'Sons of Anarchy' season finale: Ron Perlman talks Clay's wild ride
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We did a poll, even before Opie shot Clay, asking readers if Clay would survive the season, and only 19 percent of them thought he would.
RON PERLMAN: I would have been in that 81 percent. I actually did say, on a number of occasions, without trying to seem desperate or uncool, “He’s not making it, is he? He’s not gonna make it, is he?” [Laughs] I’m kinda relieved to know that whatever form it takes, I will be back at the table next year. All I can say is, we always knew that there was a Hamlet infrastructure that [SOA creator Kurt Sutter] was very, very seriously trying to hold to in a very metaphoric, kinda poetic way. We always knew that in Hamlet, Claudius kills the King and marries the Queen. We’ve always had it hinted to us throughout the first three and a half seasons of Sons that Clay is Claudius, and there’s a very good possibility that he had something to do with the death of John Teller, and we now see that he’s married to the ex-King’s wife. So the big surprise was, I thought — and I think probably anybody else who cares about Sons of Anarchy thought — that we might see this play out in the seventh season, or whatever the last season is gonna be. But nobody expected it to play out this early in the evolution of the series because it’s very, very dramatic stuff and very climactic stuff, and it requires the necessity for it to be topped at some point. Once you go to this level dramatically, and we know we have at least another season to go because FX has picked us up for another season, where do you go from there? As a fan of the show, as somebody who is as wrapped up in it as anybody else, I have to ask myself how does Kurt top this, No. 1., and No. 2, how does he have the temerity to feel as though he can? He obviously knows a great deal more than any of the rest of us do as to what direction he’s gonna take in order to accomplish that goal. [UPDATE: Read our extensive post-finale Q&A with Sutter here.]
Have you talked to Kurt about where Clay goes next season?
Kurt has given me some very, very broad stroke ideas about how we find Clay in the beginning of next season. He didn’t go into detail as to the evolution of next season in regard to Clay or Jax or the club in general, nor did I feel it necessary to know. The way we’ve done this from the get-go is one episode at a time. The way he writes, it’s so encompassing that you almost don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. Just the playing of what’s in front of you is overwhelming enough. For that reason, and for probably some reasons having to do more with superstition, I really am happy kinda doing it the way we’ve always done it, which is I put my faith and trust in Kurt Sutter’s amazing imagination and ability to weave these stories, and then I just hope and pray that I have what it takes to keep it believable and merit the amazing imagination that’s gone into it.
Clay said that Jax might as well kill him after he strips him of his patch, and Jax said Clay is already dead and spit in his face. Clay looks so defeated, but I’m assuming he’ll have some kind of a play next season. In your mind, what is Clay thinking in that scene, and what’s his mindset moving forward?
Clay is fearless, he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, which makes him very, very dangerous. Somebody who doesn’t care if they live or die is the most dangerous human being on earth. But then there are all these other elements, the gesture of cutting off the president’s patch is one step short of murder. It’s a complete castration of a character. It’s removing the teeth from the snake and rendering it without a reason d’être. What was important was the humiliation… taking the spit in the face and the cutting off of the patch, which is so humiliating that he wishes he were dead. That was what I needed to bear in mind on that day we played that scene…. In my mind, I feel as though as long as there’s life in Clay, there’s fight in Clay. Clay is just born to fight, he’s born to dominate. He’s never been one to be satisfied with anything short of first place. And he has probably comported himself that way all the way going back to the days of whatever streets he grew up on, and certainly in the backstory that I have created for Clay, in his days in Vietnam as a marine, and then coming up in the club as one of the first nine, and then ultimately seeing the direction of the club and realizing that if it’s gonna go the way he envisions it to go, he’s gonna have to do some very, very unpopular, controversial things, but he’s never gonna take a backseat to what he considers to be weakness or a bad idea. So the fact that Jax doesn’t kill me is an invitation to some new form of the sick, twisted vying for power on the part of Clay Morrow. I feel. However, I don’t write the show. I’m just guessin’, and I’m just guessin’ the way you would guess or the way any other audience member would guess.
It would almost be a shame to see Clay retreat on his road to crazytown. What were you hearing from fans this season when Clay killed Piney, put out the hit on Tara, and beat Gemma? As a viewer, you have to love it on one hand, because he’s so gloriously bad, and on the other, it’s hard to watch, particularly that scene with Gemma.
I took a lot of heat from that, especially from episode 10 onward, because that’s the scene where Gemma and Clay have this horrific physical confrontation. And by the way, you do have to bear in mind that she takes a shot at him with a .38. So everything that ensues after that is like, I don’t know, does she have it coming? Maybe she has it coming. Somebody takes a shot at you, at your head, with a .38? If you smack them around a little bit, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether they have it comin’ or not. [Laughs] My own mom said to me she thought I went too far in episode 10. [Laughs] I had to say, “Mom, it’s a television show for cryin’ out loud.” But anyway, I took a lot of heat, and I have been because I really feel as though what we were led to believe about our beloved biker guys has kinda been shattered in season 4 on a lot of levels. We see what Juice is going through, we see what his heritage is, what he does to protect himself, what he does ultimately to protect the club. We’ve seen a lot of boundaries be shattered in season 4, not just for Clay, but Clay is probably the most dramatic example. It’s been interesting to watch how unsettling that is for the people who’ve invested themselves for the first three years. What they’re seeing is kinda unthinkable. I love being in that position, by the way. Because when you can inspire that kind of debate and controversy over a one-hour TV show, that’s a pretty good place to be if you’re an actor, a director, or a writer.
