'Sons of Anarchy': Kenneth Choi talks Henry Lin's showdown with Jax
Spoiler alert: In the Oct. 7 episode of Sons of Anarchy, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and Henry Lin (Kenneth Choi) finally came to blows over Jax’s belief that Lin ordered the hit on Tara. Lin survived the lengthy beatdown, but is headed to jail on drug and gun charges. Choi spoke with EW about filming the fight, Jimmy Smits’ brilliance, and the downside of guesting on a show when you’re also a big fan of it.
EW: When did you find out that Gemma (Katey Sagal) was going to blame Tara’s murder on Lin’s crew, and what was your reaction?
Choi: I never find anything out until I read the script. So I read it, and I was kinda shocked. I had no idea that was gonna happen. As a fan, I was so pissed at Gemma. (Laughs) As an actor, it’s great, because I figured there would be a lot more stuff for me to do. I was excited to see how it was gonna play out.
Jax and Henry have a great fight in this episode. It looked like you and Charlie did a lot of it. Is that the case, or is it just good editing?
We had stunt doubles, but we definitely did the entire fight, and we did it several times. It was exhausting, as most fight scenes are physically—and mentally, too. They have to do coverage on his side and coverage on my side. They bring in the stunt doubles every now and then to try to get them hitting each other as close as they possibly can. The physical thing takes a toll the next day: You get sore because you want to make it look as real and as vicious as possible, so you’re throwing punches as hard and as fast as you can. But emotionally it’s taxing, too. That fight scene, you gotta remember, is a buildup of Charlie’s character thinking that I had his wife killed and my character thinking that he’s killed so much of my crew, and stolen so much from me, and lied about it. So you try to take that into the fight and make it as authentic as possible. Mentally it’s just as exhausting.
I remember talking to Kim Coates about shooting the scene in the season 5 premiere when Pope (Harold Perrineau) burns Tig’s daughter alive. He said he and Harold didn’t look at each other riding to set and stayed away from each other once they got there. How did you and Charlie prepare for this scene?
When I work, I like to just kind of stay quiet, stay to myself. I like to walk around a lot and figure out what’s gonna happen in the scene and try to get my head straight. I’ve watched Charlie throughout the years, and he kinda does the same thing. He stays by himself, and he walks around, and you can see he’s generating whatever emotion or whatever he’s gotta go through in the scene. And with this fight scene, it was no different. He was on one end of the street, I was on the other end of the street. I could catch glimpses of him walking and pacing, so I knew he was really trying to get to the emotional state he had to, and I was doing the same. You get little things in between the takes: He’ll come over, and you just kind of look at each other, and there’s a little bit of, “You okay?” “You okay?” “Okay good.” And then you go to your separate corners. You watch him when he does these performances, and he brings so much heat to every moment. He’s really trying to live it as authentically as he can. So when I know that he’s about to fight my character, and the reason why, that makes me want to up my game and really get into it as well.
I know from being in the show’s makeup trailer recently that the makeup team on Sons really loves its blood. They were like, “Lawyer show? That would be boring to us.” Did you appreciate that side of the fight?
Absolutely. At the end of the fight scene, Jax has pretty much gotten the upper hand and he’s just wailing on my face. You don’t really get to see it while you’re on set. But afterwards, when you go to your trailer, it looks amazing and horrifying. They have to clean up all the blood, and I asked them not to—I wanted to just walk down to like a 7-Eleven and say, “Hey, do you guys sell Band-Aids?” (Laughs) They wouldn’t let me do it. That’d be the greatest, right? “I cut myself shaving. Do you guys have any Band-Aids?”
That leads nicely into my next question: What kind of encounters have you had with Sons fans over the years?
I’ll say 80-85 percent of the time I get recognized, it’s for Sons, and the one thing that I know is they love the show. They live and breathe this show. When they come up to me, there’s a reverence that they have, and that’s a tribute to Kurt [Sutter] and his writing and his actors.
Do you feel like fans are on Lin’s side at all, since they know Gemma framed him? What have they been saying to you?
Most people I see who’ve been following the show, especially friends, the comments are generally just simply, “Gemma is such a f–king a–hole.” (Laughs) They just can’t believe how far down this rabbit hole she’s gotten and brought everybody with her. Everybody’s very scared for my character, because they know that Jax is out for blood. So everybody’s like, “Dude, you’re in trouble.”
Regardless of how Lin’s story ultimately plays out, what were you hoping would be Lin’s fate going into this season?
I was actually hoping that Henry Lin was gonna die. I think everybody this last season wants to go out in a blaze of glory. It’s so far been a bloodbath, and I think it’s gonna get even worse.
Did you fantasize about any particular blaze of glory?
No. I just wanted to die. Right? I mean it’s Sons of Anarchy. If you’re gonna go, you might as well go out in a blaze somehow.
I agree. I moderated the show’s Comic-Con panel in July, and I asked the cast who was hoping to die an epic Sons of Anarchy death, since it is the final season, and no one raised their hand.
Okay, well that’s the regular cast. The regular cast, you want to stay on this show as long as possible. I think if you’re a recurring character and it’s the last season, you’re hoping to go out.
Let’s also talk about Lin’s really tense scene with Nero (Smits). What was that like to film?
He is one of the most nuanced and incredible actors that I’ve ever worked with. This has nothing to do with my scene, but you know Walt Goggins’ character [Venus Van Dam]? If you remember the first episode where she is introduced, Jax meets Walt Goggins’ character, and then he goes and tells Jimmy Smits that he met her. And Jimmy Smits has this response that I literally rewound probably 20 times, and I’m not kidding. He says, “Oh, you met my girl,” and he does this thing where he snaps his fingers. Do you remember this? It’s amazing. He brings so much…I don’t know…life to that relationship. I watched it, and I was like, this guy is just f–king amazing. It’s incredible what he does in that little moment. So I was looking forward to having scenes with this guy, and I actually have plenty this last season.
What other moments have you rewound?
There’s so many. Tara’s death last season, just watching Charlie’s work in it: I remember I rewound that a bunch of times because it was just so in the moment and so visceral. I like to rewind a lot of Kim Coates’ moments because he’s so violent, and he’s so hysterical, and he’s so twisted, and in real life, he’s just the most affable nice guy.
Could you have imagined when you made your first appearance in season 1 that Lin would still be around in the final season?
No. The first episode that I got, it was a one-off. It was mentioned during casting that it could recur, but the way that it was written, I expected it to completely go away. When I got my second episode at the beginning of season 2, I was completely shocked. They just kept bringing him back, and I was pleasantly surprised because I was a big fan of the show. It’s been a blessing and a curse. As an actor, you’re supposed to read the entire episode, so I would be reading and find things out ahead of time, and I would get so upset. (Laughs) Even in this episode, I was reading stuff, and I was like, “Oh f–k, now I know what happens.” It is so irritating. I forget what season it was, but there were a couple of scripts where I just read what was happening with my character and I refused to read the rest of the script.
You’re a true fan.
I’m a true fan, absolutely. This show is just phenomenal. And to have stuff ruined for you like that, it’s just the worst. (Laughs)
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a new NBC show called Allegiance. It’s a CIA-Russian spy thriller, and it’s going to air midseason. It’s from George Nolfi, who wrote and directed The Adjustment Bureau. It’s his first foray into television, and it’s f–king awesome. I play the New York CIA station chief.
So what I’m hearing is that you’ll still be wearing a suit.
Yes. I’m gonna be wearing suits. A lot less gun dealing. I lot less swearing. I lot less bloodshed.
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Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.