'Sons of Anarchy' director Paris Barclay on that 'Greensleeves' scene
Spoiler alert: The Oct. 21 episode of Sons of Anarchy, “Greensleeves,” ended with Jax (Charlie Hunnam) receiving a box from August Marks that will haunt SAMCRO and viewers. Exec producer Paris Barclay, who directed the episode, takes EW inside filming that tragic twist and the other big moments.
EW: Let’s start at the beginning, with Juice being given back his cut at the site of John Teller’s death, then setting off on his mission to get himself arrested so he can kill Lin inside. What is the significance of that site now?
Barclay: I believe that it’s going to be an integral part of our story going forward, and I think the way that the guys memorialize the spot where John Teller died is very important. It’s important to the mythology of Sons of Anarchy. That’s a place where big things happen. It’s also sort of out in the wilderness, basically. It’s a very quiet road, and I think if they’re going to have this moment for Juice, they felt that it would be appropriate that it would be there. I started reading the script, and I thought, “Oh, they’re going to kill Juice right here?” But they don’t. He has one more assignment.
Knowing what happens with Bobby at the end, watching that scene again with him going up last to touch the date of JT’s death on the rock and hugging Jax afterward—it made me tear up.
I know. Very sad. The ending is really, really, really beautiful and chilling. That’s when we introduce Mathew St. Patrick [as Moses, Marks’ head of security]. He becomes a critical player through the end of the series. He’s just carrying the box, very polite. But he becomes a brutal force against the Sons for the rest of the year, working with August Marks.
Tell me first about with filming that scene in which Bobby [Mark Boone Junior] gets his eye gouged out.
That was one of the most difficult scenes we ever had to do. It was done inside of a van. You can hardly tell, but that’s where we thought they would actually do it, so we actually shot it inside of a van. It was very hot. There were some tempers flaring. It was one of those times in Sons of Anarchy where people get excited.
What was the “excitement” over?
The excitement was over how exactly it would be done. It’s usually about technical stuff. When you’re going to gouge someone’s eye out, it’s a delicate process. We have to sort of join the actor’s vision with the director’s vision, and that took some strong persuasion. I’ll leave it at that.
What was your vision?
Kurt [Sutter] and I had decided that it would be a grapefruit spoon. Because we thought, “What’s a really good thing to gouge someone’s eyes out with?” We thought, “You can do it with a knife, but it’s kind of messy holding them down. But if you did it with a grapefruit spoon, with the nice serrated edges, you can probably get in there pretty quickly and scoop it out.” If you actually pause it, you’ll see, briefly, we introduced the serrated grapefruit spoon, which also plays an important role through the end of the series. The character of the serrated grapefruit spoon is not to be taken lightly. [Laughs] Some things you can only see for a few frames in this episode really have a big role for the rest of our show. We did four or five takes. I mean, it’s hard! It’s hard to imagine the pain of having your eye gouged out. I’m screaming, “More pain!” [Laughs] Back and forth. Mathew St. Patrick, that was his first scene that he had ever done on the show, goes, “Okay, what am I in for…”
Then you have the scene when the guys get the video and Bobby’s eye. Chibs needs to hold on to Tig for support. How did you go about filming that?
They didn’t see the video before we actually filmed the scene. We don’t do that because they’re super method actors, but just because we wanted to be filming when they actually saw it for the first time, so they could actually live in their first response to seeing Bobby having his eye gouged out. Tommy Flanagan just broke down, and some of it is in the episode. Sometimes you can’t recreate the authentic reaction that these actors who’ve bonded so closely together, not just as actors but as friends, have. Sometimes you just need to be rolling the cameras. I think what you’re seeing is a large part of the first take, and then we did a reverse where we show Jax walking away, which was done later. So Tommy’s reaction is his reaction to seeing the video for the first time.
What else do you remember about that night? Was it a long shoot?
What I do remember is we got to the park, and it was filled with about 200 people. When we shoot nights, we usually shoot towards the end of the week. This ended up being the last scene to shoot on Friday night. Friday night in this North Hollywood park is very popular. We don’t really close the park to shoot Sons of Anarchy. It’s a big ass park. We had an area that was coned off, but we do not have enough security or really PAs to control the entire park and make everyone be quiet for our filming. It was very difficult to get the actors in the mood, and get them protected, and to get the fans to respect the fact that we’re filming an episode. They wanted to take pictures. A lot of what we did was shoot in one direction and try to move all the people around to the other side of the park, and then shoot in another direction and move all the way back to the other side. It took a lot longer than it needed to, and it also tested my patience and some of the patience of the actors. A lot of what they had to do was driven by just the crowd. We could control the street, so we shot toward the street first, but it’s really tough: People love their Sons of Anarchy, and they feel like if we’re on the street and we’re in a public place, they should be there, they should take pictures, and they should ask Charlie Hunnam to take a selfie with them. We can’t really explain, “I’m sorry, but I’m about to look at a box with Bobby’s eye in it. I don’t really want to take this selfie with you right now.” Because we don’t want to be rude.
