'Sons of Anarchy' postmortem: Rockmond Dunbar talks climactic scene

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Sons of Anarchy‘s season 6 finale (read our full recap), stop reading now. Rockmond Dunbar (Sheriff Eli Roosevelt), who’s now a regular on CBS’ The Mentalist, phoned EW to talk about the episode’s shocking ending — and to gush about his daughter, Berkeley Seon, born Dec. 6. “My wife is making my dreams come true. She gave me a baby girl, 8 lbs., 3 oz., 20.5 inches. She is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’m just so happy, I don’t even sleep. All my friends told me, ‘Dude, you’re not gonna sleep. The baby’s gonna keep you up.’ I’m realizing it’s not the baby that’s keeping me up, it’s me staring at her every waking moment. I’m so absolutely in love and so happy with my life. And thank god for [The Mentalist exec producers] Bruno Heller and Chris Long, because if I didn’t have a job, maybe this whole outlook would be a little bit different because babies are f–kin’ expensive, man,” he says, laughing. “This little girl’s costing me an arm and a leg, and I love it.”

UPDATE: For more insight into the finale, read our burning questions post with creator Kurt Sutter, Maggie Siff, and Katey Sagal, as well as our other postmortem interviews with Siff, Theo Rossi, and Jimmy Smits.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was just transcribing my chat with Theo Rossi.
Rockmond Dunbar: You talked to that punk? You talked to that punk?! [Laughs] You tell him next time he shoots me, shoot me in the face like a man, not in the back like a little girl. Little pussy. [Laughs]

Yes, he said he’s glad you have The Mentalist to fall back on.
[Laughs] Yeah, I think that was the catalyst for it.

At what point did SOA creator Kurt Sutter tell you Eli would be dying?
When Kurt Sutter and I first sat down to talk about the job three seasons ago, I knew I was gonna die. He made it very clear. It was supposed to be a 10-episode arc. He said, “Hey look, 10 episodes. After that, you’re gonna die a horrendous death, and it’s gonna be great.” And I was like, “Yes!” I was excited. And during the read-through of the 10th episode, he said, “Rock, we love you. FX loves you. Fans love you. I love you. We can’t kill you. So see you next season.” Coming around to my third season, it got a little sticky because I booked a David Shore pilot called Doubt for another network [ABC]. We didn’t know if I was gonna end up coming back to Sons because of that, but it didn’t get picked up. I wasn’t in the first couple episodes [of season 6] because of that, and Kurt pulled me back on to the show, and we start going along, and then The Mentalist came after me with an offer, and it was something I couldn’t refuse. I sat down with Bruno and Chris, and they were like, “We love the work you’re doing on Sons of Anarchy. We know they haven’t made you a series regular yet, so we want to step up and make you a series regular on our show. We figure we have a few more seasons under our belt and we hear Sons of Anarchy only has one more.” I was also recurring on The Game, so I was trying to do three shows at the same time. It just became really difficult. I’m sure Kurt woke up one morning after four episodes trying to make it work with me — and me showing up at The Mentalist shooting a scene and me running over to Sons of Anarchy and shooting a scene there on the same day — and he spun the dartboard and threw the dart and hit my picture. [Laughs] Kurt might tell a different story, but I think it was just too much to work out with all the scheduling. (UPDATE: Sutter says that’s half true: In writing the scene, he realized that DA Patterson (CCH Pounder) would not have left Tara alone and would have given her a police escort. So in the end, logic won out. “It happened organically.”)

