The new season of Sons of Anarchy begins this week with 90-minute premiere episode full of the show's trademarke violence and drama. We sat down with the show's creator Kurt Sutter and cast members Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal (also Sutter's wife) at San Diego Comic-Con in July to discuss where the show is headed in its new season:
The new season is jumping ahead in time, right?
Kurt Sutter: Yeah, they'll be getting out of jail. So, it's fourteen/fifteen months.
Can you talk a little bit about where things pick up?
Sutter: You know, things pick up sort of where they left off in terms of where they're at because they've been in jail. As it was, some things do transpire in jail and we're doing these little "appisodes," these little scenes that we're releasing [via the Sons of Anarchy mobile app]. There are three scenes that'll be for the public, released before the premiere and then one that's exclusively for the DVD. It'll show key moments that have happened over the last fourteen or fifteen months. It's the kind of thing where you don't need to have seen them to understand what's going on in the season, but it'll just give you an inside view of some of the things that get dealt with this season. But they get out and the gun-running business is up and running and taken to a new level with the relationships they created last season. They have a little bit more money coming in and all the complications that and dynamics that happen when you start throwing more money into any situation. It'll be a lot of the inner workings of the club this year.
Ron Perlman: The first bit of season four is us being released. We're coming out into a town that's already under construction to be gentrified, to be corporatized. There's a new mayor, new sherriff. They've taken the citizenry of Charming and inundated them with the fact that everything bad that ever happened in their lives was as a result of having this motorcycle club. So we get scapegoated and it's time for us to assert ourselves.
Charlie, is this Jax's prison haircut?
Charlie Hunnam: Not this exactly. This is the grown out version of it. It's a lot shorter when we first start the season and we're halfway through now. I got it cut for prison. The rest of the guys, ultimately, really rebelled against cutting their hair. I really enjoy doing research. It's my favorite part of the job and I sometimes get a little bit carried away. I went and I visited a couple of prisons and they said, "Absolutely. No way would we let you in our prison with long hair and a beard." So, I just decided it was the right move and I couldn't get my head out of it and no one could convince me that it was the wrong move, so I did it. I think it would've been very cool, for my money, if everyone had come out looking very different. Ron does. But Ron and I are really the only ones that decided to change our appearance and everyone else is very happy with the biker that they'd evolved into over the last few years and weren't ready to strip it away.
Are things are going to change as far as the dynamic the club has with the local law enforcement with the new sherriff?
Sutter: I think it's been changing for awhile. Once they new that Charming PD was going away, they knew things were going to be changing. But there's definitely a new sherriff in town. He's not a guy that can necessarily be put on the payroll and they'll have to deal with that dynamic. The interesting thing is that most of their business is outside of Charming. Their relationship with Unser keeping them safe in Charming, that relationship had developed over a long time and we'll some of the history of that this season. I think, ultimately, their direct conflict with the sherriff doesn't necessarily impact their day-to-day.
What's going on with Gemma this season?
Katey Sagal: Gemma starts the season very happy. She's not on house arrest anymore and the guys are coming home and there's been a little bit of income coming in. She pretty happy, she's got her hair done, got her nails done. She has her grandchildren to deal with. But very soon things start to unravel. [Laughs] She's initially in pretty good place and then we have some intrigue that goes on. Like Kurt said, this season is all about the internal goings-on of the club and some of that doesn't make her happy.
Is there actually a series arc, besides the actual season arc, an overall arc for the show?
Sutter: Yeah, definitely. Not necessarily, point-by-point but I definitely know where I'm heading with it. As the seasons progress, the road just keeps getting more narrow.
When you conceived the series originally, are you in the place here in season four where you thought you would be?
Sutter: I think so. The truth is, you have this overall sense of where you want to go. But, trust me, the last thing you're thinking about when you're writing a pilot or trying to come up with the ideas for season one, is the problems you're going to have in season four. Let me put it this way, I feel like we're definitely on track, in terms of where it's going. The way it's unfolding to feels very logical.
Hunnam: Kurt's process is very organic. He'll have a full arc for the season, he has a full arc for the whole show. But he'll watch the first few episodes and if one dynamic is really electric, he'll move off what he planned to do and capitalize a little more on that and vice versa. If he has a big plan and it's not working, he'll scrap that idea and move onto something that's feeling more right.
Could you ride before you did the show?
Hunnam: I could. Yes. A little bit.
RP: I couldn't and I'm not that much better now, four years later.
CH: It's amazing. I've never seen somone get back on a bike so quickly after being in a near fatal disaster. About once a season, Ron will put a bike down in truly dramatic fashion and then two minutes later be riding it again. He's either really really tough or really really stupid.
Perlman: It ain't the first one.
The show can push the boundaries, as far as content, have their been any limitations? Have you reached a point with FX where the line has been drawn?
Sagal: We can't say the f-word.
Sutter: I havea really good relationship with our Standards and Practices person. Some of it's just odd and arbitrary. It's like, "Really? I can't use the word 'retarded' anymore?" Sometimes it's frustrating, but for the most part they understand what the show is. At the very least, there's always a conversation that can be had. Interestingly enough, very rarely to get pulled back on the violence, it's always about sexuality. I had this whole porn arc in season two and we're doing some of it again in season four and I can't show sex toys. These rules are very odd. There's definitely some hurdles and some hoops I have to jump through.
Going into this season, how much information do you know about what's going to come up for the character or is it on a script-by-script basis?
RP: Maybe broad strokes. We're all invited to have a little tete-a-tete with Kurt before the shooting of each, individual season but I came away from that with more questions than answers. A lot of things, dramatic things, happen in every episode of season four. We're only six episodes in, but the amount of actual things that have happened that have changed the whole course of the club is mind boggling. I've never seen it before on this show. And I still don't know where we're going. I have no idea where we're going. And I guess that's kind of okay with me.
Sons of Anarchy premieres Tuesday 6 at 9pm on FX.