Katey Sagal Discusses ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Season 7 and Gemma’s Motivations

Sons of Anarchy Season 7 Katey Sagal Interview
Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller in ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (Photo by Prashant Gupta / FX)

The wild ride that began in 2008 when FX’s Sons of Anarchy debuted is heading into the final stretch, with just three episodes left of the final season. Thus far, it’s been Bobby’s death which has been the most gut-wrenching, but SoA fans have got to believe there will be other SAMCRO members (or family members) joining Bobby before the final credits roll.

Heading into this home stretch, the lovely Katey Sagal took part in a conference call to discuss – without giving away any spoilers – Gemma’s journey over the course of seven seasons. Sagal did her best to answer questions regarding Gemma’s motivation as well as what fans can expect as he head toward that final episode in early December while carefully avoiding anything that migh give away too much.

Katey Sagal Sons of Anarchy Interview:

Gemma has shown a full range of good and bad, but at what point do you think she really crossed the line beyond any hope of redemption, or do you think that she hasn’t crossed that line? She does act believe she’s trying to do what’s best for her family and protect them.

Katey Sagal: “I think what we’re seeing now is her own conscience finally grabbing her. I still think, though, she believes that her momentary rageful act at the end of Season six, killing Tara, was not premeditated and was not something that…she really did believe that Tara had turned the entire club in and her son, and it was the downfall of her entire existence. At that moment it was just sort of a perfect storm. Not that she doesn’t realize the heinous nature of it, but I do believe that what’s happening now is that in times before, she was able to compartmentalize and almost rationalize. I think this one was just too much for her.”

What were some of the biggest high points that you can look back on and what were some of the challenges you had to go through as an actress?

Katey Sagal: It’s constantly challenging, which as an actor you only hope for, so I felt every season brought a new set of things that I’ve never done before and needed exploring. It was that kind of job where week to week, episode to episode, there was always a little something that I felt like this will be great. I guess the overall challenge of it was playing somebody that was so very different from myself. Her maternal instincts are similar to mine, but her ways and means of doing things were something very foreign to me. I don’t live in an outlaw world and I don’t carry a gun and I don’t do those things.”

And the high points were numerous, so it’s difficult to zero in on. That’s a hard question. I’m about to rewatch the whole thing.”

Do you feel you’ve already mentally moved on to what’s coming next for you? Have you and Kurt Sutter gone through a little bit of a mourning period at home now that everything is wrapped up?

Katey Sagal: “It’s been interesting. We’ve all sort of known the end was coming, but I don’t think any of us really acknowledged it till the last couple of weeks. We’d have moments on set where people would tear up and we’d say good-bye to one director, but the work really requires you to be pretty much where you are. It’s complicated to keep everything in place in your brain and your character and where you are, so that pulled focused. I think Kurt and I are just…part of us are in denial and we have lots of other stuff in life, so it takes the onus off it. I’m sure at some point we’ll probably crash from it all and we’ll recognize it. But I think overwhelmingly we’re both so grateful that it’s seven years and it’s been such a great experience, so I don’t know that you get too sad really. Things happen. I think it’s ending at the perfect time, I really do.”

I really enjoy the scenes where you’re just sitting there talking to the ghost of Tara. Can you talk about doing those and why do you think they’re so important for Gemma?

Katey Sagal: “I think it’s very indicative of her unraveling. They’re super easy to do, because I felt very close to Maggie [Siff] who played Tara, and so it’s easy for me, and Gemma felt very close to Tara, ultimately. I think that they had such an intricate relationship, but also very mother/daughter, so I think that I just can put her there very easily and speak to her. And it just speaks to Gemma’s own – as the season goes on – her remorseful moments get stronger and start to eek out and the walls start closing in, but I think that it keeps her connected. It’s like I keep reiterating it wasn’t intentional what happened. It really wasn’t and so it kind of shows her just continuing to connect.

To me it’s interesting, too, that she believes that it speaks to what she believed happens after we die. Clearly she thinks she’s being heard, I would think.”

The guys got to keep their cuts and their motorcycles, so what keepsakes did you get from the show?

Katey Sagal: “The thing I really wanted and I did get was in the pilot Gemma wore a brown leather coat down to her knees, and I wanted that coat. That was the first piece of clothing that we had made for her, so that’s my keepsake. That’s my cut.”

The dynamic between Gemma and Wendy this season is really interesting because we’ve seen a multitude of highs and lows between Gemma and Wendy, from Gemma trying to get Wendy to kill herself in the beginning to suddenly realizing maybe Tara wasn’t the best option and she should go with Wendy and put her in that position of being in charge of the boys. The last episode when Jax asks Wendy to move in, we see this look in Gemma’s eyes and on her face that was just priceless. Was she finally realizing that all these efforts to be the main influence in Jax’s life has completely backfired at this point?

