10 Wild Facts About Sons of Anarchy

FX Networks
FX Networks

Influenced by Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy centered around a family (both blood-related and not) of grim reaper patch-wearing outlaw bikers in a club known as SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original), based in the fictional town of Charming, California. The show debuted on September 3, 2008 and, over the course of seven seasons, became FX’s top-rated drama.

Katey Sagal played the matriarch, Gemma, whose Harley-riding son Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is the "Hamlet" character; he’s caught between pleasing his mother and his stepfather, Clay (Ron Perlman), and honoring his dead father John, a founding member of SAMCRO.

SOA courted controversy because of its grizzly scenes of violence, everything from a tattoo being burned off to a character being forked to death. But the show’s creator, Kurt Sutter, explained: “For me, all that violence—because it’s not who I am and it’s not where I come from—it’s all fantasy. I might as well be writing about wizards and fairies,” he told The Hollywood Reporter

Before creating SOA, Sutter had been a producer and writer on The Shield. Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, recommended Sutter to producers Art and John Linson. They pitched Sutter a show about outlaw bikers and allowed him to build it from scratch. After 92 episodes of family drama (and multiple major character deaths), the show aired its final episode on December 9, 2014—though FX will premiere a spinoff, Mayans MC, this week. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the beloved biker drama.

1. KURT SUTTER WROTE THE PART OF GEMMA WITH KATEY SAGAL IN MIND.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter and Married... With Children star Katey Sagal married in 2004 and have since collaborated on several projects together. In an interview with NPR, Sagal said Sutter wrote the character of Gemma with her and their family dynamic in mind.

“If you asked him, what he would tell you probably is when he came into my life, I already had two children, and he’s their stepparent, and I was very protective of my children," Sagal said. "... He hadn’t been around that kind of energy quite so much, so I think that’s what was the springboard for Gemma. It was not so much the heinous things she does; it was that at her core, her motivation is her children, is her child. At any cost, she will protect him and her club.”

2. RON PERLMAN WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY CLAY.

The original pilot featured Scott Glenn as Clay Morrow, president of SAMCRO. “The network decided that they weren’t getting what they were hoping to get and ... they loved the series enough [that] if they thought they found the right actor, they were willing to reshoot the pilot and restart the clock and green light the show for a whole first season, which is 13 episodes,” Perlman told NPR. The producers felt Glenn was too subtle and not dynamic enough. “So I understood going into it that, you know—that they were looking for a more operatic version of this guy,” Perlman said. “I happened to be free that week.”

Perlman auditioned for the show, unsure if he could play a character that lacked duality. “He has no feminine side whatsoever and I really didn’t know whether I could, whether I had the chops to pull it off,” Perlman told Collider.

3. TARA WAS “THE MORAL CENTER” OF THE SHOW.

Maggie Siff in 'Sons of Anarchy'
Prashant Gupta, FX Networks

With chatting with Entertainment Weekly, Maggie Siff—who played Dr. Tara Knowles—agreed that her character was "the moral center of the show" for part of its run. “I think Kurt used her as a window, through which the audience could experience the club and the life of the club,” she said. “You could see her loving these people in spite of herself, in spite of knowing better. I think she remained a moral center in that she continues to be one of the only in the world who experiences real emotional conflict around the violence and the difficulty and the pain of the life and wanting something better for her children.”

4. PEOPLE LOVED TO GIVE CHARLIE HUNNAM KNIVES.

On the show, Charlie Hunnam's character Jax carries around a Ka-Bar knife. Hunnam said knives were part of biker culture, and California allows people to carry them. “You’re allowed to carry a knife with a no longer than six-inch blade," Hunnam told GQ. "Still, six inches is a pretty big knife!”

That signature accessory became a popular gift from Hunnam's fans. “I have dozens of Ka-Bars that military guys have given me and I’ve been told that a couple of them ‘have been used.’ Which is a little bit ... grimy, you know? I’m not sure about the energy of that.” 

5. SUTTER RAN INTO ISSUES WITH STANDARDS & PRACTICES.

Because FX forbade the use of the F-word, characters replaced it with “Jesus Christ.” “There was one season where they were, like, counting my ‘Jesus Christs’ because somebody on the Fox food chain thought it was so blasphemous,” Sutter told Entertainment Weekly.

