Katey Sagal Talks SONS OF ANARCHY and More
I was fortunate enough to get to talk with a woman who’s been behind iconic television characters like Peg Bundy in Married…with Children and Gemma in Sons of Anarchy.
In the early ‘70s you were just getting started with acting and you got to work with your father on Columbo. With his amount of knowledge and experience in show business, what are the most important things that you learned from him that still have a strong impact on your creative decisions? Do you have any memories of working with Peter Falk?
Years later I did a movie with Peter Falk. I did a movie with him about eight years ago, a CBS Christmas movie. It was interesting. He was charming and grumpy all at the same time. My father was a director in the early years of episodic television. He worked very long hours. My household was not filled with movie stars and TV stars. It wasn’t glamorous. He had a passion for what he did and he felt very fortunate that he was able to do it. He worked really hard.
So I like to think that I had sort of a grounding experience from him in terms of knowing that this is a hard job just like any other job. I mean, it certainly has its perks, but it requires a certain amount of work ethic that I think I modeled from him. I don’t take it for granted. I feel that since I grew up here in Hollywood, I grew up in Los Angeles and around all this I have seen people come here thinking that this is really easy, to get into show business, and they think that it’s just this light, airy job. To me, the business of what we do is to make people think that it’s that, that it’s easy and entertaining – the service we do is to entertain. So you don’t want that to seem like it’s laborious. This is kind of a long answer to your question, but it’s sort of how I look at what it is I do, which is it’s a hard job. I’m blessed to be able to do it. It’s nice to make it look easy, but it’s not always easy. I think I got a lot of that from my dad. He loved what he did. As hard as the job was and was long, 15-hour days, he loved his work. I feel the same way.
When an actor plays a doctor they can go talk to a doctor. When an actor plays a lawyer they can go talk to a lawyer. When an actor plays the president of an outfit or the wife of one, who do you go talk to to kind of study and check that authenticity?
That’s a good question. I tried to do research on the women in the motorcycle culture when I got the job. There’s very little written about them. There’s really a lot written about the presidents of very famous motorcycle clubs. We actually have TA’s on our show and Kurt has relationships with some of those people since beginning the show, so it was kind of easy to find out that.
The women and what I did with ‘Gemma’ is she’s quite a bit of creative license in that she’s the matriarch of any little society. Definitely her wardrobe and her saunter and all of that is an easy thing to find from even observing the women in the culture. Her attitude and “stand by her man” is reminiscent of any high political or regal figure that you could really name. She’s the queen bee of that society. I don’t know if that really answers your question, but I guess the answer was that it was very difficult to find actual people to talk to.
When you played ‘Peg Bundy’ on Married…with Children you were able to have creative input in ‘Peg’s’ wardrobe and made a statement on the ‘60s American housewife. What other creative ideas were you able to use with that character and how much creative involvement are you allowed to have on Sons of Anarchy?
Well, it is that sort of thing that happens when you’re on a show for a long time between the writer and actor. They kind of pick up from you and you give them stuff they can use. I mean, certainly with ‘Peg Bundy’ a lot of it was her physicality. Certainly with ‘Gemma’ a lot of it is the physicality. To me, they’re both very extreme characters coming from their look. I don’t look that way. I like the whole costume, wardrobe and hair. I like all that. I think in creating who somebody is, particularly in these two different worlds, ‘Gemma,’ it’s part of the entire character of what it is.
So, ‘Peg Bundy,’ that was just the housewife that she was, which was that she didn’t want to be a housewife. She wanted to be dolled up. That was my choice about her. I thought “No, no, no. She doesn’t want to cook and clean. She wants to wear high heels and tight clothes.” That was a choice. Those were contributions that I made.
It’s such a testosterone-fueled show, Sons of Anarchy. Kurt has this really great insight into the female character, especially your and Maggie’s characters, and even in The Shield he did it. What does Kurt know about women that a lot of us don’t and can write these great things? Do you inform a lot of those things that he knows?
First of all, he loves women. He’s a very sensitive guy. I mean, nobody really wants to realize it, but for him to write the way he writes, there’s a very deep emotional place that he has. I don’t know. He writes women better than anybody I’ve read before. He really has a deep understanding. He would tell you he has a strong feminine side that he is able to tap into. He’s a mush at heart.
I’d like to know what your most memorable moment is so far as ‘Gemma,’ your most memorable moment on Futurama, your most memorable moment on stage and your most memorable moment as ‘Peggy Bundy.’
Memorable moments are hard for me to remember. I can tell you overall …. Certainly, I’m in season six right now and I can’t give away a lot of stuff, but I did some really cool stuff coming up in season six. Certainly, my stuff …with the entire arc of ‘Gemma’ being raped and then holding that secret so that it wouldn’t get the club in danger, I thought that was more than a moment but a fantastic arc to play.
‘Peg Bundy,’ I laughed my ass off for 11 years. I mean, every day I would go to work and Ed O’Neill is one funny guy. The entire environment was loving and hysterically funny.
Futurama, I’d never done voice-over acting before. This was my first experience with it. Those guys and girls on that show were just amazing to watch as they would do ten voices apiece. That’s been a great experience.
I would like to change direction a little bit to ask about your music.
I finished my solo record. It’s coming out October 22nd, I want to say. It’s either the 22nd or the 29th. I did another song for the show; it’s going to be on episode ten. That’s on my record, my solo record, which I feel really great about. It’s going to come out then.
Music has always been – I call it my unrequited career because I have done it longer than anything. This will be my third solo record. I made records all through my 20s and it was always the career that was like the one that got away. To kind of have it at this time in my life – and we just sold out at a big place in Los Angeles, we played at the … – it’s amazing for me. It’s sort of like I pinch myself, like wow, as a kid this is what I dreamed of doing, being able to sing and entertain people.
So it’s been very self-fulfilling. I kind of make these records with the idea of as long as a few people hear them I’ll be happy. If I can get some gigs booked off of them I’ll be happy.