Sons Of Anarchy’s Maggie Siff Talks Dark World And Becoming Gemma

The new season of Sons of Anarchy hit like a hammer, and with controversy, new twists, and quite a bit of death, the show still had time to throw Tara some monkey wrenches, and Maggie Siff has something to say about the show’s dark world, becoming Gemma, and a lot more.

A crucial piece of the show’s puzzle, and one that seems to somehow always be in flux, the relationship with Jax and Tara isn’t exactly kicking off on a good note. Maggie talks about a lot of aspects of the show, and it was really an interesting interview. It isn’t that Shakespeare isn’t often mentioned with Sons of Anarchy, but it’s always a fun addition to the conversation.

Check it out below, and let me know your thoughts on the new season and the show in general.

 

Maggie Siff Tara Sons of Anarchy
CR: James Minchin/FX

 

 

Maggie Siff Interview

 

What still surprises you about playing Tara? Secondly, how much of Tara is Maggie? Or is there nothing about Tara that’s like you?

Maggie Siff What still surprises me? You know, I’ve been joking that Tara’s like the place people go to see their dreams die, so I guess what surprises me is the darker and darker progression of the things that she sees fall away. The thing that surprises me in playing her and in figuring out how to play her are really her reserves of strength and power. Even as her mind is sort of warping and things in her psyche are shifting in a way that I think is really negative and things are kind of breaking, there’s also a fierceness in her that rises up perpetually. That’s the surprise.

In terms of how much of me is in the part, I think Kurt has always been pretty savvy in terms of his casting. I think that one of the things that was alluring to him about having me in the role initially was the feeling of this is somebody who’s different, one of these things is not like the others and trying to figure out how that person fits and doesn’t fit and then slowly gets pulled back into a world that she’s worked really hard to define herself against.

 

I’m a big fan of Jax and Tara. Do you think I’m just hopelessly naïve to keep pulling for them at this point?

Maggie Siff I don’t think so. You know, I think that the thing about the show, one of the things about the show that really pulls people in is that no matter how awful things get between people there is this deep and passionate, kind of violently passionate love between the characters, within the family, between Jax and Tara. It’s hard not to, on a basis level, root for that. I think I root for that. I think we all root for that.

That said, it’s such a brutal and brutalizing world, god knows how it’s all going to end. I think it’s natural and I think it’s set up for us to root for that.

 

We’ve seen Tara become more like Gemma over the years, and that prison scene last night really, really showed her manifest her Gemma-ness. What’s it been like for you playing that conflict, becoming this person that you really are trying to escape and not be like?

M. Siff Yes, it’s pretty fascinating. I think there’s something almost magnetizing about Gemma and Tara. The way I’ve been thinking about it recently is Gemma is like this fierce mother figure. She’s just such a powerful matriarch and she loves fiercely and will protect to the death her children, her clan, anything she feels is going to threaten the sanctity of her family. Tara is like this quintessential orphan who’s parentless and she’s been so in need of parents and protectors and people she can look to. So between those two things there’s this magnetism, which is why I think they’re so drawn to each other and repelled by each other.

Gemma is the only person around who serves that role for Tara. It’s a huge source of conflict because I think while she desperately needs a parent she desperately doesn’t want to become Gemma. It’s just had her bouncing back and forth between states of mind over the last six years. It’s really fun to play, especially with Katey, who I love. She’s a very maternal figure but she’s such a fierce actress we just flip in and out of these modes acting and hating each other and then love each other as people. It’s all there for us to play with. It’s a fun relationship.

 

I know fans were very upset when Jax cheated on her. I’m wondering what you thought when you read that in the script, or was it something Kurt had told you beforehand? How do you explain the disconnect that happened between them?

M. Siff I’m glad to hear that fans were upset. I was upset as well. You know, I think that they’re in such a disconnected place from each other right now. I think that at the end of season five we saw just incredible disillusionment on both their parts with the other person. I think Jax is feeling the sting of her betrayal in terms of trying to set things up so that the kids would be given to Wendy and she was feeling the sting of his betrayal in terms of a real lack of support for her priorities in terms of getting out and getting her kids into a safe place and also some of the more violent and terrifying aspects of his nature that were revealed to her at the end of last season.

