At the "Sons Of Anarchy" panel at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, Jimmy Smits and Harold Perrineau talked about their guest arcs on the show's fifth season, which arrives Sept. 11 on FX. And after the panel, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series creator Kurt Sutter revealed that the show will likely end after its seventh season.
"We have a sense of it playing out in seven [seasons], Sutter told THR. "At this point, which is not outside the realm of possibility, I think I'd really have to f--- things up not to get seven seasons."
Earlier in the panel, Sutter talked about his vision for concluding the series. "As we came into Season 5, it was really the first season I had to have a very clear sense of what my endgame is. Now I have to write that endgame," Sutter said.
Charlie Hunnam, who plays Jax Teller, the conflicted biker at the heart of the show, wasn't at the panel, but Sutter was asked if the show could ever function without all three of the lead characters -- Jax, Gemma and Clay. "I don't think the show continues without Jax, it's his journey."
Introducing his new gang-member character Nero Padilla, Smits quipped, "I'm just happy I don't have to wear a suit."
"It was a character that I'd been thinking about for a couple of seasons," Sutter said, "and he had taken a couple of different shapes and forms. We landed on the idea of Nero, who is an outlaw from a different environment" and a potential mentor for Jax, the conflicted biker at the heart of the show.
Perrineau said his character, a criminal named Damon Pope, brought back memories of growing up in a tough Brooklyn environment. He said that a relative recently told him, "I'm so glad you made it" out of the neighborhood, the actor said.
"She didn't think I was tough enough to make it out of there. It was really extreme circumstances," and those memories allowed him to find a way into the character, the "Lost" veteran reflected.
Pope is "a guy who had come out of the streets and really changed the perception of who he was," Sutter said. He wanted an actor who could portray refinement and vulnerability while standing up in front of a city council meeting in a suit and tie, and yet also had an ability to "turn dark and do some of the things that he does in the first couple of episodes. There's a handful of actors who can pull that off, and Harold is one of them."
In the fifth season, Katey Sagal's character, Gemma Teller-Morrow, has split from Jax's stepfather, Clay Morrow, and hooks up with Smits' character.
"Gemma's sort of lost all the things that matter to her -- her marriage is falling apart and her son is at the head of the [club's] table but her daughter-in-law is giving her a problem ... She's falling apart," Sagal said. With Nero, "she feels he's a kindred spirit and a safe place. They just have a lot of chemistry, it's one of those unspoken things."
As for Clay, he begins the season looking pretty sick, and he's very much on the outside of the Sons, the motorcycle club he co-founded.
"It's the same guy but a completely different set of circumstances," said actor Ron Perlman, who plays the patriarch. He added that he enjoyed taking on the portrayal of a changed Clay. Getting that acting challenge was "very fortunate," he noted.
In writing Clay's arc this season, Sutter said he asked himself, "What does Clay look like broken? What does his remorse look like? What does that look like from an alpha-male, narcissistic Machiavellian like Clay Morrow?" The goal wasn't to get the audience to like the character again, it was just to create a story from the "truth of the circumstances he's created."
Ashley Tisdale and Joel McHale are also among Season 5's guest stars, but the most unusual cameo could be that of biker Chuck Zito, whom Sutter had castigated with typical bluntness a couple of years ago on his blog after Zito filed a lawsuit claiming he had the original idea for "Sons Of Anarchy."
The blog post "was horrendous, I completely humiliated the dude, which, if you know Chuck, is just insane," Sutter said Saturday. "I felt really bad as the [lawsuit] was going on, I realized I had completely mischaracterized Chuck. He truly felt wronged. I felt bad."
After the lawsuit was thrown out of court, Sutter had lunch with Zito, who showed up in a Sons of Anarchy "cut" or leather jacket.
"I thought, either this is really bad" and he still felt he was owed ownership of the show, or he's a fan of the drama," Sutter said. It turned out Zito was "a superfan and we had a great lunch" and ultimately he asked Zito to appear on the show.