CONFESSIONS OF A FLAWED FEMALE BADASS (NOVEMBER 2014)
When I was first asked to audition for a new female character on the final season of Sons of Anarchy, I wasn't exactly caught up on all six previous seasons.
I remember back in 2008 watching the early episodes, surprised by the drama about a motorcycle-club culture with which I was not personally familiar. Always a fan of Katey Sagal (whom I'd worked with in 1999 in the very different context of a Lifetime TV movie), I was intrigued to watch the fierce and seldom friendly colors of her character, Gemma Teller. The combustible writing of creator Kurt Sutter and the world of mayhem he began to build was compelling to me in the strangest of ways. I became oddly invested in the world of SAMCRO and Charming and the motley crew of unusually dangerous, formidable characters. It was not a show typical to my sensibilities, and as I watched, I couldn't disregard my own conflicts as a woman — alert to and aware of sticky words like "objectification" and "sexualization" and the all-pervasive "male gaze." As a viewer, those were precarious and potentially compromising concepts.
Such extreme violence, such avid and obvious masculine themes like motorcycles, guns, prostitutes, and vengeance played out in dark and disturbing ways: a vicious and controlling matriarch whose ever-so-slightly sexualized love and obsession for her son was a central axis of the show; deceit everywhere infected the actions of each tortured character in his or her own way; women as "old ladies" and "crow-eaters" scantily clad and willing to offer sex as recreation and entertainment.
And yet passionate, fervent love existed between central relationships, as did abiding loyalty to family, club, and home.
The women of SAMCRO, who were as flawed and conflicted as the men, powerfully staked claim, driving the narrative and affecting almost every action of the characters around them. I loved the unpredictability of female characters like Tara Knowles, an educated doctor surgically saving lives and then throwing fierce right hooks to protect her man and club, or June Stahl, a beautiful bisexual ATF agent whose villainy was unapologetically kinetic and full of her own agenda of vengeance. Even the porn stars took ownership of their property, taking charge of their objectification by producing, directing, and editing videos of their "creative" exploits.
Nothing about this show was typical. There was so much paradox to digest.
But in the shock and wonderment and mind-numbing sleeplessness of having my own sons early in the Sons of Anarchy's run, I fell behind in all things Charming. I pushed pause, agreeing to revisit the show and analyze later all that complexity and contradiction.
Life kept getting in the way, but I'd like to say that the show came back to me to make me live up to my promise. In late May of this year, when I got the offer to play the role of Sheriff Althea Jarry, I binge-watched Seasons 5 and 6 of SoA. It was addictive and urgent, and I couldn't catch up fast enough. When I finished watching, I jumped fast and hard at the invitation to join this massive feast of a show.
To put on a uniform of authority and the accompanying tactical gear obviously has an empowering effect. As Sheriff Jarry, I stood differently, held my body more erect — solid with my feet firmly grounded, weight low, and body ready. "Command presence" was the phrase I learned when talking to the real women Los Angeles sheriffs I worked with to prepare for the role. The moment I stepped into my wardrobe, I felt stronger, more powerful, and curiously dangerous.
Althea Jarry, like most of the female characters on Sons, is a woman of moral ambiguity. A cop who craves connection, even if with an outlaw, she is willing to play both sides to get what she wants as a sexual woman and as a professional with her own ambitions. As an actress, I relished the opportunity to play a character confused by her own warring compulsions and needs.
An irony about acting I have learned is that playing out the conflicts and contradictions of fiercely flawed and not always likable characters is liberating and empowering. These characters are the most real reflections of us as human beings.
As Sutter and the whole company of writers and directors at Sons of Anarchy have shown, along with the talented actors, it is the gray and gritty areas, the in-between dirty cops and remorseful criminals, the mixed up soup of sex and love and violence — this is where the most interesting meat and marrow of drama is found.
I've wrapped up my role of Sherriff Althea Jarry on SoA. It was a brief moment in the scope of the show's seven years. But my experience as a good/bad cop was rewarding to me as a woman and an actor, but especially as a woman.
The actors I worked with were warm, real, inviting, and inclusive. They are committed to their work and committed to each other, as only a cast of seven shared years together can be. But the women of the cast were notably accepting. Lacking pretense or attitude, willing to share time on screen and on set with no essence of competition; the women of Sons are a superlative bunch.
Sons of Anarchy is a bold and unapologetic show, not made for complacency or strict expectation. Playing Althea Jarry has encouraged me as a woman and an actor to dare to be the same.