Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.
Katey Sagal has never been nominated for an Emmy, which becomes more baffling when you add her turn as Gemma Teller, the tough-as-nails old lady to Clay (Ron Perlman) on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, to her long list of credits. In season 4, under the weight of a secret neither of them wanted revealed to Gemma’s son Jax (Charlie Hunnam), their marriage frayed (Perlman’s real-life mother told him his character on Sons had gone too far) and Gemma wanted Clay dead. Here, Sagal takes us inside “Hands,” the episode when the situation came to a head — and blows — after Gemma pieced together Clay’s involvement in the attempted murder of Jax’s fiancée, Tara (Maggie Siff).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why is “Hands” an episode we should revisit?
KATEY SAGAL: I thought “Hands” was a culminating moment in terms of Gemma and her struggle to actually believe her husband, which was an interesting arc to play because Gemma just really — as smart as she is, and I think she’s smart — decided to really think better of him. She said to him, “Look, I basically know that you killed Piney. That’s okay.” [Laughs] She forgives him everything, and looks at him and says, “Just don’t go after Tara.” Because Tara and Gemma really bonded finally. They go after each other, but they love each other. The fact that he would break, and endanger her grandchildren [who were traveling with Tara at the time of her attack] — Gemma’s all about the family, this was the last straw. I thought it was an interesting season for Clay, to watch him fall apart like that, go crazy really in the name of getting his way.
Let’s talk about the scene with Clay and Gemma’s physical altercation. It starts with her firing a shot, and ends with him slapping her four times and that punch. It’s brutal to watch. Tell me about the discussions that went into that.
That final punch, you’re right, there was a lot of conversation about hitting her in the face — would he or wouldn’t he. But it’s important to see that moment where he’s just gone way behind himself. He’s lost it. He realizes that he put a hit on Tara, but the kids and Jax were gonna be there, all the stuff starts happening out of his control. When the person closest to him also says, “Hey man, the jig’s up,” he just snaps. And you know, this is the truth: They live in a very violent world. I asked myself, and I don’t think this is the first time Gemma and Clay have been in a fist fight because this is the world they live in. In terms of the storytelling, you really had to show the escalation of it. I would imagine he’s never hit her like that. I think in Kurt’s mind, we had to really up the stakes. There was a lot of choreography involved in all of that, by the way. It was an emotional scene to shoot.
What do you remember about it?
It’s so weird that I play this woman who pretty much deals with violence on a daily basis, and I’m such a wimp in who I am. [Laughs] I don’t like violence. So it always brings up that kind of stuff for me. It scares me. When you really sink into what’s going on [in that scene], it’s pretty horrific. A man hitting a woman is really horrible.
Did Gemma want to actually shoot Clay when she fired that gun?
Once he went after Tara, she realized this guy has gone to this whole other level of lies and violence. To pull that gun out, I think she was scared. I don’t think the intention was to kill as much as to defend. Maybe to scare him. In the moment, I don’t think there was a lot of conscious thought. I think it was a reaction.
The end scene with a bruised Gemma talking to Unser (Dayton Callie) and telling him Clay has to die by the hand of the son — it’s so powerful. She’s already rising up.
I’ve never been beaten up that like, I’ve never been hit in the face like that, but I’ve been in pain before, so I think it was easy to tap into the physicality of being physically debilitated. And then, she’s very revengeful. [Laughs] And this is just way too much. He just really crossed the line. I think Gemma’s very resourceful and she doesn’t suffer fools. The fact that she kind of pulls herself together and doesn’t sit there crying in a heap, it’s just who she is. She would definitely smoke a joint to take the edge off and shake it off a little bit. And thank God she has Unser, who’s been her lifelong friend basically, who she could let know what her plans are.
Watch a recap of “Hands” below
What can you tease about Gemma’s frame of mind at the start of season 5?
A lot of things happened by the end of last year. Her husband completely became unglued and became a guy she felt she couldn’t trust. And then her son becomes the president of the club, which she really always wanted, but then suddenly he’s also got Tara, so where does that leave her? So this season will be like, what happens to the queen when she’s sitting on the side? I think we’re gonna see Gemma unravel a little bit. Gemma likes everything to go a certain way. And I know people like that, and I’ve definitely been somebody like that at times in my life. And then when everything goes upside down, you have an erratic response. So that’s probably where she’s going.
How would you describe Gemma’s relationship with the new queen, Tara?
As my husband [SOA creator Kurt Sutter] told me, there will definitely be a push-me-pull-me relationship with Tara. Like I said, they have a deep, familiar love for each other, but there’s also a power struggle. I think Tara’s trying to find her way having Jax be even more committed to the club at this point, which was not what Tara wanted at all. There will definitely be moments of Tara being taught — Gemma has always taught Tara the rules — and also being like a teenage girl and rebelling. I think it’s gonna have all those flavors. What I like about our show so much is that it’s not very linear. The people tend to be not just one way. [Laughs] They’re dimensional. So you can have in one episode this love bond with Tara and Gemma, and in the next episode, they’re fighting. It’s just how real life is.
Last question: This year, your husband isn’t doing Emmy interviews. I spoke to his fellow EP Paris Barclay for our upcoming item advocating the show as an entry in the Best Drama category. How tough has that been for him?
[Laughs] I think he’s just realized that it pushes buttons for him. As you know, he doesn’t have a lot of impulse control. [Laughs] So he doesn’t want to piss anybody off, and he doesn’t want to dampen chances in our world for anybody who would like to play in that. So I think he’s just decided to be a silent bystander. I am sorta placing my bets to see how long that lasts, but that’s his pledge for this year. He’s a wonderfully sensitive man, my husband, and he gets wrapped up in that stuff like we all do, so he just wants to have a more mature outlook, I think.
Emmy Watch: ‘Sons of Anarchy’ EP Paris Barclay talks setting up a season right
Emmy Watch: ‘Justified’ star Walton Goggins talks playing an outlaw betrayed, in love
More Emmy Watch interviews
‘Sons of Anarchy’ season finale: Kurt Sutter talks twists (and what’s next)
‘Sons of Anarchy’ season finale: Ron Perlman talks Clay’s wild ride