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'Sons of Anarchy' director on Jax-Jury showdown, Bobby's cell scenes

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SOA Bobby
FX

Spoiler alert: The Oct. 28 episode of Sons of Anarchy, “The Separation of Crows,” found Jax searching for the rat and deciding how to handle Marks’ demands for Bobby’s return. Charles Murray, the co-executive producer who directed the episode, spoke to EW about key scenes. 

EW: Let’s start with Bobby’s sitdown with Moses in his cell. That was beautifully shot, with the light coming from above and the camera coming from below at times to capture the smoke rising off Moses’ cigarette. What was the inspiration?

Murray: I love noir and black-and-white movies. In a lot of WWII films, when hostages were taken, there’s always that feeling that whoever is in that chair was not going to make it out unless he gave them the information that they wanted. I wanted to have the audience feel, even though he’s a main character, he’s in a very, very bad position right now. I felt like the best way to do it, talking with Paul [Maibaum], our DP, was limited light and to use the cigarette smoke two ways: You use it to help the lighting, but you also use it because if you look at a lot of old movies, before a person was shot or whatever, they would give him a smoke. That’s not saying that Bobby’s going to die or anything; I just wanted to do whatever I could to make it feel like this cat’s in jeopardy.

There’s that moment when Moses has suggested Bobby put his cigarette out on a sheet of paper, next to the location of the construction site where the pantyhose preacher is buried. He leaves the room, and Bobby discards the paper and just laughs. How did you read that laughter?

That was [Mark] Boone [Junior] spontaneously going down that path. He did it the first take, and I was like, “Keep doing it.” What I loved about it was he was bold when Moses first came in the room. A lot of times, someone will be bold at the top of the scene, and then when they’re shut in the room alone, you see how really nervous they are. But the laughter drove home that what he said at the beginning was what he meant: You might as well kill me now, because I’m not giving you anything.

Seeing Bobby lose the fingers on his clutch hand was tougher than seeing him lose an eye.

I don’t know if you remember that scene in The Departed where Nicholson says, “I’m just gonna check you for bugs,” and DiCaprio has that cast on his hand, and then [Ray Winstone] starts smashing the cast and the broken arm onto the pool table. You’re like, Ohmygod. It’s such a violent moment, but the violence made sense, because you know, he could be wearing a wire up there. The violence of cutting Bobby’s fingers off is not about making sense or not, it’s just definitively about cruelty because Moses knows this guy will eventually have to leave the thing that he believes in the most because he’s crippled him in a way that he’ll never be able to come back from. Think back to when Clay was dealing with his arthritis in his hands. It was like, you gotta ride a certain number of times or you’re out of the club. They go for the thing that would take him out of the club for good, whether he survives or not. Even though it’s just his hand, it’s very cruel.

Moving on to the Jax and Jury scene: Jury suggests that JT would’ve known something was off with his bike and essentially killed himself by riding it anyway. Was that a theory that shocked you when you read it, and will we see it revisited?

I wouldn’t use the word “shocked,” only because being in the writers’ room day in and day out before production started, we floated a lot of wicked things. [Laughs] And then Kurt [Sutter] would say, “It doesn’t have the right amount of wicked hot sauce, it needs to be this,” and then we’d go, “Whoa!”

So when that was proposed, once he spun out the lineage of it, especially when Jury says that whole thing about how JT knew that bike so well, it was like, “Okay, that does make sense if you look at how this family operates.” Does it play out in a larger sense? I ain’t tellin’. [Laughs] But the focus in the moment of that scene is Jax is so unwilling to believe that, that may have drove him to pull that pistol and fire that shot.

And Jury insists he’s not the rat. Is that a question we’ll get a definitive answer to?

I mean, they eventually do have to figure out who betrayed SAMCRO, so in that regard, I can say yes… Why are you asking me these questions, woman? I was the director. [Laughs] You’re asking me writer questions, and you know they’re writer questions. You’re having an Absence of Malice moment right now: You’re Sally Field, and I’m Paul Newman.

You caught me. Okay, tell me about shooting that showdown, with Jax and Jury purposely far away from the other guys.

It was a joy to film because we went for a very Western, two guys about to have a gunfight kind of deal, and I feel like we completely accomplished that. While a Western scene may not go on that long, I felt like we were able to hold attention long enough and get both point of views and information out in a way that helped move the scene along instead of making all that information the thing that got in the way of the scene. All of the information pushed us forward.

Guest star Dale Dickey was so great as Gibby’s mother. This is her only episode?

Yes. I think her story was so heartfelt when she told it that even if Jax would have been in a take ’em out kind of mode, the sincerity and the reveal of that moment would’ve set him on a different course. The funny thing is, I saw her in Winter’s Bone with Jennifer Lawrence, and I was walking to a party one night and she was out for a stroll. I said, “Hey, you were in Winter’s Bone.”

And she said, “Yeah, but usually when people say that to me, they’re runnin’ away.”

And I said, “Well, you were awesome.”

That was it. That conversation happened maybe two-and-a-half years ago. And when we were casting, JP, Jon Paré, our producer, mentioned her. He was like, “You know who would be good for this role? Dale Dickey.”

I said, “Why does that name sound familiar?”

