Sons of Anarchy returned to FX last week with an explosive season premiere that shocked audiences and ignited controversy between series creator Kurt Sutter and conservative groups that felt the show’s violent content had gone too far. Audiences may have disagreed, however, because not only did the season premiere draw more viewers than last year, it was the most-watched episode of any television show in the history of the network.
Sons of Anarchy has a fiercely devoted fanbase, and many of those fans will tell you that Alex “Tig” Trager, portrayed by veteran actor Kim Coates, is their favorite character on the show. Prone to jaw-dropping bursts of violence and unlikely moments of compassion and tenderness, he’s managed to keep audiences on their toes, and fans will tell you one thing without question: you never have any idea what Tig is capable of, or what he’ll do next.
A few days before the season premiere, I had the opportunity to speak with Kim Coates via telephone about his experience working on the show for the past five years, and what to expect as Sons of Anarchy nears the end of the road.
During last season, you often referred to Tig as being “off the leash.” Where do we find him as Season Six begins, and what can we expect from Tig in the coming weeks?
This is probably the most intense question I’ve had so far, just because of my fans. The only way I can put it is, this year we all start dying. And next year whoever isn’t dead will be dead. Trust me, I just totally believe that’s going to happen. Of course, the only one who knows for sure is Kurt Sutter, so I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong maybe once before in my life.
So, that said, last year Tig was really off the leash. This year he’s back on the leash, and it’s all to do with Charlie, it’s all to do with Jax. I am absolutely too fucked up still to become any kind of Sergeant-at-Arms or VP, I’m still too sporadic and too all over the place inside my head.
That said, I’m really loyal to Jax. We don’t really know what’s happening with Clay – he’s in jail, I can’t say much more than that. We’re halfway done, I’m not supposed to say anything about who’s alive, who’s dead, who’s what, who’s where. But I will say this, that Tig and Jax definitely have some unresolved issues, for sure.
With the premiere episode setting the stage for the endgame, will we see any open plot threads from previous seasons come back into play?
Between you and me, the only thing, and I really don’t mind you saying this – I think Sutter is a genius. Sons of Anarchy has become bigger than anyone ever, ever could’ve expected. The only thing, honestly, from the bottom of my heart that I hope happens is, in going downhill now… we’re on the other side of the mountain, we’re coming home. This show’s over next season. Without a doubt, we are done.
And the only thing I’m hoping does not happen is… there are so many storylines unresolved, there are so many facets of the club that are unresolved. In going so fast to the finish line… I’m telling you man, from the bottom of my heart, I hope that Sutter doesn’t forget about some of these unresolved issues within the club, because I think the audience really, really wants closure on a lot of them.
Throughout the show’s history, Tig and Clay have always maintained a very complex relationship. How is Tig coping with being complicit in Clay being sent to prison at the end of Season Five?
It’s not good. Obviously, I know this guy better than anyone… and if you actually go back, in Season Two, I confess to Opie at the end of the season that I killed Donna. And I wanted him to kill me, I wanted him to gut me like a fish. I was so fucked up as a character, I was so gone as a guy. You know, Gemma came onto me that same day and we push each other into the closet… I’m lost, Gemma was lost at that time, and if you clock it from that moment on, Clay and Tig hardly have anything in common.
And from me ripping off my Sons of Anarchy patch to him beating the shit out of Gemma, to me being completely at odds with him, to him then getting shot at the end of Season Four and lying to me that it was black, to me, Tig, always doing… you know, he shoots first and asks questions later, which is sometimes so wrong. He literally went after LaRoy like that, ends up killing his girlfriend. The whole thing with Pope last year was based upon my aggression and Clay’s lie to Tig.
So they’re on the way out, they’re totally on the way out. And it’s really sad for Tig, it’s a really, really bad feeling. You saw it at the end of last season, when Jax shows that gun and I go “wait, this is Clay’s gun.” And then he breaks down. Again, it’s all the emotion of his daughter and Pope and Clay… it’s a fucked up world, man. SOA is a completely topsy-turvy… who the hell is loyal to who, what is happening? There’s so many little secrets going on inside Jax’s head, trying to keep shit from us, Bobby’s out of the club, I mean… right? What else can I say? Clay and Tig are definitely on the way out, and that’s a really sad place to be.
Speaking of Gemma coming onto Tig – that’s another character on the show that Tig shares a very complicated connection with. Do you think he’s in love with her? Or do you think his affection for Gemma comes from another place entirely?
That’s a great question. I don’t really know the answer to that question fully, only because we’ve never been given much to dwell on. Sutter has given a little bit, then a little bit, then nothing, then a little bit. They obviously respect one another, they obviously have a past… my loyalty to Clay overrode anything, maybe any feelings he had toward Gemma, I really believe that.
But now, you know, all bullets are in, all bets are off. It’s a completely different world now, with all the lies and maliciousness that’s happened within the club, so Gemma and Tig… this is part of the reason I just said to you at the beginning of the interview, I hope that Sutter is smart enough to get some of these unresolved issues and tie them up. They don’t have to be tied up in a nice little bow, either, but something, because people talk about it all the time – what is going on with Gemma and Tig? What’s happening?
