The new season of FX’s strong Sons of Anarchy is deep into its plot, having taken our characters across the sea to Belfast on the search for leading character Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) young son Abel. It’s a pretty solid season though I have to admit that I’m not sure I’m as fond of it as I was the first two. I’m a viewer for life, but I think the show works best on smaller plots rather than the big sweeping ones. That said, the show is the premiere place to catch a lot of really great character actors and I had the chance to participate in a conference call with one of them this week: Ally Walker, who portrays the ruthless and easy to hate Agent Stahl, a constant thorn in the side of the biker gang lead by CHUD friend Ron Perlman.
What follows is my discussion with her and a few choice comments for added measure…
Nick Nunziata: You hear a lot of people, they say they have to approach a character like that as like they’re doing the right thing, justify it. She’s in a weird spot because that character could be the hero character of a show, an agent who bends the rules to make their case. But here, she’s the thorn in the side and there’s this weird balance that you have to strike. I want to kind of get how you achieve that and how you make Agent Stahl work in the dynamic in the Sons of Anarchy, where she’s obviously painted as the black hat.
Ally Walker: Well, that’s an interesting question and that’s actually what I used to laugh at. I’m the beginning, I said, “Look guys, I’m on the side of right. You guys aren’t.” I think the way that I sort of painted the character is that everything that she’s doing is for the right outcome. If you really look at her reasoning behind everything, the problem with her is her own ego has gotten in her way, and now it’s all about “June.” It was probably always this way. It’s so personal that she wants to win. It’s not about doing the right thing anymore. It’s about, “I’m going to beat you at your own game.” In that respect, she lowers herself. But I really do believe that June is sociopathic, at least that’s how I play her. I think in her mind, she’s always right.
Nick Nunziata: It also seems like she’s kind of evolved over the course of the show because it seemed like in the first season that, okay, this is going to be kind of the big bad of season one in some respect and then she’s going to go away. But you haven’t gone away. In fact, your role in this has kind of become this interesting wild card. Do you know if that was always the plan or …
Ally Walker: No, no. It wasn’t.
Nick Nunziata: … kind of experience …?
Ally Walker: I was asked to do three shows. I know Kurt from working on The Shield, and Kurt asked me to come in. Tell Me You Love Me had just gone down, and he asked me to come in for three shows. I said, “Sure,” because I really love his writing and I loved the concept of the show. I love the character. She was kind of wild. No, I just kept getting written for. It was really an honor. I mean, Kurt was really lovely to me. I guess she was just a good bad guy so they kept writing, and she got more and more outlandish, which is really fun to play. So, I’m very appreciative of what Kurt Sutter did for me.
Nick Nunziata: Because of the unique fandom that the show has and the unique access that Kurt provides via Twitter and his blog and all that, there’s like this weird— It’s a weird dynamic like there’s that dangerous vibe that you alluded to just in the biker culture, but Kurt—he doesn’t play nice and he doesn’t follow the rules.
Ally Walker: No.
Nick Nunziata: The show seems to live in that kind of freewheeling world too. I know you said he’s an amazing guy and all that, but can you go a little bit more through the process and what it’s like working with him and what he’s like as a creator?
Ally Walker: I think Kurt’s different as a creator for different people. My experience of Kurt has always been a really professional lovely one. I like Kurt very much. As I said, I worked with him on The Shield. And I had done a documentary on the foster care system in Los Angeles County. Kurt came to me and showed me and helped me get through the process of submitting it to various film festivals and helped me out. He actually brought me in and asked me to talk about foster care and Shawn Ryan—because they wanted to do Glenn Close’s character as one who was really involved in foster care and foster kids, and that was her big thing. I think Kurt, he really, he really helped me with that. He’s always been a very loving person to me. He’s a very tough dude. He is a very smart—very, very smart guy and very intense guy. But Kurt with me is …. Kurt’s a sweetie with me. I punch Kurt’s arm. I’ll go like, “Come on. Don’t make her say it.. Oh my god, Kurt.” He’ll giggle and laugh with me. He is a sweetie with me. I think people have a different experience with him. When you read some of the stuff he writes, I’m like, “Geesh, Kurt. Back off buddy. Let’s not get too—” But he’s a very passionate guy and he feels what he feels very deeply. He’s an …. He doesn’t sugar coat it. If I don’t do something that Kurt likes, he’s like, “No Al.” I know he means business. It’s like if I say, “Well, why would I—” He’s like “No.” But I don’t really ever question him because I respect him as a writer. Because his mind is such that he knows exactly what it is. He knows exactly where you’re going. You don’t have to be fearful. He’s got you. I admire that. That’s a very good writer there and I like writers.