They’re on different planes right now and she can’t even see him when she’s in prison. What I was playing with in the premier episode is that she’s using the time to really collect her thoughts and create a plan for herself in terms of what she’s going to do to protect herself and her kids because nobody else is going to help her, and that includes Jax. Therefore, she can’t expose herself to him because it would be too difficult.

 

In the next episode, when Jax picks her up and there’s no dialog in that scene, I was wondering if that was scripted that way or if you had filmed any dialog. It was really powerful and uncomfortable to see them not speaking to each other on the back of the bike.

M. Siff Yes, there was no dialog scripted. There was some conversation about how we shoot it and what kind of looks get exchanged and how much gets communicated without language. The way that our director, Peter Weller, wanted to shoot it was really that they’re both pretty inscrutable to each other and are content to have it be that way. I really liked the way it turned out. I thought it was very jarring, interesting and provocative. Yes. There was no language scripted.

   

What do you think really sticks out about Sons in terms of the writing and why do you think people connect to such a dark world?

M. Siff My feeling about the script when I first read it for the very first time, when I read that pilot, what I wished people could see, although I think it comes across, are Kurt’s descriptions of events on the page, his descriptions of the action sequences, his descriptions of what’s going on inside the minds of the characters, what’s happening. He writes very beautifully. It’s very medic, it’s swift and it’s funny, it kind of sweeps you along. I think that’s in the show. I mean, to think that the feeling of heart and flesh and bikes and the motion of all that storytelling, he’s writing on a grand scale. You feel that when you read the scripts.

I would say that his storytelling style is really – I don’t know, it’s just really sweeping and dramatic. That was the first thing that stood out to me about the writing.

The juxtaposition of the dark material up against his incredible sense of humor I think is the thing that actually makes the show work. He’s just very skilled that way. I think it took us a little while in the first season to figure out the tone of the show. I can’t really take responsibility for it, but he really figured out how those things coincide side-by-side. It’s very skillful, I think.

 

It seemed towards the beginning of the series, at least to me, that Tara might be our moral compass to the show, which obviously seems to have gone to a much darker place as far as all that she’s been through. My question is, did Kurt ever, in the beginning, go, “Listen, Maggie, this is the character arc. This is where we’re going with the character” or has it been very organic on how it’s grown?

M. Siff I think it’s been pretty organic. I think he always wanted to see Tara progress towards Gemma and towards assuming the role of matriarch. I think he didn’t know how that was going to happen, in particular because she was a moral compass, which I think was not necessarily what he anticipated for the character. I think it was a combination of who I was as an actor and some beginning notions that he had about her.

I think early on the thing that he would say to me is that he realized that she was like the window through which the audience could see these people. Like the audience, she loved this man but knew better, and that’s sort of the audience’s position as well, like you love them but you know that they’re bad people.

I think getting from A to Z in terms of that slide, she can’t actually become a Gemma-like figure without losing some of her moral ground, you know? The thing about her that I would say – I’m sorry, what?

 

Do you think that’s what she wants at this point, to be the neo-Gemma?

M. Siff No. That’s what I was going to say. I think that’s the thing that ultimately will always distinguish her from Gemma and ultimately the thing that keeps her on – it’s not firm moral ground, but I think it’s slightly firmer moral ground, that she really wants to provide a safe life for her children. She really ultimately doesn’t want to live the life of a criminal within the world of that kind of danger and violence.

I think this season what you see is a Tara who’s progressed to a place where she knows how to use the tactics of Gemma. She has violence in the aspects of her nature that she now draws upon or that rise up more quickly, but her goal is different. Her goal will always be different.

 

She has that ability to turn back at this point or do you think it’s the point of no return?

M. Siff I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think she hopes she can turn back, but I don’t know if she can turn back. I think in some ways this season what I see in the character is somebody who doesn’t really care that much about herself anymore. She’s just really interested in figuring it out for her children. I think so much has been lost that her hopes and dreams, who knows where they are or what can happen with them. They’re off to the side now.