Or spoil the show.
Or spoil the show. Every detail of Sons of Anarchy is so sweated over. One of my favorite things is we had a big discussion over the order of the things in the box. When you open a box, and it has someone’s eye in it, and an iPad, and the patch, how should they be presented? When you open it up, the first thing you see is Bobby’s patch, and Jax hands it off, and then there’s the iPad, which for some reason is on. Don’t ask that question. [Laughs] I know you’re going to in your recap: “Why is the iPad on in the box?!” It’s on because it needs to be on. What, do you want them to put the passcode in, go to videos, search through the TV shows of whoever the iPad owner is, and find this one of Bobby? So okay, it was just on pause. When you take the iPad out, you hardly see that there’s the little round case that has the eye in it. And then you go to that. So we had to have a box that was the size of the iPad, so the iPad covered everything in the box, and then you lift the iPad out, and you theoretically see that Tupperware. A lot of that doesn’t really play in the episode, but it’s really important to the actors. They say, “Well, if I saw the eye, I would take the eye out.” So I was like, “Okay, so I’ll put the eye under the iPad.” This is the kind of thing we have to consider. It all pays off in the end, because it’s emotional.
What can you tease about what happens next with Bobby?
I would say Bobby is in mortal danger, and unless Jax does the absolutely right thing, bad things can happen to Bobby. I’m hopeful Jax will make the right decision, but I am very, very concerned at this point. It all will depend on Jax.
This episode was an emotional one for Gemma. Abel overhearing her confess to Thomas that she accidentally murdered Tara—I gasped. Did you know it would get that reaction?
I knew at the beginning of the season that Abel was going to be the first person in the family to find out. That’s part of the Abel story that’s been developing, and I have been giving little hints on the Twitter and other places to “keep an eye out for Abel.” I think Abel finding out becomes part of the twist that sends us into our final spiral… The scene where Happy and Ratboy come to get Gemma at Teller-Morrow, I love her face. I love her scrambling. She’s tired, she’s drunk, she hasn’t slept, she think she’s going to die, and then they come and say “Jax wants to see you.” And she goes, “Oh. F–k. I need to stop at my house and get some guns out of my hat box!”
That’s a question I had: Is she willing to use that gun on Jax?
I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing—maybe she thinks that Happy’s trying to kill her—but she thinks she needs a gun. In their minds, Jax just needs her to help this junkie lady, but she reads all of her guilt and everything into it and is like, “The end. I’m toast. Take me up to the cabin, that is where they whack people.”
Nero asked Gemma to go with him when he buys his uncle’s farm. The way Jimmy Smits is tearing up when he says they deserve something better—how great is he?
He’s just a fantastic actor. I loved doing that scene out in the Teller-Morrow lot. It just reminds me of the joy of Jimmy Smits. Having known him since the early nineties, back in the [NYPD Blue] days, he just needs more things like that, where it’s not just that he’s crying and emotional, but there’s real stakes there, there’s real heart for him to play. He really, really wants her to come with him, and she wants to go. The two of them just really played off each other. By the time that we were done shooting it, that scene felt that it had never been written, that it had only been said by the two of them. That’s just so hard to accomplish. To me, that’s one of the highest things actors can do. Sometimes we reached that in In Treatment, where it seemed like sections were just coming out of people’s heads, but they’re all meticulously written. That was one of those times in the show where I thought, “Look at how they’ve invested; every word of this feels natural.” I have a little directing class that I do every once in a while, and I thought, “That’s a scene I can take to the directing class.” Because also, it goes from A to B to C: Her guilt and her reluctance, his heartfelt plea, and she finally ends it with, “You know, I want to do that. I’d like to do that.” He convinces her in the course of it. It’s just so fantastic. You know, I was talking to Charlie yesterday about this: I was thinking that maybe it was Jimmy coming to the show that really has given us just enough glue emotionally to keep this whole thing spinning after we lost Clay Morrow. His father relationship with Jax, and his sexual and love relationship with Gemma, I just think it was just so brilliant that we found a guy that could actually do it and help us get through it.
You told me you cried filming the table scene in the season 7 premiere. Did you cry during the Chapel scene in this episode, when Jax tells the guys, “You’re my family. I love you all”?
I did cry in it because I knew where we were going. When people look back, that scene will have more resonance because it’s really heartfelt. Charlie Hunnam, he does want quite a few takes—not [a] David Fincher number of takes, but he does want a few takes—and he was just getting deeper and getting better and better, and I think that’s the very last take we did. I loved it, because he got so emotional and then just sort of snaps the gavel and says, “Enough!” and tries to get past it and shake the feeling off. Also, I know I always say this, but that scene is beautifully lit. Just the way the light streams and hits the side of his face and backlights Chibs—that’s [director of photography] Paul Maibaum and his team, and it adds to the mood of it. Why is it late afternoon in that? This is the longest day on earth anyway.
