By Mandi Bierly
Updated October 15, 2014 at 10:51 PM EDT
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Credit: FX
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Spoiler alert: In the Oct. 14 episode of Sons of Anarchy, “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em,” Leland (Brad Carter) and the Aryan Brotherhood made a return appearance to have a fistfight with SAMCRO, view the corpses of the ambushed East Dub crew, and taste-test the Mayan heroin that Tully (Marilyn Manson) is going to now distribute in Stockton under Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) new plan. Viewers may recognize the Texas-born, Georgia-raised Carter, who’d auditioned to play an Irish biker on Sons years ago, from HBO’s True Detectivehe played AB inmate Charlie Lange. “Fortunately and unfortunately, these kind of characters seem to be in my wheelhouse. My mom always says, ‘Why can’t you play a nice boy?'” he tells EW. “‘Cause I am. I’m a nice person. My daddy’s a preacher. My mom is very devout. My mama can’t ever watch hardly anything I do because I’m either dyin’, or killin’ somebody, or doin’ something awful, and she just doesn’t like to see it. But I think that’s the key for me, that in regular life I don’t get to show some of the rage I feel sometimes, especially when you’re a nice guy. And so it just gets to come out on-camera, and that’s fun.”

Though he’s done a fair amount of guest work on TV—and made headlines last year when he played his guitar during Deep Brain Stimulation surgery for a condition called “essential tremor,” which is dominant in his right hand (great results mean he’s working on an album)—True Detective changed the tide, he says. “It’s awesome to be able to go into a room, even one that I’ve been into before, and you feel like there’s a whole new respect that they have for you as an actor. It seems like every room that I walk in, the producers and the casting directors all have seen the show and they all want to talk about it. That’s like handing an actor a gift. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, you were so great in this thing, and I just want to talk about it,’ as opposed to, ‘Okay. You’re here. What’s your name? Show me what you can do,'” he says. “It makes you have a great audition, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that opportunity and the other opportunities it’s afforded me.”

That brings us to Sons—and the joys of getting suckerpunched by Charlie Hunnam. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says laughing. “I’m like, ‘I’m supposed to be a badass Aryan Brotherhood. I’m gonna fall for that?’ But he’s the star.”

EW: What was the atmosphere like filming that fight? Even on-screen, it felt like the SAMCRO guys just needed to have some fun and blow off some steam.

Carter: That was the second time I had worked with them. The first time, I didn’t get to hang out with them very long. This time, I got to hang with them more. Tommy Flanagan, oh my god. That guy is so funny. I’ve loved that guy since Braveheart, and I’ve always wanted to talk to him. And he’s just full of piss and likes to cut up. That’s what was the really nice thing: When we got done at the end of the day, I said, “Well, I don’t know if I’ll see you guys again. It was nice working with you.” And he was like, [in Flanagan’s Scottish accent], “No, you’ll be back. We like you. You’ll be back.”

That was a good impersonation, by the way.

Was it? Thank you. (Laughs) You know, I’ve never tried him, but I’ll pat myself on the back for that one.

Was it scripted for you to hold the gun at Jax’s chest and then almost at his throat, or was that something you guys found on the day?

That was something we just found with the director [Guy Ferland]. When you’re putting it all together and they’re lining it up, you all kinda make up things on the fly as well. We did a few variations of that…And I’ll be honest with ya, I forgot to put in my earplugs the first time I shot that sawed-off shotgun. The dumbest mistake I’ve ever made. I’m tellin’ ya, I was scared. I thought I had permanently lost my hearing in my left ear. They had offered my earplugs and I didn’t think to put them in right before we started. And then holy s–t, I’ll never make that mistake again.

Let’s talk about the second scene: When Jax presents the van filled with the bodies of the ambushed East Dubs.

