34 things you learn on the 'Sons of Anarchy' set
Spend close to 20 hours on location and set with the cast and crew of Sons of Anarchy, and you learn a few fun facts. EW‘s recent cover story (read it online) reveals some of them: among the objects in Charlie Hunnam’s backpack is a marijuana grinder; Katey Sagal is happy to talk about Justin Theroux’s jogging attire on The Leftovers. Here are 34 other things gleaned from EW‘s September visit.
IN THE MAKEUP TRAILER
• When you catch Tommy Flanagan (Chibs) singing “Hurt” on his way in at 6:30 a.m., it’s definitely the Johnny Cash version. “Of course, the Johnny Cash version,” he says later. “I mean Nine Inch Nails, fair enough, they did a great version, but Johnny killed it.”
• Everyone knows the fun begins when Kim Coates (Tig) arrives. On this day, he starts a lively conversation suggesting he’ll wear a Speedo to the show’s premiere screening that weekend. He and Flanagan claim they’ve never worn a Speedo, but Hunnam admits to having donned one as a child.
• The show’s head of makeup, Tracey Anderson, has it out for Abel. She barely lets Hunnam sit down in her chair at 6:50 a.m. before asking him if he thinks Abel is behind something bad that happened in the episode they’re wrapping today.
Anderson: I know he’s psycho. I really want it to be him.
Hunnam: I know you do. (Laughs)
Makeup artist Sabine Taylor: I’m afraid you’re overestimating what a little boy like that is capable of.
Anderson: If he’s a sociopath…
David Labrava (Happy): I think Abel [redacted], but Abel didn’t [redacted].
Anderson: I haven’t liked that kid since day one.
• Anderson, pictured below, holds the speed record for bullet wounds. “I time her,” makeup artist Michelle Garbin says. “One time she did six bullets in six minutes, in a pit, in the middle of the night.” (“I just wanted to get out of the pit,” Anderson says.) After seven seasons on the show, Anderson has grace under pressure: “When I started, I’d read the script and be like, ‘Ohmygod, they’re gonna have a slight cut over their eye.’ I’d get all worried about it. ‘We need them back in the trailer for 20 minutes!’ Now it’s like, ‘Whatever, we’ll just do it on set,'” she says.
• The makeup trailer has a “Blood Wall,” pictured below, which they stopped adding victims to seasons ago. “They would come in and be like, ‘I’m on the wall!’ They’d be so proud. But now it’s too much of a spoiler,” Anderson says. “There’s just too many people in here taking pictures. And people we have come in to work, they’re not caught up to the episodes, so it spoils it for them. They don’t want to see it.”
• Also on the walls: diagrams of various scenes, including the season 7 premiere’s panty hose preacher orgy and Jax carving a swastika into an Aryan Brotherhood snitch. “We got a piece made,” Anderson says of the latter. “I can’t believe I’m sending this to an Oscar-winning makeup artist. ‘Yeah, we want it to look like that.'”
AT A SAMCRO SHOOTOUT AT STEVENSON RANCH IN CALIFORNIA’S SANTA CLARITA VALLEY
• Everyone is thrilled that Hunnam got cast as the lead in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur project. At 7:45 a.m., when members of SAMCRO emerge from the van carrying them from base camp to the ranch house that the club will approach in the first scene of the day, the actors are wearing Burger King crowns. Co-executive producer Charles Murray, who’s directing the episode, made a special trip through the drive-thru for the prank because he’s proud of Hunnam. “I think a lot of people overlook the work because they’re so caught up in how beautiful he is. I don’t know if you’ve seen that Calvin Klein commercial—that’s a good lookin’ boy,” Murray says later laughing. “But that’s the same thing that happened to Paul Newman. I think he’s got a huge future ahead of him. A long, long, sturdy career.”
• Hunnam has a good sense of humor. Not only does he chuckle at his costars shouting that they’re “the king’s bodyguards” while Murray snaps photos, but he also asks if EW would like to have a laugh watching him undergo “nose hair extraction” in the house’s front yard. “That’s the worst part about getting old,” the 34-year-old insists afterward with tears in his eyes.
• Coates’ preferred weapon during rehearsal is a finger gun. “Everyone knows don’t f–k with my finger,” he says. “I’m serious.” Everyone also knows that he was in Black Hawk Down, so that’s why Hunnam and Flanagan make “That’s so BHD” jokes when blocking SAMCRO’s movements.
