Photo by Shutterstock: Ron Perlman and Theo Rossi FAN EXPO,
Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
April 9, 2022
Some actors are so believable at portraying their television characters that audiences can’t help but feel compelled to continue tuning in to watch every new episode of their series, no matter how detestable the characters can become. That was certainly the case for actors Ron Perlman and Theo Rossi in their the popular FX television series ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ which aired from 2008 to 2014.
The Golden Globe Award-winning action crime drama, which was created by Kurt Sutter, featured an ensemble cast that included Perlman and Rossi as two of the project’s most popular characters. Perlman played Clarence “Clay” Morrow, one of the original “First 9” members, and Rossi portrayed Juan-Carlos ‘Juice’ Ortiz, another member, of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (SAMCRO).
Clay is frequently at odds with his stepson, Jax Teller, who’s played by Charlie Hunnam, and serves as the organization’s vice president. Juice, meanwhile, is hailed for displaying great technical prowess as a hacker and intelligence officer. However, he has also proven to be simpleminded when it comes to other tasks, which leads to him being considered unreliable by the organization’s other members, especially Clay.
Perlman and Rossi generously took the time earlier this year to participate in a ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Q&A reunion panel at the Pennsylvania Convention Center during FAN EXPO Philadelphia. Among other things, the actors discussed that they interested in signing on to star on the show because they were fascinated with the complexities of their characters, and how different their characters were from themselves in real life.
Question (Q): ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is one of those shows that once you discover it, it’s impactful, from Season 1 until the end of the series, including the growth of the characters. So how did you both get started in the characters, and what convinced you to take on your roles?
Ron Perlman (RP): The money! (Audience laughed.)
Theo Rossi (TR): The same was true for me. Before the show, I was like a bounty hunter – I was out there, just trying to get jobs. Before the role of Juice came around, I was doing guest starring and co-starring roles on different shows.
I was actually just a guest star on the first season of ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ so I initially didn’t know if I was going to be in one or 100 episodes. So I just got lucky that they kept me around, and then the character got a lot bigger, and the show took on a life of its own. But before that moment in 2008-2009, I was just trying to find work.
RP: It was fascinating that Kurt wanted to use the structure of ‘Hamlet,’ where you have a king that’s just been assassinated, and now suddenly his best friend is married to his queen, and they’re ruling the kingdom. There’s a lot of mess that’s been left behind. When you tag that onto something that’s really connected to pop culture, like a motorcycle club like the Hell’s Angels, I found that to be very fascinating and theatrical.
The main reason why I was fascinated with Clay when he was first presented to me was because he scared me. I didn’t understand him, I don’t think or react like him and I can never do the things he did. So for me to play him put me in a place where I was always feeling uncomfortable. I was also always left questioning if I was being affected or not.
It’s a good place to be for an actor; when you feel uncomfortable and challenged. So you’re in a better place than when you can just close your eyes and easily say the words.
Q: That makes a lot of sense, because a lot of the things the characters did were questionable. One of the things that SAMCRO was known for was a whites only policy. Theo, for you, there was an arc where the police hold that over your head. How did that translate for you as an actor, especially the fear that the club was going to find out who you really were?
TR: It’s funny – Kurt always had a knowledge of things without every directly being told. Hollywood, in general, loves to put people in a box; they need to have you labelled as something, and it’s something I’ve dealt with a lot over my career; everyone wants to know exactly what I am.
With Juice, like other characters, there’s an ambiguity to him. So Kurt started playing with that storyline, it was so fascinating to me…as you come to find out that it wasn’t a big deal…Then you have the audience saying, “Why didn’t he just say something?”
But when you think about Juice, who’s like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, he just wanted to make everyone happy. He didn’t want to disrupt that by not revealing or saying anything to someone like Jax, who might have been like, “All good.” But since he didn’t, it started this catastrophe of events that happened in his life that happened to him personally, and what he did to the club.
I think that’s really good writing because as the audience, you’re like, “Just say something! Just do something!” Then he tries to take his own life and starts killing people. It turns into this snowball effect.
I thought that was really interesting to touch on because there is this thing in motorcycle clubs; I don’t know if it’s the same now, but when we were making the show and doing our research, just like everything else, there were all different clubs and different types of people in them. It was something that (Sutter) played into.
What I loved about it was that it wasn’t a big deal, but he thought it was. But he didn’t have the trust in himself; he just thought, I’m not going to be with the club and my friends anymore.
Q: That’s interesting, because Ron, you also talked about how the show was a play on ‘Hamlet.’ We know that throughout the story, Clay did everything in his power to retain power and a seat at the head of the table. Clay was absolutely a loveable character…so how did you play that balance between hero and villain, and still make him a captivating character that you want to root for, considering the things that he does?
RP: First of all, anyone who kills his best friend so that he could serve the kingdom is into power. We knew how bad Clay was, and what he was doing to achieve it and hold onto it. What I tried to do, and sometimes it got me into trouble with the writing room, was find a nobility in Clay’s decision-making.
Every decision that he made, no matter how ruthless and cruel it was, and what kind of collateral damage it left, was for the good of the community. He was charged with the safety of the community of the club, and all the family members of the members of the club, including the kids. Clay took that responsibility very seriously.
When you merge that into his personality of a man who wants and needs power, that was my version of how I wanted to play him. I needed to be able to live with myself while I was playing Clay, since it was going to be for more than a few episodes; it ended up being six years. So I needed to be able to get up in the morning and go to work and not hate myself. The way that I was always able to do that was find the nobility in all his decision-making, no matter how ruthless and inhumane it was.
Q: Were you both happy with the way that Kurt ended your characters? Do you think the endings for Juice and Clay were justified, or would you change it?
TR: I thought it was perfect now, but if you asked me then, I probably would have thought it wasn’t perfect. But now that I look back on it – I’m watching it back now for the first time and am in the middle of Season 7 – I think it’s a really hard show to watch. Up until we did this podcast that Tig (Kim Coates) and I have, I had only seen a few of the premieres, finales and episodes in between.
Now that I’m really watching and analyzing it, I realize it’s a really tough show to watch. I think it’s tougher to see Juice’s downfall. Some of those characters, like Juice, Tara and even Clay, were really heartbreaking, and I think that’s what you really want. He got himself into a bad position, and that was the only way it could end, so I’m good with it.
RP: I was unhappy to go, and be cut off from one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life and career, and hanging with the guys. It was something you never wanted to see end. So I fought really hard against it.
Like Theo was saying, back then, it sucked. But looking back on it, I still think it sucked. (Audience laughed.)
Q: If you could change one thing about your characters, what would it be?
TR: That mohawk was really hard to maintain! (Audience laughed.) I would have liked to have grown my hair out at some point.
RP: Everyone always wants to ask hypothetical questions, like “What would have happened if the show was still going on?” I’m not a writer, so I’m not clever enough to figure that out. I’m only able to interpret what somebody gives me. So I don’t know.