[Spoilers ahead.] Finally, after losing his vision, his wife, his tongue, his dignity, and his mind — but never his ponytail — Sons of Anarchy's Otto Delaney is dead. He was one of many characters to go on last night's bloody episode, which also featured the hacking of Phil and V-Lin and the seemingly premature offing of Lee Toric. We spoke to showrunner Kurt Sutter, who also plays Otto, about his character's death, why he got rid of Toric so soon, and what's going on with Jax. All this, with his parrot occasionally piping up in the background.
Are you sad? Was it hard to say good-bye to Otto?
Yes and no. What ends up happening is, as much as I enjoy acting, it’s much better in the beginning of the season, when we’re breaking a story, than it is in the later days when I’m overwhelmed and suddenly have to sit in the makeup chair for an hour and a half putting on that fucking eye. So right now there’s not a lot of remorse or nostalgia. But I’m sure at some point next season I’ll be like, Awwww. I’ve got nothing to do! But, it was fun. Ultimately, that guy could just not keep killing people in jail and not take a handful of bullets.
Also, he needed to be put out of his misery. He was just so tortured.
This is what these guys — what their souls — essentially look like. And I think having him come to an end this season is somewhat telling in terms of the arc of the season and what’s going on with Jax. [Otto] always represented that to me, what the life potentially brings you. And there’s really just a lot of sorrow. Once [his wife] Luann was gone, there was really nothing for Otto to hold on to, and that’s really when the slide began.
Is this what Clay has to look forward to? I find myself feeling sort of bad for him, which is making me annoyed. I don’t want to feel bad for Clay.
I know! Don’t you love that? Yeah, to a certain extent. Look, there’s a lot of people who just wanted to see that character dead. But I’d argue that there’s something that Clay represents, not just for the show but for Jax, and that people just think they want him dead. These guys are like cockroaches. They survive, and they live through a tremendous amount of agony and discomfort. It’s just sort of part of the life. [There’s a high-pitched sound in the background.] I’m sorry, I think my parrot is upset that I’m not talking to him.
I didn’t know you have a parrot. Is that why Gemma has a parrot?
This is sort of my midlife crisis. I’ve suddenly decided to collect birds. Which I guess is better than, you know, crack and hookers.
But which came first? The birds in your life or the birds on the show?
The birds on the show. But I digress. For me, the same way that Otto slips and cracks once Luann goes, once that betrayal with Gemma happened [to Clay] at the end of last season, I think that creates some sort of karmic and psychic shift in Clay. Not that he’s suddenly completely remorseful and seeking redemption, but I do think that something happened that has this guy aware that his days are numbered. Instead of going out flashing his middle finger, I think he’s trying to go out with some sense of, Okay, what really matters and what can I do here? And I think that will be his trajectory this season; not that he’s going to buy back the love of Gemma or the club, or even the fans. But your response to that is my intent in terms of the storytelling. I want people to be conflicted. They want to hate this guy, but there is something noble and sad about the position that he’s in.
On the flipside, I’ve loved Jax so much up until now. I still can’t accept him cheating on Tara.
You know, for me, the sexual dynamics with these guys — it’s just part of the life, it’s a release, it’s like taking a drink for them. And for the trajectory that Jax is on — you know, Jax never considers himself to be Clay. He considers himself the anti-Clay —
[At this point, my recorder dies. I want to die, too, but I instead grab a new recorder while Kurt Sutter patiently waits and possibly talks to his bird.]
So you were talking about Jax’s trajectory.
His behavior is very similar to Clay’s in terms of him acting outside of the club and making these sort of rogue decisions. But he feels like his motivations are completely different, so it’s justified — but the result of it is the same. It’s a single vision making these decisions and that’s not the nature of that democracy, you know? It begs the question that we’ve began since Jax picked up that gavel: Can you be the leader of an outlaw organization and (a) not become Clay and (b) by the very nature of what an outlaw club is, can you really go legitimate? Is there something that by the very nature of it, you’re setting yourself up for some sort of catastrophic collision?
Do you have an answer in mind yet?
We see that trajectory play out with Jax this season and where it goes and the result of it and how he comes to terms with it. And then the final season will be the … how do I want to say this … we’ll really have a sense of what happens to that Redwood Charter. The charter, Redwood original, it’s always been a character within the mythology, but next season it will be a very important character within the mythology.
So not only is Otto dead now, but Lee Toric is dead. I didn’t see that coming so early in the season. Why did you kill him off so soon?
I say this not as an excuse, but the reality of it is: My intention was never to bring that character to an end that quickly. Donal [Logue, who plays Toric] is a friend of mine and we’ve been trying to work together for a while, and we had this opportunity. We thought we were going to have him for the entire season, but what happened was that he was doing Vikings. We were told and he was told that that was not going to begin filming until October, which meant that we may have a little bit of a conflict at the last couple of episodes we were shooting, but we really weren’t worried. But I guess something happened to their schedule, there were weather issues or something. What happened was that their schedule got completely turned upside down and they started shooting in June instead of October. So it all got accelerated.