“She was in Winter’s Bone.” And that was it. There wasn’t even a thought of considering someone else.

We also need to talk about those Red Woody roof scenes with Chibs and Jax. That night one—when Chibs tells Jax to be ready for Jury’s death to cause blowback from other charters—was just gorgeous. The background was all real?

Yeah, we were on location. We were in San Pedro. When the script was finished, and we saw that we had these rooftop scenes, we were like, “We’ve never shot on that roof.” We started talking about different ways, in case we had to go back to it, possibly building it as a green scene set. Then when we went out there, we all kinda agreed that it needed to be on location because you couldn’t get that feel unless you were there. And then when the city itself lit up that night, it just made it that much more beautiful. We got a goldmine out of being on that roof, especially when I wasn’t really happy to be up there because of my thing with heights. [Laughs] And as far as those two guys in those scenes, I felt like we saw an honesty in that relationship that came across very bare—it was very raw between the two of them—and it hadn’t happened in a while because Jax had been so closed off because of Tara’s murder.

The rooftop scene in the beginning of the episode is also important, I think, because Jax admits he underestimated Marks, which makes you feel like he’s the underdog, and so you want to root for him again. Was that talked about? Because he’s definitely done things this season that have made it hard for fans to get behind him at times.

Yeah. And I think the beauty of the anti-hero is that no anti-hero thinks himself a villain. I felt it was very important to get across in that first scene that vulnerability and that beauty of a.) that character and b.) Charlie’s acting. He has a lot of moments when he’s alone in the show and he’s reflective, but for him to be in that same space with another person and not feel like any of that was forced was very important.

This is more of a writer question, but I have to ask it: Juice tells Unser and Jarry that in exchange for protection at Stockton, he’ll give them the names of both men responsible for Tara and Sheriff Roosevelt’s deaths and the location of the murder weapon. EP Paris Barclay likes to say nothing is wasted on this show, so I’m wondering how Juice will explain that he knows where the murder weapon is. Is that a point viewers should remember?

Viewers should remember everything! Of course, if the information is given, follow it, as Sherlock Holmes would say. Follow everything to its conclusion.

Now on to Gemma’s slaughtered birds: When I was on set for EW‘s cover story, there was talk in the makeup trailer that maybe Abel had killed the birds. But should we rule that out?

The birds and the message [No Son is Safe] were tied into each other, even though they happened in separate rooms. That had nothing to do with Abel. He ain’t that vicious. That would put him right up there with Moses—he’s a baby Moses. [Laughs] There’s potential for blowback from several different arenas, but I think if you go back to episode 703 when Jax is sitting in the car with Marks, Marks very pointedly says I have no remorse killing any Son. If you know one thing about Kurt, he’s very particular about his phrasing and language. He charted that from 703 forward.

There’s also that great scene with Abel and Gemma where he says his latest school incident was an accident, and she asks him if he knows what that word means.

“Do you?” [Laughs] That was his best line reading. I think that the one thing the show does well is show the fragility of being in a violent family. Whatever direction your family takes, it always filters back into how the next generation sees things. It’s like, if you’re around a family full of funny people, and you have this baby who is absorbing all this, that baby turns out to be just as funny as everybody else. Everybody looks at the family dynamic and says, “Well, of course the baby is going to be this way.” The father-son dynamic could never take hold through Jax until Abel was able to hear what was going on, somewhat understand what was going on, and then act off the impulses that seem normal in his family. That’s been a great addition this season, because you have the person who should be innocent, and loving, and kind—as we all think children are—and it’s very much the sins of the father being revisited on the son.

Gemma has been the one to always say, “Oh, Abel is fine.” Do you think she’s piecing it together there, that there’s a situation brewing, especially with the use of “accident,” which is the word she used confessing her murder of Tara to Thomas?

I don’t think so. I still think she’s reacting to the fact that instead of him being around the house, he’s in an environment that’s foreign to her. Like parents in abusive homes, if the child comes back to the abusive home doing something that the parent doesn’t understand, the parent doesn’t sit around and say, “I kinda created this abusive home environment”; they look at what the school hasn’t done, or they look at how the students are influencing that child. So I think Gemma still has those blinders on because that’s an affront to her nature that these kids have to go to school. A lot of people probably don’t remember that Jax had to get his GED. So if you think about it, her idea on family being away from family doesn’t just extend to babysitters. It extends to anything that’s outside of her purview.

And now we have Nero inviting Wendy to come to his farm with Gemma and the boys.

That conversation was vital because he’s kinda let Gemma get away with a lot of things. He’s always looked at it as, “Gemma come to the farm. Gemma come to the farm.” And then when Gemma does stuff to pull him back in, he forgives her because he’s in love. But the one thing you could never get Nero off-track of is his son. So for him to start looking at this in terms of Jax’s sons, that gives him a clearer drive in terms of whether he forgives Gemma about certain things or not. Looking at Jax’s kids and looking at Wendy is giving him a clarity that he didn’t have when he was just looking at Charming in terms of Gemma.

A lighthearted question: Do you guys ever stop and marvel at Thomas’ hair on set? It’s wild.

It’s like that boy keeps one finger in a socket. They’re twins, and both of them have the same hair. What’s that light that you run your hand over and the electricity follows your finger? That’s what their hair reminds me of.

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