A combination of brutal, brilliant storytelling and stunning performances have made SoA one of the most underrated TV shows currently on air. Digital Spy caught up with star Maggie Siff, who plays Dr Tara Knowles, to get the lowdown on season four.
Where do we find Tara at the start of season four?
"At the start of season four, Tara is in a pretty good place. The boys have been in prison for a year. Things have been pretty peaceful and quiet in Charming and Tara has had a baby. It's been all quiet on the Western Front as they say. She's in a good and a clear place. Having a child has been great for her in terms of knowing what she wants and realising that she needs to find a way out of Charming."
And what's the latest status of Jax and Tara's relationship?
"They are in a pretty good place at the start of the season. As you can imagine on this show and in Charming things don't exactly go smoothly for them. They face their challenges. But in general they are more united than ever. I think one of the key things from Kurt's (Sutter, showrunner/creator) set-up in season four is that Jax has had a lot of time to reflect. He's really determined that the most important thing to him is family."
Fans of the show are really passionate about Jax and Tara. Do you pay much attention to that?
"I don't really know what the criticism and praise is for Jax and Tara's relationship. As to why people are attached to it, I feel like the whole nature of the show is based around Jax's struggles to do right. I think the audience identifies with Tara because even though she is in this situation and place, she knows better. The audience's love for this show and Tara's love for Jax runs in parallel. People love watching this gang of bad biker boys and she loves Jax. It is a conflicted and passionate love."
The show's female characters are a lot more interesting and three-dimensional than many women's roles on TV. Was that what attracted you to the show?
"I heard Kurt recently say that even though the show is very much about the lives of the men, it is very much told through the eyes of the women. I think he's created female characters who can really live with lots of contradictions and conflict. These women are smart enough to perceive everything that is happening. I think it's interesting that it's a man's world in this club, but these women have an incredible amount of strength and that makes them interesting characters."
Did you do any research into women in the biker society?
"It's hard to find a lot of research about it. And the little that I found didn't lead me to believe that these characters were based on a reality. It's not a pretty world in any sense, but I think Kurt may have taken a few more imaginative liberties with the women than he did in other places. Not because it's not true, but just because there's not enough information out there."
When did you realise this was going to become a really popular show? Did you know it was great from the first script?
"I thought it was. I don't think anyone thought it would be quite as big a hit as it has become. I started on the show off the back of season one of Mad Men. For me, when I read it, it felt so different to anything that I had read and that was a really good sign. Kurt is a really good writer, not just of dialogue, but the descriptions and movement. You can feel the adrenaline in it. It reads like a high drama, almost like a Greek drama. I was intrigued by the whole thing. It's a window into a world we've never seen on television before. But I don't think anyone ever expects to be in a hit TV show. You get used to doing so much stuff that falls away, so if something kicks off it's always surprising."
What is Kurt Sutter like to work with? He seems like quite a big character...
"Kurt has such a strong online persona because he is always tweeting and blogging. And he had such a strong voice as a writer and a teller of these stories. But interpersonally, Kurt is so sweet. He is really, really sweet and soft-spoken. That's not to say he is a totally different person, but I think he just has so much respect for his actors and everyone working on this show. He really trusts everyone these days and is really collaborative with his work. He's a lovely guy. He's a lovely guy, who likes to stir the pot!"
Do you think the show deserves more awards and critical attention than it gets?
"I do. I do. I don't think there's anything else like this on television. And also I think we've got an amazingly talented group of artists working on this show and I just hope people are aware of that. I think this show is very popular around the world, but I also think it's a little less popular within the industry. I think we're not the favourite show of the people who work on giving out these awards. So there is a discrepancy between what's happening in the world and what's happening in the awards community. Kurt has also made a lot of noise about it, which I don't think had actually helped. But I don't think any of us actually care that much. To be in a popular show that people love and are passionate about is the really gratifying thing."
What do you find hardest about playing Tara?
"I feel like Tara is always suffering from something. She always has some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. It just never ends. That can grow a little wearisome sometimes. I think the fourth season was really exciting for the character and me because there are some real turns that the character is taking. She has lived in a lot of fear over the last three seasons and personally I've wondered, 'Jeez, when do I get to stop feeling so afraid all the time?'"
"He's great. He's such a hardworking actor. I love working with him because I feel like when we show up together we are going to find our way through. Even if we don't know what we're doing, if we have a problem with a scene or the writing. If I get confused or tired, I always know with Charlie we'll find a way through. There's something about being able to work with someone like that, which is so gratifying. It's such a relief to have that sort of consistent experience. He's so sweet and lovely as well.
"Also, he had a great camaraderie on this show with the guys. They are constantly taking the p*ss out of each other all day long. So I feel like when he comes over to my side of the fence and he gets to work with me, he gets to relax and show a different side of himself. I think he likes that."
You worked on Mad Men before SoA. Did it make it easier leaving that show knowing you were moving on to another great series?
"I knew that Mad Men was going to be a one-season arc from the start. I was sad to leave the show because I loved that character and working on the show and the people. But during season one the show really hadn't taken off in any way, shape or form. I don't think anyone predicted that it would become the success that it has become. At the time it felt like I was moving from one great show to another rather than leaving a hit show. I felt like I was having a pretty good year as an actress."
Do you still watch Mad Men?
"I see them around and I'm friends with a few of the guys. But yes, I've watched every single episode and I absolutely love it. I do take a particular pleasure in watching it having been on the inside. I think everyone has that certain aspect when watching TV shows of liking the familiarity and the characters feeling like your friends. With Mad Men, I get that doubled because those guys really are my friends.
"Also I have so much respect for Matt Weiner and the way he has continued to reinvent that world every season. I just love tuning in and having that shift where you feel you're entering that world."
Whose fashion did you prefer - Rachel Menken Katz or Tara Knowles?
"Yeah, I guess Tara is quite the dresser Rachel Menken Katz was. I do miss the style, but I don't miss the amount of time in wardrobe. I'm a lot more comfortable in Tara's clothing than Rachel Menken's clothing."
Sons of Anarchy season four starts on Wednesday, January 18 at 10pm on 5USA