Sons of Anarchy fans are still reeling from the Nov. 4 episode, which said goodbye to Bobby (Mark Boone Junior). But Billy Brown, the actor who plays August Marks, the Big Bad who pulled the trigger, may actually be able to cheer them up with a couple of great behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did Kurt Sutter give you a heads-up that Marks would ultimately take out Bobby this season, or was it something you learned reading the script for this episode? What was your reaction?
Brown: I rolled into the Sons lot on that afternoon, around the corner from the stages, prior to the table read. A bunch of us had gathered impromptu coming from catering and moving into our tight little sweaty box where we have our table reads once a week. I know Charlie [Hunnam] had said to me, “Billy Brown, you a bad motherf–ker, man.” I kinda laughed. I said, “What’s up?” to the rest of the fellas, [Kim] Coates and [Tommy] Flanagan, and Boone, and so forth. Sutter was walking up at the same time. I had not read the script at that point. To the credit of Sutter and Paris Barclay and the rest of the producers, they don’t send me scripts that I’m not in. So I didn’t really realize that I’d had Moses and my guys abduct Bobby.
With things getting leaked so easily these days, they keep those things way under wraps. So I didn’t know what they were talking about. I had no idea Moses had taken the guy’s eye out and chopped fingers off until I got in the table read and Kurt had some things to say about the prior episodes and what was coming up in 709. We got into the reading of it, and I started to realize what was going on, and then I talked to a couple of the writers after the table read, and they laid it out for me what had been going on between me and the Sons. I was blown away. So no, there was no preface, no warmup, no nothing: Get in there and make it happen, Billy Brown. In that table read, because it was Boone’s last episode, the emotion in the room: It’s one of the things I’ll always cherish about working on this show. As heavy and as dark as it can be, it’s as loving between the brothers and the family, regardless of what Gemma or the others may be up to. There’s so much honesty that when Boone got up to speak, it was really, really moving. I was moved to some tears, as a lot of the guys were. One of the most important figures in Sons of Anarchy‘s seven seasons was departing, as others before him. It just meant a lot to hear his words and to have those echoed by Charlie, and Kurt, and the other guys in that tight, sweaty, hot room deep in the valley. There’s a lot of tats, a lot of cigarettes, but at the beginning of every meet, it’s like a brotherhood, and that’s a very cool experience to be a part of.
I talked with director Peter Weller about shooting the death scene. Is there a moment you’ll always remember?
[Laughs] I’m laughing because the gun was to be tucked into the back of Bobby’s jeans. It’s a large-caliber handgun, it’s heavy, and what ends up happening is, as we’re playing the scene out, Bobby’s lost some fingers, the eye’s been gouged out, and he’s f–ked up in bad shape. I am helping him as he stumbles toward the spot to be handed off to Jax, knowing that I’ve stashed the pistol where I can easily get to it unbeknownst to Jax. [Laughs] The problem was, in one of the takes, the pistol worked its way down the crack of his butt, and then down one of his pant legs. I’m fishing down there. My elbow’s deep in places I don’t want to be and I never thought I would be, in 101 degree weather out in Disney Ranch. Of all places, Disney Ranch, two grown men, my hand down the back of Boone’s pants lookin’ for his f–kin’ pistol. [Laughs] And then Boone, he’s trying to stay in the moment, and he’s shakin’ his right leg like he’s shakin’ change loose, until it finally works its way down under the top of his boot, and I gotta bend down. I was laughin’ with Coates and Flanagan later on—they could not keep it together as they saw me fish around the backside of homeboy’s pants for a pistol.
That has got to be on the Season 7 blooper reel.
Charlie’s keepin’ a straight face. He can sense something’s off. I haven’t broke—I’m holdin’ on to it. But the whole thing got real farcical.
Going back to the first meet in the episode, when Jax explains himself to August, there’s that moment where Moses (Mathew St. Patrick) tells Marks to move it along. You and I talked last year about August and Jax having a kind of instant respect for each other because they were two young guns thrust into positions of power. I was wondering if that was Moses not wanting August to continue that surprisingly civil conversation and empathize with Jax, or if that was just Moses being a dick?
I always took that as Moses speaking out of turn. No. 1, within our relationship, kids at the dinner table should be seen and not heard. Marks is callin’ the shots and that includes the pacing of the meet and how things are going to flow accordingly. His motivation might have been to keep things moving forward and along the agenda that had been set.
We’re getting to know more of August’s backstory this season: No family, no vulnerabilities—he’s the perfect gangster. Are there other things that you’ve talked about with Kurt or that you’ve filled in yourself?
