In doing research, you’ve hung out with gangs, right?
With both of the shows. On The Shield I met a lot of guys on both sides of the law. Then for Sons I did a lot of research and spent a lot of time with motorcycle clubs up in Northern California. I tried to stay in close contact with at least my circle of associates that I’ve met in the life, just to make sure that the vibe in the outlaw community is that people are still digging the show, and that we’ve never crossed the line where people feel like they’re being exploited. For the most part, I’ve maintained that and I’ve made some deep connections and some friendships.
Has anything crazy ever happened while hanging out with them?
No. The interesting thing—and we played with this on the show, in trying to blow out some of that stereotype—is that all these guys are just guys. They all have day jobs. I’m sure stuff goes on that’s a little bit more nefarious in nature, but obviously they’re not going to play that out in front of me. To be honest with you, most of the time I spend with these guys they’re either down here on set visiting us or it’s a social event. You know, we’ll ride, or I’ll go to a birthday party or something—so more often than not they’re very social occasions.
Look, there are club conflicts that happen in the street that I have to stay aware of. Without mentioning names, there were a couple of clubs that did extra work on our show and they were fine, and then all of a sudden there was a beef between these two clubs. I had to be very aware of that. What you don’t want to do is bring that street conflict onto the set.
Without mentioning names there were a couple clubs that did extra work on our show and they were fine, and then all of a sudden there was a beef between these two clubs. I had to be very aware of that, of who I brought onto the show.
Was that something that happened because of the show?
No, it was something else. More often than not these beefs happen someplace else, but then ultimately it becomes this sort of mandate. It’s odd for a lot of these guys because they’re all friends, they all ride, and suddenly these two guys who were buddies, or at least know each other, there’s a beef between their colors, and now there’s an expectation of making things right. So I just try to dodge the conflict and stay aware so I can protect my show and also so that I don’t fuel the conflict. I try to stay as neutral as I possibly can.
Are there any life lessons you’ve learned from hanging out with these guys?
I don’t know if it’s so much about from hanging out with these guys as much as it the process of doing the show itself. Coming into a situation that you’ve never done before and suddenly managing a show and managing hundreds of people and being responsible for the livelihood of a lot of people. Having to deal with networks and studios.
I came into this job with a very limited amount of people skills. I don’t really like people. That’s why I’m a writer. I lock myself in a room with the voices in my head and I’m fine. If I have to interact and suddenly deal with personalities and people’s needs and people’s feelings it’s a challenge for me. So I’ve learned how to do that because it’s part of the job and it’s what I have to do to continue to have the opportunity to do what I love. So you have to learn that skill, and I’ve managed to do it.
It’s been a hard road for me. I’ve had more than one hostile work environment claim slapped against me just because of my behavior. I’ve had to learn the hard way, but I feel like somewhere in the process in the last four to five years I’ve learned how to do that. I’m pretty certain that FX and 20th Century Fox wouldn’t have signed me up for three more years if they felt like I was somehow not capable of doing that.
Speaking of the upcoming seasons, do you have an end in mind for Sons or is it something you think of as you’re writing?
I definitely know how I want the show to end in terms of the broad strokes—schematically and emotionally where I want it to end. And I really have from the beginning.
It’s interesting coming into season five, because now I actually have to think of it in terms of knowing where you want to go. In seasons one, two, and three it's fine because you have plenty of time to get there. You don’t have to worry about the mechanics of story in terms of how you’re going to end up there, as long as the characters you need are still alive.
This is really the first season where I said. “OK, if I’m doing seven seasons and that’s where I’m ending it, now I need to lay the story out that’s going to take me there.” It’s the first season I’ve had to say, "What’s the end going to look like, in terms of story?” I can start running up to it only having two more seasons after season five. So I don’t know specifically what that ending is yet in terms of story, but I’ve had to spend a lot more time on it this year, knowing how I’m going to get there.
On to Gemma, played by your wife Katey Sagal. She’s at this point where she’s lost the men in her life. What kind of changes do you foresee for her?
I think it’s going to be a very interesting year—as vague as that sounds—but it’s really the only way to describe it. It’s really the first year where she’s not kind of locked into an idea and a goal and in the process of achieving it. Gemma is not a person that does well with not having a good grasp on what the day looks like, and she needs that control to feel safe.
So what happens when you take a character like that and you suddenly remove her reason for waking up that day? Or at least throw a lot of road blocks in the way. She definitely begins the season a little bit lost, and it’s a very tumultuous ride for Gemma this season. There are a lot of ups, there are a lot of downs, and she is trying to figure out who she is now in this new environment—not unlike what’s going on with Tara, but in a different way.
I don’t really like people. That’s why I’m a writer, I lock myself in a room with the voices in my head and I’m fine. If I have to interact and suddenly deal with personalities, and people’s needs, and people’s feelings, it’s a challenge for me.
It’s like Tara’s suddenly in this new position and trying to figure out her way. They might be at odds this season, but interestingly enough they’re emotionally experiencing a lot of the same conflicts and dilemmas. It’s not a straight story line for Gemma. It’s not like “Gemma will be doing X this season.” It’s really about Gemma trying to navigate around this new position, and bouncing off of Jax, and trying to win Jax back, and have access to the kids, and navigating around Tara. Suddenly she doesn’t know where she fits in and that’s a really interesting place for a character like Gemma, who punches first and asks questions later.
It’s flip-flopped and it pushes a lot of old buttons for both of them. You see a lot of those original conflicts that the two of them had suddenly bubble to the surface; only they each have a different voice in it. So you’d swear you hear Tara say something that Gemma said to Tara in season one. And then you throw Wendy into the mix like we did this season and it gets wonderfully messy. [Laughs.]