As the veritable Lady Macbeth of Sons of Anarchy, Gemma Teller Morrow spends much of her time whispering deadly nothings into the ears of SAMCRO, the motorcycle club at the heart of the hit FX drama. But actress Katey Sagal swears there's goodness to her character, too — especially where family's concerned.
"I don't see her as evil. I rather like her," Sagal said during a conference call with reporters. "I think it's really that you have a group of people who live outside the grid. The whole point of ‘anarchy’ is that they have their own rules and regulations and responses. This is the little world they've created. If you really think what that must feel like, it's you against everyone else. It brings a certain intensity to protecting and honoring that group, so it is her security, it is her survival."
"Gemma is a person who left home, her family, and has no roots. These are her roots," she continued. "She ran away from home as a teenager, she hooked up with a group of motorcycle guys coming right out of Vietnam, and that became her life. She has babies within it. The women she knows are the women with these guys. It's their own little society. She'll fiercely protect that system, because without it, who is she?"
As the matriarch of the club, Gemma's role is often a shifting one. She's gone through two husbands and is currently in a new relationship with "a very different kind of outlaw." Others in the SAMCRO circle have had their eye on Gemma, too, including trigger-happy Tig Trager.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there's a sexual tension among all of them, really, because they're a bonded group and not by blood," Sagal said. "But I definitely think that Tig has eyed her as she has him. In that culture, there's an unspoken [rule]. … When the guys are out of town, they do what they want with other women. So there's a loose approach to all of that. But out of respect to his best friend, [Tig] would never do anything like that. She feels close to all those guys, so maybe they feel there's a blurry line."
Right now, there are no blurred lines where Gemma's romantic life is concerned. Her eyes are on Nero Padilla, the escort expert and new SAMCRO ally played by Jimmy Smits. He's the new man in Gemma's life, a fact that's only possible because Gemma's estranged husband Clay is rotting in jail for a crime he didn't commit.
"I think Clay crossed some lines with her that she can't get back from," she said. "At the time when he threatened to kill Tara, it wasn't even so much the beat-down he laid on her, but the things he did to other people. Gemma is very family-oriented, so I think what Jax asked her to do (which ultimately landed him in jail), she had conflict about it but she had a peace about it, that it was going to happen."
Gemma's choice to help send Clay to jail was a difficult one. But "difficult" isn't anything new for the character, according to Sagal: "She kind of comes out of a situation and has to think on her feet right in the moment. At the time, she never thinks she's making tough decisions; they're what she has to do. It's high stakes all the time. If you think about it, our show takes place in a season. What you see in a season? About a week or two weeks. There's high stakes all the time and they react instinctively. There's not a lot of time to think!"
A lot of viewers have taken the time to think about Sons of Anarchy recently, focusing on one controversial storyline in particular: the Season 6 premiere's closing moments involving a school shooting. Series creator (and Sagal's husband) Kurt Sutter has defended the development as crucial to the show's endgame. Sagal agrees, and adds that the story is another way to continue an important national discussion.
"I believe that continuing the conversation about something that's an important topic particularly now, to continue that conversation through his narrative — and I don't know if that was a conscious thing to do, but that's what's seemed to happen — is not a bad thing," she said. "It's a conversation nobody really likes to have … but when something horrific happens we all stand back and say, 'How could we let that happen?' And then it goes away."
With Sons now in its sixth season, the end is drawing near for the residents of Charming, California. The drama is set to end after its seventh season, presumably airing in 2014. Even with more than a year between now and the grand finale, Sagal says the entire cast and crew are feeling the walls closing in.
"This season, we all know the end is near," she said. "There's something that happens when you realize everybody really likes the show and the work you're doing. It's very fulfilling. It's amazing to experience. I know from personal experience that it's very rare and it doesn't happen very often. Everybody has the sense of that. This does not happen that often with television shows, that you can continue your story and your audience rises each season. We've all made close relationships and friendships and it's been wonderful to work together. It's very bonding. So there is melancholy that'll start to set in. Everybody clings on to every moment, because we know there's a countdown that's about to happen. So, yeah, it's bitter-sweet."
"What's cool about our show is that it's one big story," she continued. "There's a big story in mind. It's nice to have that arc, and to be at this part of it. And 'nice' is a weird word to use — because I'm sure it's going to be bloody."
Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.