Nick Nunziata: Was the Shakespearean parallel like ingrained in your discussions or was that something that’s just kind of in the writing and part of his master plan?
Ally Walker: I think that’s part of Kurt’s master plan. You saw that Hamlet in the beginning. You did. It’s there. It’s obvious and you have to kind of— If anything, it gives it that more dramatic through poetic. She’s so lyrically the bad guy and Gemma is so lyrically the mother. It gives it a very lyrical kind of—what am I trying to say—aspect, and I love that. It makes you be a bit more on stage. At least, it did for me with June. It was a bit more … stage.
Nick Nunziata: When the first show came out, everybody knew that that was part of the backdrop. So you felt kind of safe but it went off the rails and kind of started getting unpredictable. It’s been interesting to see where it ties into that and where it kind of veers from it. I didn’t know if that was something that was—
Ally Walker: Well, I think you have to go back again to The Shield, and if you look at his background, it did that there too and then it came right back. It was brilliantly brought back and everything tied together. The Shield was one of my favorite shows of all times, and you see Kurt’s stamp on The Shield … Shawn Ryan absolutely … but I see Kurt there too and what a great playground those guys had. That’s what they did. They like tripped out a little bit and then they snapped it right back in. It’s sort of that pattern, that script, and it’s really remarkable. That is a good writer. So you really have something to hold onto and you can swing from the monkey bars and you can slip and slip, but you can grab the monkey bars again. You’re not left hanging, which I really love.
A few of her comments on other topics:
On the reveal that her character is bisexual and whether Stahl has a moral compass:
I’m not really sure why the timing was right. You’d have to ask Kurt Sutter that, but no, actually it wasn’t a surprise to me. Last year, I had filmed a scene in bed with a female lover, so I’d kind of built that into the character last year. Stahl, obviously, is kind of a sociopath. At least that’s how I sort of like to play her and an opportunist, so I don’t think her sexuality is really about being— It’s interesting. I think she is gay probably, but I think she swings both ways depending on what works for her. So no, it wasn’t a surprise to me. I actually had it last year and I loved it, but for some reason, they cut it out.
When I got the character thrown at me last—or given to me, not thrown at me—but there was a lot thrown to me right away with Stahl. In order to really kind of understand her, I had to sort of understand that whatever worked for her in that moment was how I was going to go what—June—I was going to go. That really is a sociopath, whatever works for her. So she’s kind of like this wonderful little actress. At least that’s what I like to think. I don’t know if she’s so wonderful, but— That’s what I did with her. I just made everything, anything that was to her advantage, she was lovely. She could turn on a dime, and I really like that.
On what makes Sons of Anarchy crackle:
There’s the obvious sort of bad-guy element, bad-boy element that everybody wants to be a rebel and sort of a renegade and bikers sort of epitomize that, but I also think that the soulfulness and the sort of family bonds that these people have—the way they watch each other’s back—is a very old-fashioned notion, if you will. Maybe not old fashioned but it’s a romantic notion. You don’t really see a lot of that anymore. It’s become much more of a narcissistic society where it’s the loners are there for themselves and people don’t hang together. This is really a wonderful family. They all take good care of each other. There are codes that they live by that are very honorable. I think that really appeals to people, especially in tough times having, knowing that people have your back and they definitely do.