We said it in our recap of Sons of Anarchy’s season 6 finale, and now we’ll say it again: Every year, EW advocates for Maggie Siff to get an Emmy nomination. We hope this past season’s scene in the park – when Tara is convinced Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is going to kill her, but instead, he decides to set her and their boys free – will finally cinch her one. Here, Siff – a new mom who imagines she’ll “start sniffing around again in the fall” for her next role – talks about that scene, which was named one of the TV season’s 50 Best in the issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I rewatched the finale last night for the first time since it aired, and my stomach is still a little nervous this morning.
MAGGIE SIFF: I know. I had to watch it again recently for the DVD commentary, and Katey [Sagal] and I were a mess once again.
After the finale, you said the park scene was the most important one for Tara in that episode. What conversations did you have with Charlie Hunnam and Kurt Sutter going into it?
For me, the question was really, am I really afraid that he’s going to kill me? And I think Charlie felt similarly: is this really a consideration? Having to dig and find that place where that could be true was the hard work of the episode – finding all of the love that she had for this man in addition to the terror that she has arrived at. So that was some of my conversation with Kurt. And then I also knew it was, for myself, really the last significant scene that you would ever really see between them. There’s the scene in the hotel room and some stuff that follows, but the life of those characters together kind of culminates in that scene. It felt particularly significant for that reason.
Like I said, even knowing that Jax doesn’t want to hurt her, I was anxious again rewatching it. Seeing you turn and realize Jax and the guys are there, those cold faces…
There’s a lot of space that opens up in the imagination when people are profoundly alienated from each other and distanced from each other. Then I start doing things that under any other circumstance would merit the club dealing with the person or the problem in a pretty horrific way. So I knew I had already crossed that line, and in the character’s mind, there was no choice but to run. To turn around and see all of those guys standing there, it was the end game. There was no other way to conceive of it. I think perhaps if it had just been Jax standing there, maybe there would have been a different feeling. But because it was all of them – something I loved about what the guys did was there was this silence. None of them were looking at me with their killer eyes. [Laughs] When you see them coming up on other gangs, they have these very intimidating expressions, but when I turned around and saw them there, it was just this kind of blankness, which ended up being more terrifying in a way. I thought they played that really well. Everything was left to the imagination. I was playing off of Charlie’s expression, which was pretty impenetrable. I was starting to really suspect that the worst was about to happen, and there was nothing coming back at me to really counter that anxiety. And then I was just certain that that’s what was going to happen.
I wanted to talk about your crying in the scene. I’m not sure if it’s something that you think about beforehand – or if you just let whatever happens in the moment happen – but it felt to me like you just always struck the perfect tone. At the beginning, you’re scared but you’re also so sure of what you have to do. There’s such conviction there, that you are strong. And then toward the end, when you’re asking him to let you say goodbye to the boys first, that’s when you lose it a little bit.
Crying is so tricky on camera. I feel like the day was done, and I thought to myself, I cried too much. [Laughs] But what I will say is, I didn’t go in there with the intention of crying. I wanted to be as restrained and subtle as possible – less is usually more. However, when we started playing with it, the tears just came. It’s sort of like when I, Maggie, really put myself in that situation of what would this be like: To have to walk away from this park knowing you’re never going to see your kids again, and that you’re going to die? That is a completely, completely overwhelming feeling. And the feeling of loss is really not for one’s self but for one’s children, I think. So I had every intention of not crying, but I think that the reality of what the circumstances were, well, I hope they merited it. That’s what came out and what felt authentic in the moment.
Also, you know, there’s this language in Sons of Anarchy that Kurt uses that is very tricky sometimes. She is sitting there saying to him things like, “Now your sons will suffer the same fate,” and it’s very kind of heightened, almost operatic language. How do you say those things and have it feel like a person would really use this language? When you follow that to its logical extension, you arrive at a very, very heightened emotional place sometimes.
There’s that moment when you’re telling him that all you see is the violence and that he’s turned into a monster. It felt like Tara wasn’t saying it to be cruel, though – it was just factual.
It was sort of like the floodgates opened, and the inside of her brain comes pouring out. And I was glad to have a chance to say all that because I think for much of this season you see her pursuing her plan – which is pretty manipulative and sketchy – and you have a sense that she’s protecting her children. But this secret of the fact that her husband has become a monster in her mind – that’s not something you’ve heard her, until that moment, say out loud. And yeah, the way I thought about it, it wasn’t about being cruel to Jax or impressing something upon him. It was just the truth. And this is the last chance she thinks she has to tell him the truth.
In the course of one scene, the audience goes from thinking Jax is going to have her killed to believing him when he says he wants her to be a good mother and save their boys. Then we get to the hotel scene: I’ve always wondered if the close-up Kurt did of Jax’s hand squeezing Tara’s arm, whenever you guys are getting ready to kiss, was meant to put that 10 percent of doubt in viewers’ minds. Because for a second, I was like, is he gonna kill her? Especially when Jax’s hands went up around Tara’s neck. Or was that just reminding us that for the entire season, these two people didn’t want to touch each other, and now, they don’t want to let go?
You have to ask Kurt that question, in terms of how he shot it and edited it. I don’t believe that the intention was to make you think twice about whether or not he was going to kill her. I think we wanted to show that they find each other again before she is taken. Kurt wanted it to be a very Romeo and Juliet moment, for the tragedy to be that she’s snatched away just when they’ve found each other again. So I think what we were playing was the tentativeness of touching each other again, being there with each other. We liked that the last time you see them together, you see them in the beginnings of something resembling the start of happiness.
Yes, I loved the hints of smiles from each of you right before you dropped offscreen and onto the bed. Was that something discussed, or something that just happened?
That was something that happened, and then after it happened, we were like, “We like that. We like that one.”
What have fans said to you since the finale aired?
I’m not a big social media person, but in terms of what people have said to me out and about on the street, I get everything from, “I can’t believe they killed you off. How could they do that? I’m done!” to “You had to go.” I saw Katey the other day, and she said she went to a fan gathering, and people were coming up to her with carving forks to sign. People have different investments in different characters, but people were definitely shocked and upset to some degree or other.
Are you asking to read scripts for the final season?
No, no, no, no, no. I have a vague understanding – Kurt and I had talked about what was happening, and he sort of told me some ideas he had about what this season would look like. But I don’t want to read scripts. I want to see it with everybody else. I’m excited. It’s going to be weird and kind of great to just watch it on television.