• Each character carries a weapon tailored to his personality and needs. Trigger-happy Happy, for instance, has a Glock 17 9mm (which is also what Juice packs, incidentally). First assistant prop master Brandon Boyle rattles off more of the club’s arsenal:
Jax: Springfield Bureau Model .45 caliber
Chibs: Beretta 92F 9mm
Tig: Ruger SR9 9mm
Bobby: Smith & Wesson 459 9mm
Ratboy: Sig Sauer 226 9mm
Quinn: HK USP Tactical .45 caliber
In addition to real guns if they’re firing blanks, actors handle replicas that are hard—”If you’re gonna throw it at somebody, we might use that, because that way you don’t damage the gun,” Boyle says—or soft. “If they’re gonna hit somebody across the head with a gun, we have rubber guns,” he says. “And there’s various stages of rubber. If someone’s really gonna crack somebody across the head or you’re in really close proximity to the face, we usually make a really soft rubber. So they all change. It’s whatever you need.”
• The actors are aware that everyone SAMCRO goes up against is an extraordinarily bad shot.
Flanagan: It’s another A-Team moment where there’s a million bullets, and no one gets killed. (Sings A-team theme song) It’s guns like this. Look. (Bends his prop gun) Bendy. We shoot around corners.
Coates: What season was that, two maybe, where we had all the KKK boys and us in a backyard situation. We were 10 yards away from each other and we all went (Makes automatic gun sound), not one of us got hit. We kept going, “Are we whole?” “We’re whole.” “Are we whole?” “We’re whole.” Ridiculous.
• Six weapons firing on set is a slow day. “The gunfire’s actually not that huge today compared to what we usually do. We had an episode where we had like 25 people with full automatic weapons besides another 10 to 20 people with handguns. So it was loud. I think one of my ears still works,” Boyle says. “So come back. We’re gonna have some fun before it’s all said and done. I promise you that.”
• Happy really shouldn’t have a cell signal in this scene. Just saying.
• The name Swayze is “Viking Irish.” Don Swayze, who’s guesting in this episode as the angry redneck shooting at the club, tells the Scottish Flanagan about his ancestry during a break.
• Hunnam still wears Jax’s bullet necklace. Hunnam bends down to pick up a blank shell and asks if you’d like a souvenir. Yes, and you’re going to make a necklace out of it. He pulls Jax’s bullet necklace out of his shirt and notes that it’s missing a couple stones around the diamond-crusted tip.
• The one thing the guys definitely won’t miss about Sons is filming long days in 100 degrees. “We used to call it doing ‘the timber.’ We’d lose a crew member a week from passing out. Boom. Gone,” Coates says. Even Flanagan was sent off to the hospital once to get an IV (“It was the day after the season 3 premiere, I think. I was hung over,” he admits). Umbrella holders try to shield them between takes, but the guys take cover wherever they find it. Since Hunnam was treated for lyme disease last year after an unplanned hike in the Scottish Highlands, he’s hyper aware of “tick-y” areas. You’ll catch him lying down on the couch inside the house, prop gun in hand. Flanagan opts for a leather chair and keeps his weapon on his lap. Coates, meanwhile, stretches out in the bed of the rusted old truck Tig and Happy take cover behind when the bullets fly. Around 4 p.m., the guys watch Hunnam drink a vial of what he later describes as “untreated, unheated ocean water from some f–king kelp forest somewhere.” Actually, it’s something a hot yoga instructor recommended he drink to quickly replenish his body, and he finds it also works when he’s sweating all day in Jax’s cut and working on five hours sleep. (In addition to prepping for today’s scenes, he spent three hours last night doing email interviews, including one for Calvin Klein that asked him to name the sexiest thing about fall.)
• There’s already a reunion in the works.*
Niko Nicotera (Ratboy): I think it’ll be strange to wake up and know you’re not going back to the show, like ever again.
Flanagan: Apart from the Christmas special.
Coates: Boone’s playing Santa Claus. I’m sellin’ trees. There’s no doubt about it.
Hunnam: (Walks up) You’re selling what?
Coates: I was saying the Sons of Anarchy Christmas special: Boone’s gonna be Santa. I’m definitely sellin’ some trees.
Hunnam: I’ve been on that. I’ve been tryin’ to make it happen.
Coates: You’re the one who can make it happen.
(They’re called back to filming.)
Coates: Okay, here we go. Ho, ho, ho.
AT A PIT STOP IN STEVENSON RANCH
• This is why they do the show. After roughly 10 hours shooting, the guys change locations and are parked with their bikes on the side of a road for the day’s last scene. The temperature has dropped a bit, along with the sun. There’s a breeze, but no dust to fly in their faces. As they wait for someone to finish a sweep of the grass to make sure no snakes are lurking, Coates lies back on Tig’s Harley, just like Labrava will do on Happy’s when “Action!” is called, and Hunnam tells a story involving guest star Marilyn Manson that has everyone laughing. This is the club. Even though I will have seen every episode of the series, this is how I’ll remember it.
