Following last week’s intense Sons of Anarchy season premiere, Maggie Siff took part in a press call to discuss the start of the sixth season. This is the first of a two-parter in which she discusses Tara’s arc and how it plays into the bigger picture.
With how much Tara has changed since we first met her, Maggie was asked what still surprises her about the character.
“You know, I’ve been joking that Tara’s like the place people go to see their dreams die, so I guess what surprises me is the darker and darker progression of the things that she sees fall away. The thing that surprises me in playing her and in figuring out how to play her are really her reserves of strength and power. Even as her mind is sort of warping and things in her psyche are shifting in a way that I think is really negative and things are kind of breaking, there’s also a fierceness in her that rises up perpetually. That’s the surprise.”
We’ve seen Tara become more like Gemma over the years, and Tara’s prison scene toward the end of “Straw” really showed Tara manifest her Gemma-ness. I asked Maggie what it’s been like for her playing that aspect of her character, becoming the person that Tara is trying to escape and not be like.
“It’s pretty fascinating. There’s something almost magnetizing about Gemma and Tara. The way I’ve been thinking about it recently is Gemma is like this fierce mother figure. She’s just such a powerful matriarch and she loves fiercely and will protect to the death her children, her clan, anything she feels is going to threaten the sanctity of her family. Tara is like this quintessential orphan who’s parentless and she’s been so in need of parents and protectors and people she can look to. So between those two things there’s this magnetism, which is why I think they’re so drawn to each other and repelled by each other.” She went on to say, “Gemma is the only person around who serves that role for Tara. It’s a huge source of conflict because I think while she desperately needs a parent she desperately doesn’t want to become Gemma. It’s had her bouncing back and forth between states of mind over the last six years. It’s really fun to play, especially with Katey, who I love. She’s a very maternal figure but she’s such a fierce actress. We just flip in and out of these modes acting and hating each other [as characters] and then loving each other as people. It’s all there for us to play with. It’s a fun relationship.”
When asked if we’ll see more of this dark side surface this season, or if Tara will have trouble keeping that in check, Maggie responded: “Yes, you’ll see a little bit of that. She spends a lot of this season really scheming and plotting and doing what she has to do to protect herself. Her tactics are somewhat questionable sometimes. So yes, you’ll see her doing some things that are pretty reminiscent of Gemma and they’ll make you cringe slightly. I think she’s also learned that if she’s going to survive in this world, which she’s determined to do, then she has to get a little bit dirty.
Tara may have started as the “moral compass” on the series but the character has definitely headed down a darker road. Maggie told us that although Kurt Sutter wanted to see Tara become more like Gemma, he didn’t know how it would happen.
“I think it’s been pretty organic. I think [Sutter] always wanted to see Tara progress towards Gemma and towards assuming the role of matriarch. I think he didn’t know how that was going to happen, in particular because she was a moral compass, which I think was not necessarily what he anticipated for the character. I think it was a combination of who I was as an actor and some beginning notions that he had about her. Early on the thing that he would say to me is that he realized that [Tara] was like the window through which the audience could see these people. Like the audience, [Tara] loved this man but knew better, and that’s sort of the audience’s position as well, you love them but you know that they’re bad people. I think getting from A to Z in terms of that slide, she can’t actually become a Gemma-like figure without losing some of her moral ground, you know.
“That’s the thing that ultimately will always distinguish her from Gemma and ultimately the thing that keeps her on – it’s not firm moral ground, but I think it’s slightly firmer moral ground – is that she really wants to provide a safe life for her children. She ultimately doesn’t want to live the life of a criminal within the world of that kind of danger and violence. This season, what you see is a Tara who’s progressed to a place where she knows how to use the tactics of Gemma. She has violence in the aspects of her nature that she now draws upon or that rise up more quickly, but her goal is different. Her goal will always be different.”
Is this a point from which Tara can ever return? Maggie responded, “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think she hopes she can turn back, but I don’t know if she can turn back. In some ways this season what I see in the character is somebody who doesn’t really care that much about herself anymore. She’s just really interested in figuring it out for her children. So much has been lost that her hopes and dreams, who knows where they are or what can happen with them. They’re off to the side now.”
