FX has had a very busy day today here at press tour, with panels for "Louie," talk shows involving Russell Brand and W. Kumau Bell, and the new comedy "Legit." I'm going to live-blog the day's final panel, featuring Kurt Sutter and the actors of "Sons of Anarchy." The motorcycle club drama's fifth season debuts on Tuesday, September 11 at 10 p.m.
12:02 p.m.: It's a big panel, with nine chairs. Charlie Hunnam, Kim Coates and Maggie Siff had out of town plans, but we've got Harold Perrineau and Jimmy Smits as two of this season's guest stars, plus Dayton Callie, Theo Rossi, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal, director/producer Paris Barclay, and Sutter.
12:04 p.m.: We get a clip from the season premiere, which catches up on where several characters are, while Jax works on his writing. Chuck Zito, who once upon a time sued Sutter and FX, claiming they had stolen his idea for the series, is now on the show as one of the Sons. Bygones have become bygones.
12:07 p.m.: Sutter asked if the show can continue without Clay, Gemma or Jax, or does that mean we're near the end of the story. "I will say this," he says. "My sense of where the show will end up definitely includes Jax and perhaps Gemma and Clay. I guess my short answer to that is yes. I don't think the show continues without Jax. It's his journey." Says this is the first season where he's had to have a clear sense of his end game, and he has to write to that. "The stakes get higher with each season, the circumstances get more dire, the wreckage gets deeper."
12:09 p.m.: I ask Sutter about how he chose Perrineau as Damon Pope, the Oakland mobster who's mad at the Sons because Tig killed his daughter. He says he wanted to go against expectations. "Pope came out of the streets and really changed the perception of who he was," he explains. He wanted an actor who could play a lot of levels, so you would believe him in a suit and tie at a city council meeting, but also turning dark and doing heinous things. He says only a handful of actors could play that, and Perrineau is one of them. Perrineau was concerned about the part himself, and whether he could pull it off. "I kind of think it's a thing I pulled off in my life if you consider my background and the person you see here today. There's not a lot of difference internally between that character and Damon Pope's character." He says he has to do less than half the work because of Sutter's writing. "It's an exciting challenge."
12:11 p.m.: The new season has a big role for Kim Coates as Tig, involving material set up last year with his daughters. Sutter says what can begin as a clever joke in season 2 about his daughters being named Fawn and Dawn then turned into them meeting them last year, and then involving them in a more significant storyline. He says it looks like he planned it out, but "as usual, I just stumbled into it."
12:13 p.m.: Now we're talking about Smits' character, a former gangbanger-turned-pimp named Nero. Sutter praises Smits' pedigree and resume, says it's a character he'd been thinking of for several seasons, they eventually landed on the idea of a fellow outlaw from a different environment, and who might be a mentor figure to Jax. Once they had the character, "We aim high, and sometimes we get that first choice. And sometimes we don't. In the case of Jimmy, we got the first choice." Smits: "I'm just happy I don't have to wear a suit." He was pleased to see footage of the season for the first time. He praises the cinematic look. He's been a huge fan. He's jumped into shows in mid-run before (including "NYPD Blue"), and it's impressive to see how each member of the ensemble has gotten a chance to shine at one point or another.
12:16 p.m.: Novelist Kem Nunn has joined the writing staff, continuing Sutter's admitted love affair with people associated with "Deadwood."
12:17 p.m.: Barclay is asked about his diverse directing resume (including "NYPD Blue"). He says working with David Milch spoiled him, and then doing a few "West Wing"s with Aaron Sorkin, but he hasn't had a relationship with a writer/creator as strong as the one with Milch until he came to "Sons."
12:19 p.m.: Perlman is asked about playing an ailing Clay, post-shooting. "It's the same guy, but completely different set of circumstances. So I consider myself, as an acting challenge, very very fortunate to consider somebody I've been looking at for four season with a completely different set of parameters." And what does he think of the CW's "Beauty and the Beast" remake? This is the first he's heard of it, and all he'll say of the original is, "Cool costume."
12:20 p.m.: A critic notes that Sutter likes characters with highly-developed personal philosophies, and wonders where Pope and Nero fit into the intellectual tradition of the show. "That's what I love about you guys: you always remind me of how smart I really am," Sutter says with a grin. Sutter likes history, which is why his characters have a deep mythology, so it was fun to create someone like Pope who has his own mythology, loosely based on Frank Lucas. "I like creating from that point of view.... That historical mythology, that make us who we are as men, and impact the choices we make on a daily basis, is really important to me." He wanted to have characters who had weight and a rich history that matched the guys who were already on the show.
12:23 p.m.: A critic says Clay is beyond redemption now, so how can he be reintegrated into SAMCRO? Sutter says that's the interesting narrative challenge of the season. "From the storytelling perspective, I can't think of it as 'How am I going to make people like Clay again?' What I can do is try to honestly put him in those circumstances and have a character who's been broken, and perhaps for the first time, has a deep sense of, 'Wow, I really fucked up.' What does Clay look like broken? What does his remorse look like? What does his desperate need to correct the damage look like from an alpha male, narcisssitic, Machiavellian character like Clay Morrow?"
12:26 p.m.: A reporter asks Perrineau to elaborate on his earlier comments about transforming himself from earlier circumstances. Smits jokes, "You don't want to get arrested." Perrineau struggles on how to frame it at first, then says that when his mother died, one of his cousins told him, "I'm so glad you made it. I thought you were going to die before you were a teenager." He says, "There were really extreme circumstances" in his childhood. It's just "me, the actor, looking for a way into the character that feels really real to me.
12:28 p.m.: Sutter tends to dominate these panels, anyway, but it occurs to me that the only actors who've spoken so far are Smits and Perrineau... which of course means the next question is for Katey Sagal. How much of this season will be spent on Gemma grieving her relationship with Clay? "Gemma kind of comes into this, she's sort of lost all the things that really matter to her," Sagal explains. Her marriage is over, her son is at head of the table, but she's blocked by Tara. "She's falling apart through most of this journey."
12:33 p.m.: I ask Sutter about Zito going from litigious to recurring player. He says the lawsuit blew up during season 2, and he was on the edge at the time, dealing with other claims of idea-stealing. He says "the blog I wrote about Chuck was horrendous. I completely humiliated the dude... I felt really bad." As he went through the deposition process, he realized he had mischaracterized Zito, he thought he had a case, and he felt bad. "I'm very truthful on Twitter and my blogs, but I'm also the first one to admit when I'm wrong, and to fix it." When the case was thrown out, they had lunch and talked for almost three hours. Zito showed up to lunch wearing a Sons of Anarchy cut he had borrowed from Charlie Sheen. "When I saw him come into me in the cut, I thought, 'This is either really bad, he's taking ownership of the show, or it's really good, and he's a superfan of the show.' And it was really good."
12:35 p.m.: Flanagan is asked about the more paternal role Chibbs has taken on in the series recently. "Chibbs has got a lot of love in him," he says. "He's just cuddly."
12:36 p.m.: Rossi and Callie are asked how Jax being head of SAMCRO affects Juice and Unser, and their performances. Callie says Hunnam's "more easy on the eyes than Clay." Perlman pretends to storm off the stage. Callie says that Unser and Clay have beef right now, and this is "A hard adjustment. Clay and I, we're close, and then it becomes that you're at odds. And then whatever Kurt writes." Rossi says that doing the show for four seasons and doing the show with Jax at the head of the table, "Makes the whole world different." He says "the beauty of this whole season is seeing if he'll become like Clay Morrow... or become like John Teller, and either way, it's bad for him.... It's a different show, but it's just so fantastic."
That's all, folks...