So when did you learn Eli’s death was happening now, in the finale?
We were on episode 12, and the script for episode 13, the finale, was about to come out. One of the writers called me. It was so funny: I woke up in the morning, and I just felt really queasy in my stomach. I was thinking, Ah man, it’s just sympathy pains. My wife is pregnant. I kinda shook it off, and boom, 10 minutes later I got the call. It was like, “Rock, man, we love you, dawg. It’s just been too hard. Kurt woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed and tripped and fell in some dogs–t and he’s killin’ ya.” [Laughs] And I was like, “Man, I’ll come over there and clean his feet off from the dog s—t. I like havin’ three jobs.” [Laughs] Kurt and I have a great relationship. You never know, maybe I’ll wake up in the 7th season, put on a Band-Aid, and you’ll see me in the hospital bed sayin’ my last words. You never know with Kurt, man. I’m just happy he killed me that way, and I’m happy Juice got the opportunity to kill me instead of me gettin’ a stiff nine-incher in my butt crack in jail. That would not have been good. [Laughs]

What was it like filming your death scene?
I have to tell you, it sucked balls. The scheduling was kinda crazy. It was the last scene of the last day of the episode. So we were all super tired. Who wants to come to work and die, regardless of what the situation is. It’s a very emotional scene, and at one point, I realized, ohmygod, I haven’t died since I was like 10 or something. You know, when you play fake dead and you fall over. You have the stunt men there and you prepare, and I was like, “Man, I haven’t done stunts in a long time.” And I got all this sympathy weight on for my wife. I gained like 35 pounds. So me falling on the ground with my fat ass after getting shot — it was rough. [Laughs] It was so rough. I remember Eric Norris, our stunt coordinator, saying, “Dude, you’re gonna be f–kin’ sore tomorrow.” And then the executive pulled the plug and said, “Look, too many hours. We’re not going over the hours. Everybody needs to come back and shoot for another day.” So we came back the next day to finish the scene. It was not the greatest situation, man. [Laughs] So I went back, shot the scene, wrapped that show, got back in my car, drove over to Warner Bros. to start shooting another scene for The Mentalist. It was hard… Of course everybody on The Mentalist was happy. They’re like, “That’s great! We don’t have to work around the schedule. Now we only have to work around your wife havin’ the baby.”

Oh, this is the best quote — THE BEST QUOTE — by Maggie Siff. We were walking down the corridor, we’re about to shoot our scene, and Maggie [who’s expecting her first child] turns and looks at Kurt and is like, “What the f–k is your problem? You have to kill off the two people who are having babies? Do you dig that?” [Laughs] And I looked at her, and I was like, “Well, yeah. I thought it was because I was black, but I am having a baby.” [Laughs] We all got a kick out of it and a good laugh. Kurt has a great twisted, weird sense of humor and so do I. I really, really enjoy that about him. He’s a tortured soul, man, and it really works and shows in his work. He’s a borderline genius, and I don’t throw around the word “genius” too often. He’s a great guy.

Did you keep anything from the show?
I got to keep my chair. I always get the back of my chair, but I got the whole entire chair. Brandon, who’s one of the prop guys, handed it to me. He’s like, “Dude, you f–kin’ deserve it.” I was like, “Thanks, man.” And we worked together on my very first show [1994-95’s] Earth 2, when I was a sophomore in college in Santa Fe, New Mexico. So to come full circle and work with this guy again, it was just great.

What is your prediction for the end of Sons of Anarchy‘s final season?
He’s gonna kill everybody. He’s like, “Dude, I already sold another show and my wife [Katey Sagal] is attached to it. I’m gonna kill all you guys, one by one, real slow. Or I might just throw you on a plane and have it crash, a real Buddy Holly story.” [Laughs] He may not know what it is yet, but one day, he’s gonna wake up, he’s gonna step out of his bed in a big pile of dog s–t, he’s gonna slip and fall, and he’s gonna throw 10 darts and hit everybody on the dart board, and it’s going to be mayhem. And I can’t wait to see it. I really can’t. And I really hope that Unser [Dayton Callie] is the last motherf–ker standing. [Laughs] He hops into his Airstream. He kicks open the door. He takes a puff of a cigarette. He throws his cancer medicine out of the window, and he just says, “Ah, f— it.” Blackout.


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