Tara has gone from healing people as a doctor to intentionally hurting people who get in her way. Was Tara being a doctor actually good prep for Club life? Here’s what Maggie had to say: “You know, from the beginning I thought that the thing that’s interesting about her being a doctor and being a surgeon is she’s somebody who has to be capable of performing surgery, of dealing with the blood and the guts of life. To me, that means that she’s somebody who’s really fierce and tough. Even though it was for good and she’s a healer and she really identified herself as a healer and she has a gift, I could also connect it to the part of her that came from that world and was able to deal with life and death and darkness and shadow and light. In some intuitive way she’s somebody who is comfortable taking life into her hands, life and death into her hands, so I kind of felt like that’s an interesting coin to flip through the series, to see her going between these places of healing and destruction. I think she’s lost right now because she’s lost her ability to be a doctor and a healer. She has to turn her attention to other things and it’s really wreaking havoc on her and bringing up the darker parts of her nature. I don’t think that part of her that is a healer has been destroyed.”
Fans of SOA, myself included, were not happy with Jax cheating on Tara in the Season 6 premiere. Maggie was asked about her reaction to that happening, plus this rift that’s developed between Tara and Jax.
“I’m glad to hear that fans were upset. I was upset as well. You know, I think that [Tara and Jax are] in such a disconnected place from each other right now. At the end of Season 5, we saw incredible disillusionment on both their parts with the other person. I think Jax is feeling the sting of her betrayal in terms of trying to set things up so that the kids would be given to Wendy, and she was feeling the sting of his betrayal in terms of a real lack of support for her priorities in terms of getting out and getting her kids into a safe place, and also some of the more violent and terrifying aspects of his nature that were revealed to her at the end of last season.” She added, “They’re on different planes right now and she can’t even see him when she’s in prison. What I was playing with in the premiere episode is that she’s using the time to really collect her thoughts and create a plan for herself in terms of what she’s going to do to protect herself and her kids because nobody else is going to help her, and that includes Jax. Therefore, she can’t expose herself to him because it would be too difficult.”
Even though Tara and Jax have been on a rocky, twisted road, many viewers still really want to see them get through it all and end up together. Maggie commented on whether it’s naïve for fans to keep rooting for them.
“One of the things about the show that really pulls people in is that no matter how awful things get between people, there is this deep and passionate, kind of violently passionate love between the characters, within the family, between Jax and Tara. It’s hard not to, on a base level, root for that. I think I root for that. I think we all root for that. That said, it’s such a brutal and brutalizing world, god knows how it’s all going to end. I think it’s natural and I think it’s set up for us to root for that.”
Up to this point, a lot of the storylines have dealt with bad people doing bad things to even worse people, so in a way, the viewers could keep rooting for Jax and SAMCRO. Now that this school shooting has taken place in this world, Maggie was asked if it is harder to rationalize what these characters are doing now.
“Yes. I think Kurt was interested in that, like really bringing it home for them in a way that can’t be escaped. I think there have [also] been other moments. I know for me there have been other moments. I found that moment last year when Jax slammed the needle into Wendy’s arm, for myself and my character, I should say, I was like ‘How do I come back from that?’ With the school shooting, Kurt opened up a huge can of worms for the show and for the characters on the show. I know he really wants to see it through to the end. Hopefully it’ll pay off in a way that people can get behind.
That event sets in motion the events of these final two seasons (if the series does end as planned following its seventh season). Will that shooting affect Tara’s trajectory? She answered, “For much of this season she’s a little bit off to the side figuring out for herself how she’s going to get out. I mean, yes, it does absolutely affect her in a side fashion, just the way everything is woven together thematically. There are several tactics that she tries throughout the season in terms of what she can do for herself to help her out from under her legal problems but also to help get her kids out of [this life]. She does start to intersect with that storyline in ways that I can’t actually get into. I think it affects everybody because the law sneaks in in a very powerful way. Everybody’s caught up in ramifications.”
The law sneaking in has a lot to do with Lee Toric’s vendetta against SAMCRO as he seeks retribution for the death of his sister. Toric is the reason Tara landed in prison, and he paid a visit to her in which he tried to persuade her to turn rat. Maggie commented on whether Tara and Toric’s paths will cross again this season: “Yes, a little bit. He’s such a worthy adversary for the club this year and Donal is so fantastic. I’ve enjoyed working with him so much. Yes, as you saw in the premiere, [Toric] is working every angle. That continues to happen.”
In the second part, Siff discusses the second episode, “One One Six” – particularly the upcoming Tara/Jax reunion. Check back for that tomorrow!
Photo Courtesy of FX