SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched Sons of Anarchy‘s season 5 premiere (get Ken Tucker’s take), stop reading now. We talked to actor Kim Coates about Tig’s first run-in with Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau) — and what’s next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did Kurt Sutter tell you that Pope would retaliate for Tig killing his daughter by setting Tig’s daughter Dawn (Rachel Miner) on fire while Tig was forced to watch, or did you find out reading it in the script?
KIM COATES: I was at the Upfronts in New York with him and a bunch of the fellas and Katey [last March], and he just took me aside and said, ‘Get ready.’ I said, ‘You can’t do that. You gotta give me a little bit more than that.’ I honestly had goosebumps and got very emotional just from him telling me what the first episode was gonna be for Tig, let alone thinking about where I’d go with the whole thing.
Tell me how you prepare for a scene like that.
Listen, I’ve been acting a long time. When I read that scene, I can honestly say that I can’t quite remember ever having that feeling. I was scared, I was excited. I’ve never had to do anything quite like that before. One of the first things I did was I went and talked to a really good buddy of mine, Sam Alibrando, who lives across the street from me. He’s a therapist. We do this all the time with certain parts. He really helps me figure out where a person’s mind goes. Because you and I would never have been in a situation like this before. So he really broke it down. See, what I don’t like listening to is when writers go, “And then the person cries.” “Or the person does this.” It’s there [in the script], but it’s not the Bible. I wait and see what happens to me on the day. But I have to say, the way Kurt mentally had thought out Tig’s emotions during the duress of that night happened to be exactly what Sam across the street told me would probably happen to a human being.
So I’m chained up. I can’t get off the chain. I’m going to die. Then to see and feel what they were doing to my little baby in that dumpster. I want to die for her. I don’t die for her. They go ahead with it. I watch them pour gasoline on her. It was unbelievable. When Sutter wrote down after I wipe out the cop and the cleaner “He just finally breaks down,” I can’t tell you how easy that was for me, Kim, to just completely lose it. It was at the end of the night. We did it two or three times. And every time, it just was a release that I never quite felt before as an actor. I’ve gotta give it up for the props guys as well: I’ve had handcuffs on (coughs) as certain characters in a play, let’s keep it at that. And they hurt. Had those boys not figured out a rig to save my wrists, I think I would have ripped my hands right off. They found this rig of this incredible arm-looking material that we put underneath the cuffs so that I could writhe around.
It’s interesting to hear you talk about “He just finally breaks down,” because that was the moment I wanted to ask you about. It seemed purposeful, like that’s when Tig would allow himself to break down.
It really was. Sam went over the things in the mind — with the adrenaline, to the fear, to the numbness, and then to the release. That’s really what the human body would go through in this fight or flight pattern. So it made sense. After we had that great discussion, I didn’t think about it anymore. I just let whatever happened that night happen. We shot it over two nights. Paris Barclay, the director, was very conscious of how to make it as easy physically for Tig as he possibly could. Because we were going there two nights in a row, I didn’t really shower after the first night. I just came home, kept to myself, and slept. The second night turned out to be almost as emotional [filming scenes for episode 2] when the boys come and they see me there at the pit, looking down at my daughter, and I have to explain what happened. I really did clean myself off a lot when that part of the story was finally over for me. Because things happen really fast on this show. I’m in a comatose state. Gemma tries to help me out, but then something happens that just rocks our world, and Kurt just keeps moving forward. There’s no time to reflect, so that’s up to me as Tig to never forget what happened with Dawn. But you gotta keep going. I think that actually helps Tig…. It was tough, man. All the boys on the set were going, “Wow, I can’t wait to see this” or “Take it easy.” And Rachel Miner was phenomenal. It’s just so sad. Jesus Christ.
As a viewer, it’s even more painful to watch the scene a second time, when you know what’s coming.
That’s the epic thing of Kurt and this world. [With Kurt having said he’s plotting the show to go seven seasons], we are definitely on the other side of the mountain now. We’re coming down now. And so Kurt’s just not pulling any punches now. It’s just all in. We’re all in. We’re all f—ed. We’re all trying to continue this club brotherhood, but it’s just breaking up everywhere. Gemma’s a mess. Clay’s a mess. (Laughs) So it’s gonna be really interesting to see how people take to this season for sure.
What do you think Pope brings to the show as a villain? I think the premiere establishes what Kurt’s said all along: he’s a level of gangster they’ve never dealt with before.
We’ve never run into someone quite like this. Adam Arkin’s character Zobelle in season 2 had this incredible twisted KKK s— that we had to deal with, and he had the brains to go along with it, which was kind of off-setting. But Pope is also street, more street than we’ve ever encountered on the other side of the fence. I think what Harold brings to that is this incredible charisma and suit. (Laughs) And I think he smoked about 42 cigars the first night that we met, because he smokes a cigar in that scene. He pulls up in this Lincoln Continental, and you just know Pope’s a different guy.
Harold’s a pro. He was phenomenal as Mercutio in [Baz Luhrmann’s] Romeo + Juliet. I’m a Shakespeare guy. I was the youngest Macbeth ever at 27 when John Neville directed me at Stratford. So Shakespeare means a lot to me, and obviously Sons is very Shakespearian too, right, with the whole Hamlet metaphor. So Harold’s great. I have to say though that I don’t work much with him because I think it’s probably safer for both [our characters] not to be in the same room with each other. When he and I met the first time… There are certain times when you don’t want to see or talk to someone before acting certain moments because it really does add to whatever it is you’re trying to create. I think Harold and I both went there without even intentionally doing so. In the van driving to set, I didn’t want to look at him and he didn’t want to look at me. We stayed away from each other on the set. Then we just let the emotions come out.
Let’s talk about the scene between Tig and Clay. I loved how calm you and Ron Perlman played it. I assume that was purposeful as well.
It was. I think the way Kurt wrote that, it’s sad. It’s like, what happened to us? From the lie that he told me last season, I went off the hook and accidentally killed the wrong girl again — Tig’s pretty good at that. So can you imagine how Tig must feel now that his daughter’s gone from this lie? It doesn’t bode well for Clay and Tig, I’m sure.
Kurt has teased that Jax is the one who’s gonna have to build Tig back up after this. What can you tease about that looking ahead?
At the beginning of this season, Tig’s off the leash. Jax puts me back on the leash. I’m just gonna leave it at that. He pulls me back in. There are a couple of reasons why he does this, but I can’t say what they are.
Last question: I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I’m surprised how much I like Nero (Jimmy Smits). I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
(Laughs) Look at you! Well, Sutter’s a genius at that, right? Just when you think you’ve got something figured out, you don’t have it figured out at all. He does that continually. He continues to top himself. Is there a nicer guy on the planet than Jimmy Smits? I’m not sure. I wish I had more scenes with him. He’s mostly with Gemma and Jax. I can’t say much. But just keep watching. The first two episodes, there’s a lot there. But it is a whole different shoe that he’s gonna put on coming up. It’s pretty incredible.