reason people love him and hate him is because when he makes a decision, you go, “Oh, don’t do that! Why did you do that?” Or you go, “Oh, that’s so cool. I can’t believe you took that motorcycle from the cops and led everybody away!” They kind of hang with him at all times.

Executive producer Paris Barclay told me that his 80-year-old mother has said she’ll stop watching the show if anything happens to Juice. She’s going to be a wreck.

My mom and his mom were together at the premiere [last month]. It’s funny, my mom covered her eyes during the naked push-up scene but had no problem watching the fork in the head scene. My mom talks about Juice like he’s not me at all. She’s like, “He’s such an idiot. Why is he doing this?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” With Paris’ mom, who I absolutely adore more than anything, she definitely has every reason to be concerned.

I remember when you shot those behind-the-scenes photos for EW last year, you told me that you always sit between Charlie Hunnam and Tommy Flanagan at table reads. I asked Tommy if that’s still the case this season, and he said it isn’t.

When we walked in this season, Charlie and I made a joke. We hugged each other and said, “This is probably the last time we’re ever going to truly talk.” We talk. We all talk. But the thing is, Juice is separated a little, so you kind of separate yourself a little. Like I made a conscious effort to sit in Tara’s seat for a while, and that’s on the [other] side of the table near Katey, and Dayton [Callie] and Drea [de Matteo]—we had that camaraderie over there. It’s so weird when you think about it, and listen, not all the time it works out: Some of these guest stars that come, they get so excited to be there, they’re not even looking and sit in Kurt’s seat. We always make a joke about it.

It feels like you’re getting a taste of what it’ll be like to say goodbye to the show when it ends before anyone else.

Starting season four, when that stuff started with Roosevelt, I always had separate days where I would not be with the club. The guys would all be shooting, and I’d be either at a back alley with Roosevelt or in a jail cell. There was that day that Juice decided to take his own life, where I was legitimately alone in scenes the entire day beginning to end. I got a feeling of what it was like to be alone. I was like, “This is weird.” None of the guys were there, I was going back to video village by myself. Season five was a similar thing, except with me and Clay. It would just be me and Ron at work. Season six, it started to happen, though not as much. Obviously this season plays out the way it plays out. It is definitely something that I’m feeling before everybody else, without a doubt.

How will you feel when the show ends?

There’s a part of me that’ll want to go be depressed and take a breath for the first time in a long time and really sit back and reflect on this. This is lightning in a bottle. You can get a popular show, you can get a show that’s good for two, three years. But I personally—and I watch a very good amount of television, especially for my company, I got two shows in development—I’ve never seen something like this. People live and die and hang on every episode. It gets bigger and bigger, and you can say that about a bunch of other shows, but not with the passion of this. Yes, there are shows—vampires and zombies—that have really big cult followings and they’re huge, but this seems to have a different thing. I’ve noticed it when we’re out: people almost don’t think we’re real. They see you, and they’re like, “Whoa. That’s the club.” Especially when we’re all together. They’re like, “Why are you guys here? Are you going to battle the One-Niners or something?” It’s like, “No, we’re just going to lunch.” This, on all levels—the merchandising, the heightened reality, the anti-hero, the almost superhero aspect of these guys—this is once in a lifetime stuff. To me, once it’s all done [airing] in December, it’s going to be crazy because there’s a lot of great stuff on television, but this is really special.

Fans are in denial about it ending.

I am too, as a fan. But you know what, it’s really, really, really satisfying what’s going down. I think that Kurt has his plan, and I think that it’s nothing that people would expect.

Watch a behind-the-scenes video of EW’s cover shoot with the Sons cast.

Dylan McDermott

For more on Sons of Anarchy, check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now. 

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