• Technically, it’s not called a “pisserator.” That’s just the name the guys give the tank that will allow Coates and Nicotera to pretend Tig and Rat are relieving themselves against a tree in the scene. (“Sneak peek, EW. Other side of the tree. You and me. Come on. I got one take in me, and that’ll be about it,” Coates jokes.)
• Hunnam went to sleep around 9 p.m. on Sunday nights last summer. The conversation turns to another show that ended this year. Flanagan assumes Hunnam watched True Blood with his girlfriend. “Oh yeah, I’ve definitely done some True Blood,” Hunnam says. “But I’ll tell you what, there’s not a sleeping pill invented that is more effective than that opening title sequence. (Hums theme song) And then I wake up, and I’m like, ‘Babe, did I miss it? Ah…'”
• Even though some fans think it’s too soon, now’s the right time to end the show. “It’s probably just the right amount of time to leave them wanting more and never forget it,” Coates says. Seconding him, Labrava adds, “You gotta know when to leave.” (Cue Flanagan and Nicotera singing the chorus of “The Gambler.”)
• Fans always find their location. When Hunnam, Flanagan, and Labrava leave the ranch at roughly 8 p.m. to ride home together on their personal bikes, fans are waiting outside the ranch’s gate. A Twitter check confirms they stopped. The next day, Hunnam says he stops 90 percent of the time—unless he absolutely can’t—because he knows how long people wait. Fans also show up at the gate to the show’s North Hollywood set daily. “They’re coming out to see the final farewell,” Flanagan says later. “I suppose they’re trying to get a final farewell as well, you know.”
AT THE SHOW’S NORTH HOLLYWOOD SET
• Like any family, the crew keeps photos and videos on their phones. Executive producer ParisBarclay and script supervisor Gena Bravos, who’s been there since the pilot, both like to play the game “Actor or dummy?” when showing solo shots of the dead-on life-size double used when Jax stuck a carving fork in the head of the Lin Triad member (Tim Park) in the season 7 premiere. James Epstein, second second assistant director (not a typo!), pulls up video of the clubhouse being blown up in season six. “It was way bigger than we even expected,” he says. “It was just supposed to blow the door—it blew the whole building up.” Set production assistant Mallory Squeo, meanwhile, has photos of Peter Weller, who recurs on the show as crooked ex-cop Charlie Barosky but also directs episodes, sitting in video village with Abel’s stuffed lion resting on the back of his neck.
• When in doubt, Katey Sagal will Wikipedia it. The scene she’s shooting today involves Gemma (Sagal) having a chat with Sheriff Althea Jarry (Annabeth Gish) in Jarry’s office. “I was thinking, people don’t stay in that chair very long on this show,” Barclay says between takes. Weller, who’s directing this episode, agrees: “They don’t. They die a lot in that chair.” Sagal, Epstein, and Bravos join the conversation and begin listing the series’ fallen lawmen. No one can remember the name of the first San Joaquin County Sheriff. Sagal is called back to film another take. As soon as Weller yells, “Cut!,” Epstein asks the question again: Who was the sheriff the first season? All I can offer is that the actor was also in Speed and Showgirls. “Let’s look it up,” Sagal says taking out her phone. Sheriff Vic Trammel played by Glenn Plummer. Of course.
• The show could be even more graphic.
Weller: As gritty and grimy as it is onscreen, I think the scripts are always way more gnarly than what we actually show.
Sagal: It’s from Kurt’s brain. (Everyone laughs)
Weller: The most horrifying memory for me is when we were shooting that episode last year that the guy had to be dragged [pictured below], and he said he was really going to be dragged: This guy was going to hold on to a car, being dragged at 10 mph. We held hands. The car hits him and off he goes. Then the car went off, and he just laid there on the road. Gena said, “Oh, this isn’t good.” I said, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” Epstein said, “I think he’s acting. Isn’t he supposed to be dead?” We went, “Oh. Yeah.”
• Sagal and Gish have worked together before.
Sagal: A long time ago we played in a TV movie together [1999’s God’s New Plan]. I was dying, and she stole my husband. Based on a true story. She was my nurse.
Gish: No. You gave us your blessing.
Sagal: I did. I said, “Take him! I’m gonna be dead soon!”