Was there a moment when you went to Kurt and said, “I need to understand what you’re thinking with Clay here.”
We had an Internet town hall Q&A on FX’s website on the night the season premiere aired, but we’d already shot like seven episodes. We’d just gotten through shooting the one where I put the contract out on Tara. And somebody asked me how does Clay do what he does? I said, you know, I don’t know. I said, “Kurt, I’ve been wanting to ask you. How does Clay do what he does?” He said, “I’m not telling.” And I said, “Ah, man. Come on, man. Please tell me what kind of man can do the things that you’re asking him to do this year.” He goes, “Well, it’s the same impulse that police officers and soldiers have of having to compartmentalize their actions. Having to suspend their sensibilities of right and wrong and good and bad in order to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, because that’s what they feel they need to do for the greater good.” Now whether it’s the greater good or not, or just something they’re telling themselves is the greater good, that’s up for interpretation. But he says, “Every effective solider in the field and every effective police officer has to have that compartmentalization ability.” And he says, “I think that’s what Clay learned in combat, or maybe it was something that he’s always known. But that’s what’s at work here.” At that point, I kind of approached everything differently. I approached everything from a much more surgical point of view, from a much less judgmental point of view. I started to assign no value of good or bad or right or wrong. It’s just now this momentum has taken hold, and he’s absolutely convinced that this is what needs to take place, and he’s made no value judgments of it whatsoever. I got that from Kurt, and I think that the only one who could have given me that was Kurt.
Where does this leave Gemma and Clay? She wanted him dead, and he knows it. So I’m thinking they won’t reconcile.
There’s that amazing look that she has when she peeks into the hospital room and sees that I’m not dead. I’m sitting there in tatters, the patch has been cut off of my cut, and at that moment in time I wish I were dead, and she wishes I were dead. But the fact that I’m not leaves anything possible. Now she has to deal with a very, very much alive Clay Morrow, and she has to deal with the fact that in order for everybody to not go away for ever, the club has to continue being in business with the cartel and the Irish, and the only way that’s gonna happen is if Clay lives. So this is not even negotiable, and that’s a very tough position for somebody like Gemma Teller to be in, because within her mind, everything’s negotiable. When she runs up against a situation where she’s not in control, this is probably the scariest thing that can happen to that character. Wouldn’t you agree?
Oh yeah. And I loved the last shot of Tara behind Jax at the table. It turns Gemma’s dream into a bit of a nightmare. I’m excited to see where that tension goes next season between Gemma and Tara.
How about that? How about where Kurt goes with regard to the beautiful, simple, pure-hearted Tara? Now she’s become this kind of nightmare bitch on wheels because we’ve taken away her ability to do surgeries. That’s an amazing dramatic conceit right there, in and of itself. And that’s just one of many that have been unearthed this season. I always thought that Kurt was in a class by himself because I’ve never been involved in a television series where there were no clunkers, where every single episode was really good. There’s always clunkers. It’s very difficult to sustain that kind of quality week in and week out. But my estimation for not only his ability to be a storyteller, but what he’s willing to risk and the magnitude of the drama that he infuses into these things has just gone through the roof this year. It’s always good when you’re at my age [Laughs] to wake up one morning and say, “I thought I knew everything, and now I’m just finding out how little I know.” Like, I thought my opinion about Kurt was set in stone, but I basically have to reserve the right to categorize him until all is said and done because he’s gonna continue to surprise me.
That’s got to be a great feeling for anyone on a show that’s been on four seasons.
Season 4 can be deadly for a show that’s been a hit show. It’s the year you start to realize where maybe some staleness can set in, maybe we’ve outlived our usefulness. There’s a whole number of things that can happen and have happened to shows at that point in their evolution. To see him double-down like he has in the face of that, it’s a very cool thing to be a part of.
Last question: What did you think of the twist that Romeo and Luis work with the CIA when you read that? I never saw that coming.
I never saw that coming either. In fact, everything that happens in those last two episodes was a complete shock to every member of the cast and crew. The scripts get distributed to everyone on a certain day, and then you start walking around as people just get finished reading it, and you see the various responses and reactions. I mean, we’re talking about people who are seasoned, who’ve been there from the get-go and think they know everything and can’t be surprised and certainly can’t be shocked. Watching the looks on people’s faces, they’re like I can’t believe we’re going there. I can’t believe that Danny Trejo is, you know, government issue. I mean, you know.