I kinda fill those in on my own. From season 5, especially after the loss of Pope, it kinda started to create more specificity in how I was able to carry on in such a way against many headwinds and not have the constraints many of the other players had exhibited. I kinda thought, “There’s no Mrs., I’m not going to Diosa to get a piece of tail to get that nice release. I don’t seem to have a vice with the booze or the smokes.” And this is a guy who knew what it was to be on the streets and to have no direction—and to not want to go back. Almost like an addict, you can’t ever have that puff or that drink or that one hit again, because you’re always an addict. So I looked at it as I had purged myself of those addictions that control me from living on the street and coming up in a way where takin’ a life was no big deal. Now, having gone through Mr. Pope’s tutelage, the business side was my savior—making deals, making moves—and the rest of it I was desperately trying to move away from. No family and friends, all the things that emotionally would drive you to make poor choices, I had eliminated them.
As a viewer, any time you hear someone has no vulnerabilities, you start looking for cracks.
There always is. We had a meet in my Ghost, and I warned Jax that I would take down any of the Sons—that was a moment. When August drove away, he thought to himself, “I may not have had to go quite that direction.” Because I let the scent of a potential lie coming from Jax emotionally affect me. There was that crack, and that’s very pivotal. Prior, even if I knew there was some shady business going on—I’m from the streets, I can smell it, I know it—I chose not to react in a visceral way as I did, at least verbally, in the back of my Rolls Royce.
It’s interesting: Obviously your time on Sons has been limited this season because you’re a regular on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. That’s why Moses was brought in. But that also really works with what you’re saying about August: He wouldn’t want to get his hands dirty if Moses can do it for him.
It does work. [Laughs] Selfishly, it doesn’t work for Billy Brown, because I would have loved to have been on Sons more often. But two hit shows, it’s a blessing. I’m loving that. Shonda Rhimes and Kurt talked before the start of season 7, and Shonda knows that Sons of Anarchy is hugely popular and that my character being able to thrive and move forward, whatever the episodes were, would only help How to Get Away with Murder and what we’re doing over there. So the synergy was recognized by both Kurt and Shonda. All of us can benefit. I thank both of them for allowing it to take place.
I talked with Kenneth Choi, who plays Henry Lin, earlier this season, and he was saying that as an actor with a recurring role on the final season of Sons, a show known for epic deaths, he was hoping to go out in a blaze of glory. Regardless of how the series ends for Marks, what were you hoping for at the beginning of the season: to die a glorious Sons death, or to be a Big Bad who gets away like Adam Arkin’s Zobelle?
The first time you meet August Marks, he popped the Niner in the head. Shortly there after, Damon and I are in the cover of darkness out by the railroad tracks, and we’ve got Tig’s daughter in a pit pouring gasoline or kerosene over her and burning her alive while he’s chained and forced to watch. Damon Pope gets taken out, and this is what Marks is about at this point. I just said to myself, “I just hope in season 7, Kurt doesn’t have me gang-raped in the prison yard while being videotaped by sadistic guards.” That was the only thing I was hoping for not to happen. Anything else? Let’s do it. Rock ‘n roll.
How do you hope fans see Marks when all is said and done?
I hope the fans can see a little bit of themselves in Marks with respect to doing what you feel is ultimately right at the time and most beneficial for all involved. And when you’re forced to play the dark hand, you don’t hesitate. You’re not doing it with malice, but you’re doing it to get from the point where you are to the next goal that lies ahead of you. I never looked at Marks as a killer who’s just wantonly out there doing evil acts. Marks is a product of the circumstance he’s put in. Met with different choices from Jax, Marks would never raise a pistol—ever. It doesn’t justify necessarily what Marks has done, but I hope they can see in Marks a guy who had bigger sights on the horizon and was not just a thug. There was charm there, there was affability, there was a willingness to work with others [Laughs] as they say in Washington. When those things couldn’t fly, then it’s go time.
And obviously, we will be seeing Marks again.
Yes. You will.
One last question then: Who designs August’s suits?
I actually worked with Kelli Jones, our beloved costume supervisor, on The Following as well. So we had a good relationship going into Sons. I would tell her, Giorgio Armani or Hugo Boss fit me well. Because not all suits will: You get a 44 Long, and then they’re too big in the pants. You gotta take a lot in, in the midsection of the jacket with my specific build. She was very appeasing getting the right designers, shirts, shoes. I specifically knew I wanted things tailored, so that the lines were as clean and sleek as possible—just working against type. There’s a lot of cats on the street or otherwise who may not be able to achieve a classic tailored look, and that’s what we were tryin’ to go for.
When Marks is out at these meets, his pant legs get so dirty. It’s very upsetting to me.
[Laughs] That’s exactly what I was saying the whole time. I was all, “Why the f–k are we always in the dirt? I’ve got a beautiful 2,000-square foot office, flat screens, ice water, minibar. Why don’t we meet there? What are we doing in the desert? What’s wrong with these guys?”