I always talk about that in my recaps—the amount of things these guys do in one day is amazing.
I know. I was thinking about this episode, where they go to Nero, then to Oakland to meet with Greensleeves and Winsome—I mean, that’s a lot of driving. And then they go to wherever Greensleeves lives, and they kill him, and then they come back, and then their bike is broken, and they pick up their bike, and the day is not over yet. We go through a lot of miles. Part of that is the same thing that David Milch did on NYPD Blue: Almost every episode was in one day, no matter how unreasonable it was to catch the criminal and to get the confession. Almost every episode of NYPD Blue had what Milch would say is the “Aristotelian Unity” of all happening in a day. That was just the way the Greeks did it: Stories should happen in a day. Almost every episode of Sons happens in a day…I thought you were going to ask about the porno.
I am! Cocks and Bagels. Amazing.
I was arguing with Kurt back and forth… I always said “bagels and lox,” but he always said “lox and bagels.” I just thought, so my brethren of the Jewish persuasion are not going to love that they’re making this video. But at the same time, it’s kind of witty in a strange, Red Woody kind of way. While they’re trying to kill all these people, they’re also trying to find this enterprise that’s faintly original. So they did Skankenstein, which has been popularized in many a T-shirt around here. Now they’re doing Cocks and Bagels in that sort of genre-busting way.
Is this the last Red Woody production we’ll see?
It is not! [Laughs] Lyla has got a job to do, and she’s a big time director now. As president of the Directors Guild, I do support Lyla taking a step up to the director’s chair, just like Angelina Jolie. I think it’s time for more women directors. And Lyla represents that, even though she’s making porn. [Laughs]
They should put that quote on the Directors Guild of America site.
I mean, we could have said, Lyla can’t do it, there’s a man who has to do it, but no. We promoted Lyla, and we’re sending a message—albeit subtlly and perhaps one that will get lost for many people—that a woman could direct porn and you should not neglect them. [Laughs]
What’s your favorite scene in the episode?
When Christopher Backus [who played pimp Greensleeves] and Inbar Lavi of Gang Related [who played prostitute Winsome] are out on the street, and he’s telling her about the John that he really wants her to work with even though she doesn’t want to work with this John because he’s abusive.
“Who puts the ‘o’ in ho?”
[Laughs] “Who puts the ‘o’ in ho?”
That’s a T-shirt waiting to happen, I think.
We just don’t do enough of that: It’s two people you haven’t met, you don’t really know, a pimp and a ho, and their whole story is just in that one little scene. He ends up getting killed, and she ends up being a character who we’ll see again before the end. It’s just so unusual, and I really liked it.
There was a nice chemistry between Winsome and Jax. Is that something the show will play with?
We hadn’t intended to until we recognized that there was some chemistry between them, and the fact that they offer her a job at Diosa. Inbar’s really, really good, and so we have developed a little bit more of her character, so you will see her again. I do think she has a unique relationship with Jax. I don’t want to make people believe that it’s going to be more than it is. But it’s definitely followed through on. We don’t just drop her like Christopher Backus.
The window pane—that was a nice little death scene. Did that take a lot of work as well?
It took a lot of work and a lot of reshooting. It’s always hard to figure out how you are going to throw someone partway out of a window so that they impale themselves on the glass. There are physics professors that were involved, and we finally figured it out. It’s done in a real loft in Downtown LA. We didn’t actually want to pull him out the window—we had to actually build a window within the loft that he could go out of, but didn’t go in the street.
Let’s end with a few more teases: Juice is in County, and is supposed to get close enough to Lin to kill him. How nervous should your mother, who loves Juice, be?
She says, “Well, I’m just not going to watch anymore because it’s going to end up bad.” I’m just like, “You know what? You shouldn’t watch anymore ’cause it’s going to end up bad.” For as many episodes as Juice lasts, it just gets worse. Unser used to be our Job, and now Juice is our new Job. He’s just painted himself into a corner, and it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse.
Is the Eglee storyline wrapped up, or is that something we’ll see revisited?
Oh, it’s not wrapped up. Because Leland’s still around, and he’s still going to be anxious about Eglee.
Gemma telling Chucky he’s not a joke and kissing him on the head was so sweet. But after Jax telling him he’s family, it makes me worried for Chucky.
Nothing is wasted.
So should we expect the strung-out prostitute Jax let live after killing Greensleeves to resurface?
I don’t think she ever comes back. I found that a little unusual. We tried to hide her in another closet. [Laughs] Jax is starting to get really erratic is the point of that. He’s starting to take chances he normally wouldn’t. Some of that is going to be the chickens coming home to roost, but that one in particular will not.
Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.