Katey Sagal: “No, I thought those looks were a little bit [indicating] she was despondent. I think that she has allied with Wendy. Gemma is smart. She needed to have someone to help her out with those boys. Wendy has proven herself, she did leave rehab early, but she allied with her on the whole Juice of it all and Wendy didn’t throw her under the bus. She kept the secret. She tested her all season and I think the thing with the boys and Jax, I think Wendy was giving her empathy. […]I think that Wendy loves the boys in a similar way to how Gemma does. Abel is her real child. I think the journey for Wendy is so not what she’d expected and all of a sudden like she’s in the boys’ lives; she’s accepted by Jax. I think Wendy has sort of a grateful thing about her, and I think Gemma is aligned with Wendy at this point.”

How do you feel about the legacy that Sons of Anarchy has left on the world of television?

Katey Sagal: “I think Sons, it’s an entertainment show and I always look at what I do and what the service entertainment is that it is just that. It’s service, so you’re providing something for people. The fact that people had become so engaged and so invested in the story and the characters, that’s done something for them. I think that’s its own legacy is that it has become a successful way for people to be entertained. And so I think, too, that it’s sort of in that wave of everybody talks about of cable dramas – it’s sort of like the little independent film world now in television. I think that Sons has helped to open all those doors just as The Shield did, so I would imagine that it will be in the wave of those shows, the Mad Men and those kinds of shows that have come around at this time. I think ‘legacy’ is such a big word. Really our job is to entertain and I think we’ve done that.”

Katey Sagal Sons of Anarchy Interview
Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller in ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (Photo by James Minchin / FX)

Without giving away any spoilers, what do you think of the speculation of what’s going to happen with Gemma? Also, what advice would Gemma give to her younger self?

Katey Sagal: “What advice would she give to her younger self? That’s so interesting. I don’t know, because I’ve always thought of Gemma as somebody who doesn’t reflect back. She is in forward motion. She doesn’t sit around and think. I don’t think she has a lot of regrets. At this point in her life, she probably does, but I don’t think that’s been her MO. I think she’s more a reactor; she just moves forward, so I’m not sure what she’d tell her younger self. It might have been about the John Teller of it all if I speculated about that. Maybe she would speak to herself a little bit more about forgiveness. She’s been on sort of this underlying spiritual quest all these seven years actually, so maybe some of that would have come to her in her younger years.

In terms of what happens with her next, I don’t know a lot of the speculation. I read some things. I don’t read a lot, but I’m sure some people want her dead and I’m sure some people want her to live forever, so I can’t really speak to where it’s going. You’re going to have to watch.”

Do you think fans will be satisfied with the ending and how did you feel filming it?

Katey Sagal: “You’ll be really satisfied with the ending. I think Kurt has even spoken about this, but he was trying to approach it like another episode, like the story keeps going. But I think it’s very satisfying and it was very satisfying filming it – and I will say that for Charlie and myself. Both of us sort of felt [that way]. You’ll have to talk to Charlie, but he liked it, too. It was satisfying for all involved. That’s what I’ll say.”

Gemma almost killed Juice earlier this season, but is there anyone on the show aside from Jax and her grandkids who you think Gemma would never be able to kill no matter what?

Katey Sagal: “No, I think she would kill anybody. I do. At the end of the day if it was to protect her grandchildren, her son, or herself, I think she would kill anybody.”

What will you personally miss most about being involved with the show?

Katey Sagal: “I’ll miss so many things. It was a great working environment. I’ll miss the people. That’s what you really connect to and I’ll miss the writing. I’ve been in television a long time and you don’t find great parts that readily and you don’t find great writing that readily. It’s been just a great creative experience to be able to have both of those things, and it’s a colorful bunch of people to work with, so going to work was never boring. I will miss them all terribly.”

Can you talk about how Kurt created the role for you and what you thought when you first saw the role of Gemma?

Katey Sagal: “My husband was working on an idea about an outlaw motorcycle club and he came to me and said that he wanted me to be in it and he was writing me a part. I had no idea what it was, but I liked the idea of that world. I knew him to be a really excellent writer, so I was excited about that. And then we had to go get approval and he had to write the script and the network had to sign off, so it wasn’t just a slam dunk, but it was really that’s kind of how it happened.

FX has been incredibly creatively supportive. I know they all wear suits, but they never feel like a bunch of suits to me and they just really stood by what they’ve always said that they’re about, which is that they stand by the creator and that they are there to support the vision of who they’re putting their trust and faith and money in. That’s what I’ve observed them to do. They’ve really nurtured Kurt along the way, and it’s just been a very compatible relationship, I would say. And then the same with us as actors, I’ve never felt anything but supported by the FX network.”

Gemma to me is one of the strongest and toughest female characters on TV. How has it been for you to embody a female character that is so powerful?

Katey Sagal: “That’s been great. That’s been absolutely great and I like to think that that is a contribution to why we have such a strong female following, even though I know we have beautiful men around us. But I would like to think that even though not her actions per se, but her strong stand is something that I think is really awesome to see. I think you’re seeing it more and more on television and I think it’s there.”

Can you discuss Peter Weller as a director and how he works and what he brings to the table compared to the other series’ directors?

Katey Sagal: “For me, I love to work with directors that are also actors. They have a certain way of speaking that we just relate to, and Peter definitely comes at it from that standpoint. He’s a really interesting guy. If you’ve ever talked to Peter very much, he’s certainly a Renaissance man and knows a lot of things about a lot of things. Each director has their own sort of way of doing things and with Peter, you can really talk about the emotional landscape of where you are at that given time and it’s great.”

