She had it coming!
In Tuesday’s penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) gunned down his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), after discovering she was the one who brutally murdered his wife.
PEOPLE caught up with Sagal, 60, to talk about the death scene, and what life with her husband and SOA creator Kurt Sutter has been like now that the FX drama is nearing its series finale.
I guess it was always safe to assume that Gemma would last until this season because she’s such a central character, right?
As we’ve seen before, central figures have lost it much earlier than Gemma. We lost Clay in season six, so nobody was really safe. You are never quite sure when you are going to go. I knew I had made it to the seventh season, and then Kurt said it would be toward the end.
Was the plan always to have Jax kill Gemma execution-style?
There were lots of conversations about what happens to her before it was finally decided how she would die. For a character like Gemma, even to live is like, what’s worse? At the point you see her in the episode, death is a relief. It all caught up to her. By forming that, then there were conversations about what would be the most fitting, most horrible way for her to die.
What was it like that day, shooting that scene?
Charlie [Hunnam] and I cried a lot. It’s how Sons of Anarchy has always been. Everybody goes there. I remember right before I walk out of that living room and toward the rose garden, Charlie and I just hugged each other, really hugged each other, because it was also goodbye for Katey and Charlie after seven years. It was very emotional in a beautiful way. It wasn’t torturous. It was kind of a relief. We’ll all been building to this moment for this last season, and have all been in our own forms of denial by not really dealing with it ending. But on that day, there was no turning back. It was extremely emotional.
Why did she tell Jax that she loved Tara? Was that really the truth?
She adored Tara. That was not a premeditated killing that happened, though Gemma is not beyond premeditation. It was really an act of rage. It was out of a perfect storm moment where she thought that her was son was being taken down, the club was being taken down, her boyfriend broke up with her and she was super high. I think that in her right frame of mind, she wouldn’t have killed Tara. When she finally came to out of that, she was shocked just as anyone else when she found out that Tara didn’t turn anybody in. I think she absolutely adored Tara and continued to. That’s why she was talking to her [ghost] this season, making sure she knew the kids were okay. It was kind of a crazy Gemma thing, but she also felt very bonded to Tara.
So Gemma got over the idea that Tara had more control over Jax than she did?
I think that was always sort of their struggle. As you saw through the years, it would come and go, but overriding it all, I imagine if she’d been able to get that info first … that Tara never actually turned the club in … she would have made peace with Tara.
Why did Gemma say to Jax, ‘You have to do this, it’s who we are, sweetheart’?
I think she had been resigned about it ever since she headed to her father’s, ever since episode 11 when Nero [Jimmy Smits] found out that she killed Tara. She has certain calm about her, as you see in that last shot in episode 11 when she is driving out of town. She’s been carrying this secret for so long, the jig’s up! She doesn’t really know what’s going to go down. But she is on the journey of closure. She knows what’s going to happen. When she says, ‘This is who we are,’ she’s helping her son one more time. It’s kind of endearing. She’s sort of saying to him, you have to do this because this is the only way this will get done. We are outlaws. This is how we go out. You notice over seven years, nobody has ever gotten sick! Everybody goes out in a violent outlaw sort of way. That’s who they are.
Does Jax deserve to die now?
I think the bigger question should be can he tolerate living in this world that he created? I don’t know if it’s about deserving it from those around him. It’s the struggle within himself. Now that the truth is out, the carnage and all the horrible repercussions of that lie (Gemma killing Tara, not a rival gang) were really at the hand of Jax. He took that lie and ran with it. Jax is the one with a conscience. Once he lost Tara, who was his moral compass, he veered left.
What a journey this must have been for you. Fans went from rooting for Gemma to reviling her.
The whole thing has just been amazing. I really loved Gemma, even in all her heinous doings. It’s interesting how many people have remained loyal to her. She’s just a badass. In her own way she speaks her truth. She’s about loyalty. She’s about good things. I don’t really think about what the audience thinks. When I first realized that Gemma was going to kill Tara, I had a moment like, oh s—, man, nobody’s going to wanna see Gemma again. She’s killing beloved Tara! But the very next day, I went to do an autograph session and people were showing up with forks for me to sign. Like the way I killed Tara. And I thought, oh, okay.
What’s it like around the Sagal-Sutter household now that there is no Sons of Anarchy?
We reached a very nice balance where we didn’t talk about it all time. Kurt has already jumped into The Bastard Executioner because that’s what he does. In his way, that’s his way of dealing with that door closing. I think he feels very satisfied with this coming to an end. And I do, as well. I’ve jumped right into a movie. We keep doing what we do. Luckily we have family and children and all the things that balance your life. Nobody is like, sad. It’s been such a great ride and we have no regret. I wouldn’t say it ended too soon and I didn’t feel like it went too long. It ended at the right time. There’s something really great about that.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing the movie called Bleed for This that’s based on the true life story of a boxer named Vinny Pazienza. I play his mom. It’s completely different. I’m blonde! It’s period thing, a really good thing.
What’s going to happen to the SOA clubhouse table?
Paris [Barclay, one of the executive producers] said it should go in the Smithsonian. I don’t know where it goes. But it’s not coming to our house.
What are you keeping of Gemma’s?
In the pilot, they made her a brown leather coat, so I took that coat because it was her first piece of wardrobe and it really helped to form the character.