• Gish has to stop herself from geeking out. “I’ve been a fan of the show, but I do keep it in check,” she says. She auditioned for the role while she was still doing The Bridge. “It was me and a room full of other wonderful actresses, and I had to fight for it,” she says. “Being a badass isn’t in my natural color wheel.” She’s still learning in this scene in which Jarry and Gemma get physical. “So I have to follow through with my arm and not apparently say Psshhh,” she tells Weller laughing. “My stunt double said, ‘When they’re on you, you say Psshhh.’ That’s embarrassing as hell.” After seven seasons, Sagal is a master. “Maggie [Siff] and I did a lot of our slapping. And I actually did do the skateboard stuff,” she says referencing Gemma whacking Taryn Manning’s Cherry with one in season one. “I like to do stunts when I can. There’s a lot of adrenaline.”
• Stunt coordinator Eric Norris moonlights as a matchmaker. At least a couple single ladies in the crew wish he would. They ask him if he’s hiring any hot single stuntmen soon. “It’s a side job I have,” he says. “I’m 0 for 1 right now.”
• We haven’t seen the last of Jarry and Chibs’ relationship.
Gish: I’m wondering how I’m gonna have sex in this uniform.
Norris: I had no idea there was that side of you. I was very surprised.
Gish: You mean of me, Annabeth Gish, or Althea Jarry?
Norris: I’m not sure. Have we told the husband that whole scene yet?
Gish: Oh yeah.
Norris: Her husband’s a stunt man.
Gish: And also an ex cop.
Squeo: Does he have any hot single friends? Because Norris is disappointing us.
• Weller has the best description of the show.
Weller: Some people are gonna see the theater of nihilism in it, which is what I see.
Sagal: I’m with you.
Weller: It’s the dignity amongst cockroaches. It’s bugs finding some sort of dignity, which is all of us.
Sagal: Wow, that’s so deep.
Barclay: I thought it was just that you reap what you sow.
• Kurt and Katey do give those Sons of Anarchy beanies as baby gifts. Between takes, Weller tells the story of how he met Kurt: “I was a big fan of the show. I don’t watch a lot of television, but I’d watched it from the beginning. We have a dear friend in common, Gerald Chamales. He said, ‘Do you know Kurt Sutter?’ I said, ‘Well, I certainly know his show.’ Ron Perlman is an old buddy. So I was watching it for Ron. He said, ‘You should direct that show.’ I was in the middle of my PHD in Italian Renaissance art history—I just got hooded a few months ago—and I was in the basement of the UCLA art history library when I get a call from Kurt: ‘Hey, Jerry told me to call you. Let’s meet up.’ So we meet. We discussed a lot of friends, what the show is, Ron. I just told him, ‘I love the show, I’d like to be of service directing.’ He says, ‘Okay, man. We’ll see what we can do.’ So nothing happens for a couple of months. Then I’m on my way to Italy in December, and I’ll never forget it: I was traveling with my wife in a cab. I called him up, just to see what’s going on. ‘Can you meet with Paris Barclay after the first of the year?’ The interesting thing is, the meeting I had with Kurt, we were pregnant and didn’t know it. The meeting I had with Paris Barclay is the day that I found out we were pregnant. The kid was born during me shooting an episode. And the first trip he ever took—he’s three-years-old now—was to the set. And the first gift of clothing he ever got was Kurt and Katey bought him a Sons of Anarchy beanie. So there is a familial thing here that goes beyond just the four years that I’ve been with them.”
• Sagal will miss a lot of things about Sons. “Even my two-hour hair and makeup routine,” she says. “It takes a long time to put these blonde pieces in. The first three years, I would dye my hair. And then my hair started to fall out. So we use extensions.”
• Opie’s death remains the show’s saddest moment. “The set almost came down,” Bravos recalls. “People were sobbing.” Still, she’s taken to calling this season’s cast read-throughs “cry-throughs.”
• Barclay’s 80-year-old mother doesn’t understand why Juice (Theo Rossi) has to suffer. “She says she will definitely stop watching the show if anything happens to Juice,” he says. “So now that’s my charge: I go to Kurt and say, ‘Are we gonna beat up Juice? Because my mother’s gonna be very upset.’ I think it’s because they met and he becomes everybody’s son. There’s something about Theo Rossi playing the Juicey part—he becomes the son that people want to protect. I see it on Twitter, too. He’s got a rabid fanbase of people who want to take care of him. They have a whole #SaveJuice thing. They sell T-shirts. They’re always tweeting me when he’s not in a picture. When he had his hair cut and they saw him without the Mohawk, they said, ‘He’s dead.’ My mother doesn’t go on the Internet, but she would have thought that, too. But that’s the kind of fans we have. They’re so rabid about the show.”