What are you most excited for fans to see from the final three episodes?

Katey Sagal: “The conclusion, I’m excited for them to see the conclusion. I feel like this season overall has been so strong in the character department. It’s not that there’s not action, there’s a lot of action, but there’s also a lot of character-to-character conversation and slower beats. And I think the whole season just has a more fluid approach, so I’ve really enjoyed watching this year and I think that all of the characters have been serviced really well. I just think it’ll be really great for fans. I don’t think they will be disappointed at all.”

Kurt talked a little bit about how he’s known since the beginning of the season that he wanted Abel to be the one to tell Gemma’s secret. Can you talk about why you think that was so important and what it means for Gemma to have Abel, who she’d been trying to protect, be the one to ultimately undo her?

Katey Sagal: “I suppose, how can she do anything but forgive him really? It’s out of the mouths of babes and I wonder sometimes if Gemma really thought she could get away with all of this. I don’t know. It’s really an interesting question. I don’t think that she has animosity towards her grandson whatsoever. You have to watch. you’ll have to see some more. I don’t want to talk too much about that.”

What was it like for you not only playing Gemma over the course of the seven seasons, but sitting back and watching it as a fan because she’s gone through everything from an assault to killing her daughter-in-law. What was that like for you?

Katey Sagal: “It’s fantastic. It was fantastic as an actor and it was super fun to watch and that’s what I love to watch myself all the time. I definitely had my critical moments, but this was something I really wanted. I’ve worked in television for so many years in comedy and I really, really wanted to do more dramatic work because I never even think I’m funny. I always thought I’m supposed to be in a drama, so it’s been very satisfying for me to push myself and go places I haven’t gone. It’s been great. It’s been absolutely great. That’s what you want.”

As far as the fans go, there are two schools of thoughts at this point. A larger contingent of the fans definitely want to see Gemma be punished, and some people want her to pay for her crimes or sins or what have you with her life. There’s another subset of fans that almost think it would be a more fitting punishment if she’s forced to live with the fallout from everything that she had done. From your perspective, what do you think would be the more fitting punishment for Gemma?

Katey Sagal: “I’d say that is a tough call. That’s a really tough call, because I don’t know given where she’s at now, I don’t know. This is what’s interesting about denial. You know how you read in the news and like you’ll see some, like that one guy they arrested in Santa Monica. He was a mob guy and had been hiding for 40 years. He killed a bunch of people and there he is living in Santa Monica and he’s fine and then they arrested him. So you wonder what the psychology is of somebody that’s really done heinous things how far can we hide that from ourselves and would Gemma actually be able to.

I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s gone so far. To me it seems like either way is horrible, so you will see the way it all pans out. But, it’s a tough call. It’s a tough call, but people do do heinous things and continue to have lives. Yes, they do.”

Kurt is developing another show for FX called The Bastard Executioner. Have you heard anything about possibly being involved in that project with him?

Katey Sagal: “Yes, yes, I’m going to be in it. We don’t know in what capacity yet, because he’s now working on it, but that is where we’re going, yes. I will definitely be involved in it.”

Do you think she’s struggling more because ultimately she’s feeling that facing her son and seeing his reaction to knowing what she did is what’s driving her to this level of remorse, or do you think she’s really feeling that loss of Tara? Do you think she misses having Tara there ultimately and she’s finally realizing what she’s done just as a person?

Katey Sagal: “I think it’s all of that and I think it’s all of the war that she has seen now come about. Bobby was killed. The lie has snowballed. No good has come from it and I think that even Gemma, who’s able to rationalize and compartmentalize things, I think even she cannot avoid the fact that her action has caused all this. If her and Juice hadn’t told the story about the Chinese, none of this would have gone down. It’s gone down big, so there’s remorse on so many levels.

If Gemma had come clean at the beginning to Jax and just told the truth, what do you think his reaction would have been?

Katey Sagal: “I don’t know. I’d like to think maybe this all could have been avoided, the war could have been avoided. I don’t know. I think that all those decisions were made, maybe I think ultimately Gemma might be afraid of Jax a little bit. It always gets back to Gemma [believing] she needs to stick around, because she’s afraid if she’s not around, everything will fall apart with the kids, with Jax. So I’m not sure what would have happened.”

Do you think that that love that she feels for Nero and that he feels for her has changed Gemma for the better?

Katey Sagal: “Yes, I think that he’s a different kind of outlaw. He’s not as hard around the edges as Clay Morrow and not as sort of wimpy as John Teller ended up being, so I think that she had deep love for Nero. I think there’s a lot of regret about where that’s going to go with Nero given that he’s moving away and we don’t know what’s going to happen with her. I think she’s kind of bittersweet about that whole thing.”

Sons of Anarchy Season 7 Interviews: Tommy Flanagan and Mark Boone Jr / Theo Rossi and Kim Coates / Katey Sagal / Kurt Sutter / Paris Barclay

-By Rebecca Murray