It’s a little shocking and a little awkward, too, just to open a van up and there’s all these poor guys stacked in there. And it was hot. But they took care of them: they’d put them in there and then let them get back out in between each take. I felt kinda bad for them, just all stacked on each other like that. And then the one guy, the blood had dried and he was stuck to the floorboard. (Laughs) They all had a good sense of humor about it. Everybody was down.

We will see Leland again on Sons?

You will definitely see me again. I think the next time you see me it’s a little surprising.

You’re starring in Syfy’s miniseries Ascension, debuting Nov. 24. What excited you about that?

I get to play something I’ve never played before. This guy’s not a redneck, he’s not a drug addict—he’s none of those things that I do well. (Laughs) And so it’s a nice departure for me. My character is John Stokes, and he is a stockyard master. What I love about it is that it’s set in 2014, but everything in the ship looks like 1963, because that’s when they left Earth. This huge ship the size of the Empire State Building is flying through space toward planet Proxima, because Kennedy wanted to make sure that the human race survived in case the Cold War ended in total annihilation. So you have 600 people shot into space who volunteered. But what you have now, 51 years later, is the children and grandchildren of those original volunteers and they have no control over their life. They’ve been born there, they know they’re gonna die there. They know they’ve seen everything they’re ever gonna see. They’ve met every a–hole they’re ever gonna meet. So there’s, as I call it, dissension on Ascension. There’s classes: There’s 80 levels. The lower decks are your working class; the upper decks are your elite. That’s the engine that’s making the show run: What’s everybody’s role? And how are they using it to get what they want? There’s no money on the ship. So what do people use to get things they want—whether it’s sex, or my character likes to make homemade liquor. God knows what I make it out of, because I don’t know.

You also have a role in the 2015 film Black Mass starring Johnny Depp as Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger.

It’s a really cool story, and I’m so glad Scott Cooper directed it. He directed Out of the Furnace, which is really gritty, and that’s how this is gonna be. Scott wants it to be very real and just like it would’ve happened. My character is John McIntyre, and this is a real guy—it was strange playing someone who really got murdered. But this is one of the people in Whitey’s entourage. This guy smuggled things on his boat, a lot of drugs, and then he smuggled guns for Whitey all the way to the IRA in Ireland and got busted. He spilled a little bit, and he never dreamed that Whitey would meanwhile talk to the FBI, because that’s the worst thing you can be is a rat. So he would never have thought Whitey would ever find out, but Whitey knew immediately. And so this guy comes home and four days later, they invite him to a party over at a house, and they just torture the guy brutally. I mean, it’s damn near a snuff film what I go through. It’s gonna be another one that my mother can’t watch. Put it that way. (Laughs) I got killed pretty brutally in Dexter once, but this is gonna take the cake. And what’s interesting is it’s all true firsthand accounts from the guy who was there, Kevin Weeks, who’s played by Jesse Plemons. Kevin Weeks wrote this book, so it’s based off his firsthand accounts of being the muscle who did all this stuff. What’s crazy is, that guy’s just out walkin’ around. He gave some information and got a deal, and he’s just out walkin’ the streets. I wasn’t there, but he came over to the set one day. (Laughs) Isn’t that crazy? And Johnny Depp looks like Whitey Bulger. He took on this guy: total prosthetic hair piece, cheeks, nose.

What are you shooting now?

I’m in Jackson, Mississippi, working on an indie feature called Dixieland directed by Hank Bedford. I just got to work with Faith Hill. Steve Earle, the musician, is in this. Riley Keough, Chris Zylka, RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad. So it’s a cool little cast. I’m playing a strip club owner. (Laughs)

Enjoy, mom!

Yeah, mom’s definitely gonna want to see this one. But I asked for a mullet, so that was a first. I’ve been wearing a mullet for a week now, and it’s kinda crazy when you go out in public and forget that you have the mullet and everybody’s kinda staring at you.

You want to wear a button that says, “Actor. I swear.”

“It’s not real” with an arrow up.

Episode Recaps

Sons of Anarchy

Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.

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