And we don’t know the answers to that, or at least we haven’t by the end of Season Five. So let’s just see where Six and Seven go, because I’d love to see where that’s gonna go, or where it was in the past, for sure.
One of my favorite things about Tig has always been how many layers there are to the character. This is a guy that has done some incredibly violent and depraved things, yet he manages to maintain a sense of humor, even if it’s a little bit dark. He’s also prone to showing tremendous amounts of compassion, which we saw last season with the dogs, and even a little bit in the premiere when the Sons raid the warehouse and Tig finds the girl locked in a cage. What’s it like playing a character that’s all over the map like Tig?
I’m very lucky, man. I was hesitant to take this part, I really was. I’d never been a regular on a television show ever before. I’d done all my movies and I’d done my arcs on TV, but I was a movie guy, and I’m telling you – when I got offered this guy, I said to Kurt, “I need to see something.” And he shows me one scene, and it was a very, very beautiful scene with Ron early on in the show, first season. But it was violent, it was hardcore, tough, violent shit, and I said “I have no interest in playing just a sociopath bad guy, I’m gonna pass.”
And Sutter looked me in the eye and he said, “Listen to me. This guy is gonna be everything. He’s gonna be multi-layered: sicko, tough, soft, tears, loyalty, humor. Please man, come along. Trust me.” And I did, and I’m glad that I did. You know, he’s got ten leads to write for. It’s tough, I know it’s tough. But when he does write for Tig, I’m a lucky boy, because I get some of the best stuff ever, and I’m thrilled that all of FX trusts me with that acting, and I get to do it. It’s fun to be in this guy’s head, for sure.
It’s gotta be nice knowing that you’re the only actor in television history who played a character that killed another guy by drowning him in a bathtub full of piss.
I know, right? [laughs] How crazy was that? I haven’t even seen that scene, does it look alright? Was it crazy?
It was hilarious. Classic Tig.
I haven’t even seen it yet, isn’t that wild? That’s great to hear, honestly.
Moving away from Sons of Anarchy a bit, I read that you worked on a couple of independent films that have been making the festival rounds?
I did two little movies back-to-back about a year-and-a-half ago. One was called Rufus, it just opened all over the festivals about four or five months ago, and it’ll be out on DVD soon. The other one was called Ferocious, and I’m telling you what, man, I’m pretty proud of both, but Ferocious has a special place in my heart. I play identical twins, and they’re both whack, they’re both very different. Amanda Crew and Michael Eklund co-starred with me, and October 1st, it’s gonna be everywhere. If you get the chance, please pick it up. It’s something else, I’m so proud of this little picture, for sure.
I have to admit, I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. I think the first thing I ever saw you in was Bad Boys…
I know, right? People have been reminiscing about that, maybe they’ve been playing it on TV lately, I don’t know. The great story about Bad Boys is, I got offered two movies back-to-back. Young actor, early 90s, just before The Last Boy Scout and [my relationship with Warner Bros.] really started. And I auditioned for these two movies and I got them both. One was Bad Boys, and then there was this other one where my good buddy John Dahl was directing. It was gonna be shot in Europe, and it was just a bigger part, it was a better part, and it was a funnier part. So I said “yes” to that one and turned Bad Boys down, wound up getting on a plane, and that film got cancelled.
So I come home back to LA, to nothing. Six months later, I get this call from my agents going, “You’re not gonna believe this, Michael Bay” – no one knew who Michael Bay was at that time, you understand, nobody – “Michael Bay called to say ‘alright, Coates has already turned me down once, where is he? I need him for the opening of my movie.'” And I said to my agents, “I’ll do it for nothing. I’ll literally do it for nothing.” Because I felt bad.
So I went for one day. Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, me, a couple of extras, “titty titty, strutty strutty” – made all that shit up. Michael Bay just said “say whatever you want.” All that stuff about a stand-up comedian, all that was made up. And I’m telling you man, people really remember that first scene, it was so funny, and Will was great, Martin Lawrence was great. And that’s how I wound up doing Bad Boys.
I miss those late 80s and early 90s action flicks. They just don’t seem to make those type of films anymore.
Not like that. It’s really depressing me, it’s really bad. People kept saying White House Down is like a Die Hard, and I went “no, it’s not, actually.” In fact, it’s anything but. White House Down has like 28,000 people dying in the first three minutes by machine gun fire at the White House, planes are falling out of the sky, which is my worst nightmare. Die Hard was this beautiful… Alan Rickman was so sunny, Willis was so young, and raw.
Those kinds of movies… like The Last Boy Scout… Tony Scott, eh? How sad was that? Anyway, yeah, it held a dear part of my heart. Those early 90s were pretty pivotal for me as a young actor. Getting my green card and becoming an American citizen, it’s all because of those early movies I did, and I loved doing them all.
After working in film for so long and having smaller roles on television, what was it like transitioning to a job as a series regular?
You know what, I had never done it before. And I say this as much as I can, but being asked to the party by John Linton and Kurt Sutter, man, I’m telling you, I’m so glad I said “yes” for so many reasons. I love my cast, I love being in LA, it’s cable, it’s John Landgraf, my favorite executive on the planet, and I love FX, I love what they’re doing there, and I’m just the luckiest actor alive, man.
Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday nights at 10pm, exclusively on FX.