My intention was never to have him leave so soon. So what we ended up having to do — it’s just the nature of the beast. Things like that happen. You always take that risk when you have an actor who is not a series regular, who works a lot. But nobody saw this coming, especially Donal, who is heartbroken and devastated by it all. My initial reaction [when things like this happen] is usually, I want to put a bullet in somebody’s head. But then you sort of take a step back and you make the adjustments. I will say that the times that it’s happened to us in the past, it’s ultimately benefited the show because what it does is it forces you to go back in and reevaluate and alter story.
His death is going to have a big impact on Tara and Nero, no? I’d imagine it means good things for Tara and bad things for Nero.
We discuss the impact on Tara in the next episode, but we did the research on that and, ironically, his death does not help her because it almost looks like it was a potential hit. Tara has the same reaction that you did: Doesn’t this help? And her lawyer is like, Eh, not really. But it definitely has an impact on Nero and we get to play that out for a few episodes. The energy of that character [Toric] and what he’s set in motion fuels everything that happens with Tara. The story it set up continues even without the character, if that makes sense.
Are we ever going to find out why he was standing in front of the mirror naked and doing drugs, though? There was so much more to learn about him.
I know. That’s the drag. There’s a couple scenes I had in where we’re getting a lot of expository information on the character that I ultimately lifted, because it felt just like that: Here’s expository information that I wish I could have told you. And it’s just not what we do on the show. We had this whole arc where he’s got Huntington’s disease. People knew something was going on, but we just didn’t have the opportunity to tell the rest of that story, and that’s kind of the way it goes.
Tara is turning all this information about the club over to her lawyer — she’s not ratting Jax out, exactly, but she’s definitely committing some major act of betrayal. I’m wondering if there’s anything she can do that would make Jax cut her out or Mr Mayhem her. Is there a line that she can cross with Jax?
Yeah, I think that there’s a line anybody can cross in terms of betrayal. No matter how much one loves someone — ultimately, the deeper the love, sometimes the deeper the betrayal, so I do think there’s a line. I don’t want to spoil whether or not she crosses it.
Did you know that you were creating such a sex symbol with Jax when you went into it? Was that your intent?
No. From my first meeting with Charlie, I knew that he was a star. He has that energy and he just has that persona. But you throw leather and you put somebody on a motorcycle, you’re just upping the bad-boy stakes there. If I can make Boone [who plays Bobby] look sexy, you know, come on [laughs].
What was your reaction to Charlie’s Fifty Shades casting? Did you know he was going for the part?
I did. We’ve become very close. We had a couple long creative conversations about what the role was, what it meant. He struggled with it because obviously there’s a lot of noise around that role. There’s a lot of predetermined expectations. At the end of the day, and my advice to him was: Look at the material. Don’t look at the history. Don’t look at where it potentially could be going. Look at the material and look at the people you’re working with. If it makes sense, then move forward. I think that’s what he did. It was a very thoughtful process, I think based on all the right decisions. It was not about notoriety. It was not about money. So I think it’s cool, man.
You responded favorably to the Breaking Bad finale on Twitter. I’m wondering how, as a showrunner, a big finale event like that influences or impacts your decision-making, if at all.
You know what? Here’s the deal: I don’t watch Breaking Bad, not because I don’t know that it’s a great show. I’ve watched a few episodes early on. Tonally, it was just a little too familiar for me in terms of my own show. Creatively, I need a little bit of distance. So I don’t watch it, but I look forward to watching it when I’m done here. My reaction was really to the ratings and congratulating Vince. Ultimately, I know what happened at AMC, and how they cut his legs out from under him. I know the success that he has had has got to be very gratifying to him. With ultimately very little support, he rose to that level.
In terms of how it impacts: You really can’t [let it], because if you start responding creatively to other shows and other projects, you really start to limit your playing field a great deal. And, look, they travel in the same world. You’re dealing with outlaws who are potentially doing bad things for the right reason, and some of those right reasons are family. Thematically, you can’t help but have things that feel or land in a similar place. Like, I watch Boardwalk and I’m amazed every season at the parallels and the similarities between Sons and Boardwalk. But because they’re two very distinct and different worlds in terms of period and lifestyle, it never feels too close to me or too similar. But all the stuff with Michael Pitt’s character and Nucky was very similar to what was going on with Clay and Jax … There’s a lot of similarities and thematic things that are just going to feel similar because you’re dealing with guys who break the law but still have some sense of conscience and the characteristics of antiheros. I know that there’ll be overlap, and I know that there will be similarities to the way my show ends and the way Breaking Bad ends and I’m sure the way Boardwalk ends, but you really can’t start thinking in terms of, “Well, I don’t want to do it that way,” or “How can I be different?” because then you’re ultimately putting unnecessary handcuffs on your process.