As part of our special series of interviews related to FX’s hit show “Sons of Anarchy,” CableFAX Executive Editor Michael Grebb sat down with actor Ron Perlman to talk about the show, his portrayal of rebel character Clay Morrow and what his character is fighting for.
CableFAX: As we head into Season Three, Sons of Anarchy is now FX’s highest rated show in its history. Did you expect that when you signed on for this in Season One?
Perlman: I expect only failure. I’ve been trained in a Pavlovian way to expect and court failure. Trust me when I tell you, it hasn’t always been like that. But I’ve been in the business for 40 years now, and every time I thought something was going to go through the roof, it didn’t. So I’ve just basically decided that just because I love something doesn’t mean someone else will. It doesn’t change my personal level of enthusiasm. But I’ve gotten out of the expectation business. If I have any expectations at all, it’s that if I like this, nobody else is going to like this. So this is a pleasant surprise.
CableFAX: What projects that you thought would take off didn’t?
CableFAX: Well, you’ve had some success. The Hellboy movie franchise, for example.
Perlman: The Hellboy movies were received beautifully by the press and the people who went to see it and liked it. But it wasn’t a through-the-roof, blockbuster, sensational hit—either movie. I don’t think anyone got hurt by them. I don’t think anyone lost money, but they didn’t go through the roof. But it’s not my job to sit there and analyze audience trends or anything like that. I’ve evolved into somebody who loves the job I’ve chosen in life more every day, and that’s what I’m in it for. And the rest of it is things that are out of my control. I don’t worry about it.
CableFAX: Aside from Hellboy, you’ve been in countless movies. How is different doing a TV show versus a movie?
Perlman: I’ve always felt like writing rules. Whether I’m doing a movie that we’re doing for a hundred thousand dollars or a hundred million dollars or a TV show or a piece of theater or sketch comedy or whatever it is, you read it and go, “Oh my God. This is smart. This is interesting. This is unpredictable. It’s original.” It’s all those things that attract me and dictate my level of engagement. It’s all what’s on the page. And this happens to be a TV show, but the writing is what rules for me. It always has from when the first episode was handed to me three years ago to now. It’s quite gripping. [Kurt Sutter] can just flat write. He’s created a world that’s original, that’s untapped and that no one has ever truly explored. And he’s managed to treat it in a way that’s very layered, very nuanced—even though there are things about it that are incredibly dynamic and violent and explosive—there’s also a lot of interaction within the family that is the stuff that’s really fun to play for an actor.
CableFAX: For you, is this a crime story or a family story?
Perlman: It’s been a family drama from the beginning. There are aspects to it that define it on its own terms, but at its core it’s a family drama.
CableFAX: So what’s your character fighting for?
Perlman: He’s fighting for autonomy. He’s fighting for the ability to never have to answer to anyone or anything, which is basically at the core of why an outlaw nation has an impulse to go rogue and to get off the grid and to establish their own declaration of independence and their own bill of rights and their own constitution. I think we consider ourselves our own sovereign nation. I think we consider ourselves responsible to no one and no thing other than our own perpetuation and our own well-being. My character relishes the idea that every decision that he makes is for the greater good. He’s a born leader. He’s a born ass kicker.
CableFAX: It certainly doesn’t seem like these guys are very conflicted about some of the violent deeds they perpetuate. Is there any moral conflict in these characters?
Perlman: Season Two was a great exploration into divisions in leadership style and directions. But they were philosophical in nature. It wasn’t as if Jax’s character [played by Charlie Hunnam] wanted for the Sons of Anarchy to be any different than Clay’s was, but his modality was different. He wanted a different tonality to rule the club. And I’m a more 21st Century kind of guy, you know, where this is the deal, man. It’s a corporate world, and this is what we’re up against. This is what it costs to remain autonomous. This is what is being thrown in our way. And this is how we do it. I don’t try to bring too much Nietzsche into it. Even Phil Nietzsche. But definitely not Friedrich. We’re all just incredibly devoted to the club, which is number one. The club is our breast. It feeds the whole community. And as the club grows, so grows the well being of every member of the family.