John Landgraf, CEO of FX, took issue with some of Sutter's ideas, including the castration of a clown—Kurt wanted the visual, FX did not. “I totally acknowledge the need for violence,” Landgraf said. “It’s a violent world and a violent show. He’s portraying really tragic, dark consequences of violence. Kurt wants to show it in very graphic detail, and I want to leave more to the imagination.”

Sutter told GQ that all of the violence had to be organic, not gratuitous. “When we’re f***ing burning a tattoo with a blowtorch off a guy’s back, that is one of the most extreme decisions these guys may be making, but it’s real to the world,” he said. “I love being able to do things like that, and playing in worlds that allow me to do that.”

6. SAGAL WORRIED HER CHARACTER WOULD ALIENATE FANS.

Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman in 'Sons of Anarchy'
Prashant Gupta, FX Networks

[SPOILER ALERT] During the season six finale, Gemma unexpectedly murders Jax’s wife, Tara, using a carving fork. “When I first realized that Gemma was going to kill Tara, I had a moment like, oh s**t, man, nobody’s going to wanna see Gemma again. She’s killing beloved Tara!” Sagal told People. Fortunately, the death didn’t alienate fans like Sagal thought it would. “The very next day, I went to do an autograph session and people were showing up with forks for me to sign,” Sagal said. “And I thought, 'Oh, okay.'”

7. SUTTER LIKED THE IRONY OF MOTORCYCLE CULTURE.

Sutter, who rides motorcycles in real life, told The Verge that he'd always been "fascinated by the irony of motorcycle clubs. Because they say they’re all about 'ride free' and 'f*** the establishment.' But within the structure of these outlaw clubs, there are more rules and regulations than you or I have. They’re like little military units. And I love the irony of that."

Sutter further explained that the club represents the ideal of how Americans “take care of our own,” which is the theme of the show. “Yes, it’s about family, but it’s also about community and village and the organization you belong to … That’s part of the positive stereotype we represent as a nation—that sense of no matter how f**ked up or damaged these people are, and they are, there’s something wholly familial about them.”

8. STEPHEN KING WAS A MAJOR FAN, AND MADE A CAMEO.

Stephen King was a big fan of the show, writing in an Entertainment Weekly column that “it’s one of those shows that seems to have gotten better as it goes along.” Sutter contacted him and asked him to appear in an episode.

“He assured me that he’d write me a suitably nasty part (in various films I’ve been stuck playing a series of mentally challenged country bumpkins); most important of all, he said he’d put me on a bitchin’ Harley. How could I say no?” King wrote on his website. In the season three episode “Caregiver,” King played a cleaner named Bachman—a reference to Richard Bachman, a pen name King used to go by.

9. WALTON GOGGINS CONVINCED SUTTER TO LET HIM BE TRANSGENDER.

Walton Goggins in 'Sons of Anarchy'
FX Networks

Sutter invited some former cast members from The Shield to cameo on Sons of Anarchy, but he was initially against having Walton Goggins appear. “It would be very hard for our audience to accept them as anybody else,” Goggins told Entertainment Weekly. “I called and said, ‘That’s bulls**t! Come on!’ And we went back and forth, like how would we do it? I wouldn’t want to do it as anything that would be compared to The Shield. And then I just said to Kurt, ‘I’ll do it if I can be a transgender. I would like to play a transgender.’ He said, ‘No, you wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Oh yes, absolutely, I would. Let’s do it as a transgender.’”

For six episodes, between 2012 and 2014, Goggins played Venus Van Dam, a play on Goggins’s Shield alias Cletus Van Damme. At one point, Venus began a romance with SAMCRO member Tig (Kim Coates).

10. CHARLIE HUNNAM HAD A DIFFICULT TIME LETTING GO OF JAX.

Hunnam played Jax for eight years. When it came time to end the show, he said it was emotional for him to separate himself from the character. “I found myself going back to set a lot,” he told Glamour. “I knew the security guards and for a couple of days said, ‘Oh, I forgot something,’ so they’d let me onto the set, and I’d just walk around at night because I wanted to be in that environment and go through a personal process of saying goodbye. After a couple of nights I didn’t really need the alibi to get in, and then after a while I just said, ‘OK, enough, this is done.’”

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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