 

Talking about some of the darkness that we’ve seen not just in this show but in television in general, as an actress, when you’re on set everyday and dealing with some of this darker subject matter, how do you separate yourself from that when you go home for the day? How do you leave that on the set and not let it affect you, your personal life?

M. Siff That’s a good question. I always feel like maybe I’m a freak this way, but when I’m there I’m there 100% and when I leave I’m gone. I don’t know why. The world is so dark and so specific and we throw ourselves into it, but the beauty of shooting film and television as opposed to theater where you have to keep reliving things night after night is that you do it and it’s done. If you do it well it’s like a form of catharsis. That’s what I find. I find that if I commit to something 100% and I’m satisfied with what comes out then I can walk away from my day and I feel pretty light. I know that that’s not true for every actor, but on this show I have found that to be relatively true.

Also, I will say as Tara, I don’t have to do a lot of that shooting that the guys do where they’re constantly in the middle of these terrifically violent things that are happening day after day and they’re riding around in the desert in their leathers. Really, my job is so confined to a really specific portion of the story.

 

In the past it’s kind of been bad people doing bad things to worse people, so you could kind of still get on board with them. With the whole school shooting and the cover up, does that put a whole different slant to it, in your mind? Is it harder to rationalize what those characters are doing now?

M. Siff Yes. I think so. I mean, I think Kurt was interested in that, like really bringing it home for them in a way that can’t be escaped. I think there have been other moments. I know for me there have been other moments. I found that moment last year when Jax slammed the … into Wendy’s arm, for myself and my character, I should say, I was like “How do I come back from that?” I think that the school shooting, I think Kurt opened up a huge can of worms for the show and for the characters on the show. I know he really wants to see it through to the end. Hopefully it’ll pay off in a way that people can get behind.

 

The whole idea at the beginning of Maggie being a doctor, someone who was helping and healing others and to just turn that around so much to in some ways – maybe not directly and in other ways directly – hurting people, was that always a conscious decision on Kurt’s part to make her that person at the beginning? What are your feelings on it?

M. Siff You know, from the beginning I thought that the thing that’s interesting about her being a doctor and being a surgeon is she’s somebody who has to be capable of performing surgery, of dealing with the blood and the guts of life. To me, that means that she’s somebody who’s really fierce and tough. Even though it was for good and she’s a healer and she really identified herself as a healer and she has a gift, I could also connect it to the part of her that came from that world and was able to deal with life and death and darkness and shadow and light.

In some intuitive way she’s somebody who is comfortable taking life into her hands, life and death into her hands, so I kind of felt like that’s interesting, it’ll be an interesting coin to flip through the series, to see her going between these places of healing and destruction.

I think she’s lost right now because she’s lost her ability to be a doctor and a healer. She has to turn her attention to other things and I think it’s really wreaking havoc on her and bringing up the darker parts of her nature. I don’t think that part of her that is a healer has been destroyed. I guess that’s what I’ll say. It’s kind of a convoluted answer. Sorry.

 

I wanted a personal perspective from you on Tara. It seems to me that she could sort of go the way, if you’re looking at the Hamlet metaphor, of Ophelia or Horatio. Do you root for her to stay with the club? Do you hope for her to have that disconnect? It seems to me if she stays and keeps on this path, obviously she’s heading towards the Ophelia path of destruction, but I’ve sort of … Horatio … I wondered if you still root for her and Jax after everything.

M. Siff Yes, I do. I think the thing that’s complicated is I think in Tara’s ideal world it’s like she has the love of her life, who’s Jax, and she has procured the safety of her children. I think the question, though, that remains as if those things can actually happen together. I think Jax’s happiness is dependent upon there being a club and him being part of it. If the club attempts to come clean it’s like is that possible, is it possible, is it possible? Those are the looming questions.

I don’t know if she’s Horatio or Orphelia. It’s a live question. I’m hoping for Horatio.

 

 

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Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.