Sons of Anarchy blasted biker culture to the forefront of viewers’ minds for seven seasons. The show was dramatic, the characters were cool, and the bikes were loud. The sex, drugs, and violence were everything you could ask for in a TV show about an outlaw motorcycle club. The show was even popular enough to earn itself a spinoff, Mayans M.C., which is reasonable given the extensive outlaw world the writers built for the original series.
It was also fairly influential off-screen. Thanks to Sons of Anarchy’s popularity, people who had never touched two wheels to pavement were wearing leather from head to toe and wrecking Harleys everywhere, while motorcycle clubs popped up as a million wannabes decided they were the next Jax Teller. The Sons of Anarchy Redwood Originals (SAMCRO) passed their aesthetic on through memorabilia that you can still see on fledgling bikers six years after the fact. The show had criminals and redemptions, murder and romance, but how much of the Sons of Anarchy world is really accurate?
Sons of Anarchy got some things right
For a TV drama, Sons of Anarchy was more accurate than most people would think. The members of SAMCRO loved motorcycles and rode them whenever possible. The members were bonded. They had a clubhouse and club meetings were the patch-holders would vote on important club business. One aspect that the show absolutely nailed was the structure within the MC. According to CycleFish, biker clubs have hierarchical structures just like that in the show, with positions like President, VP, Treasurer, Sergeant at Arms, Prospect, etc.
The Sons of Anarchy were technically an outlaw MC and would be considered as such outside of the show. Now, being an outlaw has nothing to do with breaking laws and committing crimes. All it takes for an MC to be considered an outlaw club is to make your own bylaws instead of following the rules of the American Motorcycle Association. Outlaws are the 1 percent of riders who don’t submit to AMA rules, hence the term “1%er.” They’re outlaws, and they are criminals. They’re not outlaws because they’re criminals.
The aesthetic was pretty on point, as well. Outlaw bikers tend to wear denim and leather. They tend to be tattooed. They love Harleys, and they’ll party like there’s no tomorrow. And, most of their clubs tend to be white. You’ll notice that most outlaw biker gangs are white, and maybe Hispanic, but they rarely ever admit Black bikers into their ranks. SAMCRO had a bylaw against this. It’s a sad truth, but racism still has a lot of pull in MC culture. The show got that one right, too.
Some aspects of the show are purely for entertainment
As one alleged 1%er points out in a Quora response, he finds the show to be “utter nonsense” when it comes to accurately portraying MC and outlaw biker culture. For one, as he explains, Gemma Teller-Marrow has way too much influence in the club. According to Motorcycle Philosophy, most MCs view women as the property of their members, so a character like Gemma wouldn’t have much of a say in club business at all.
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Meanwhile, the crime portrayed is just unrealistic. Sure, outlaw motorcycle clubs have been known to commit a little crime here and there. Some of them have even succumbed to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) with which SAMCRO was threatened in Sons of Anarchy, but no organized crime syndicate in the world would be able to get away with the 153 murders that the Sons committed in the seven seasons the show ran. With numbers that large, no federal agency is going to give them a chance to turn things legit, and the club’s not going to scare the Feds off by murdering their agents. Of course, the violence and evasion were needed to get the desired over-the-top drama viewers want in a TV show.
Motorcycle clubs are like brotherhoods: Everyone has to trust each other. There’s no way an MC in the real world would continue to follow Jax Teller with all of the manipulating and backstabbing the guy did over the years. Nor would they trust him after he was working with cops to go legit. But it’s not like they were going to get rid of the main character, and main hunk, of the show for something as petty as realism.
Diehard Sons of Anarchy fans probably already know quite a bit of trivia about FX’s crime drama, like how Katey Sagal, the actress who plays Gemma Teller Morrow, is married to the show’s creator, Kurt Sutter. But the much-cherished operatic biker series has far more hidden depths and details that fans might not know about.
Airing from 2008 until 2014, the show ran for seven gloriously bloody seasons until it reached its natural and satisfying conclusion. And in the unpredictable, thrilling journey between the start and end of Sons of Anarchy, there are countless fascinating anecdotes that paint a full portrait of how the show came to be, the people who brought it to life, and how it came to end.
Both on and off set, Sons of Anarchy was a show full of tight brotherly bonds and unexpected jolts of tragedy, and the series has plenty of untold truths that are definitely worth discovering.
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
Kurt Sutter was inspired by the Hell’s Angels
In the show’s first season, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is introduced as struggling with the pressures of being the heir apparent of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original). It’s something made all the worse for the kid when he stumbles across some writings by his late father (and club founder) which confirm Jax’s suspicions that the club has become the opposite of what was originally envisioned.
In a 2008 interview, showrunner Kurt Sutter confirmed this comes directly from the history of the Hell’s Angels. “They went from being this fun-loving fraternity to pretty much an organized-crime syndicate,” Sutter said. ” I thought, ‘What if that first guy who put the jacket on his back and said, ‘Hey, let’s go out, have a few beers and start some trouble,’ how would that guy feel about what the club eventually became?”
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And thus, Sons of Anarchy was born. But to really drill into the tensions of such a club for seven pulpy seasons, Sutter also took inspiration from “the irony of motorcycle clubs,” meaning how they represent certain American values (“we take care of our own”) while aggressively rebelling against “the man.” Of course, while they claim to be rebels, they’re not exactly free. “[Motorcycle clubs] say they’re all about ‘ride free’ and ‘f*** the establishment,'” Sutter told The Verge. “But within the structure of these outlaw clubs, there are more rules and regulations than you or I have.”
Hamlet served as a creative framework for Sons of Anarchy
By now the whole “based on Hamlet” thing has become an ingrained part of Sons of Anarchy’s mythology, but it isn’t exactly correct. As Sutter once told Collider, “It’s not like we have the play up on a board, with plot points that we try to follow.” Instead, the play was used to inform “the journey of Jax’s character” as “a guy coming into his manhood.” In other words, he’s a dude who finds himself at odds with the way his stepfather is running his birthright towards a dark direction he doesn’t agree with.
However, Sutter has also revealed that Hamlet served as a tonal reference point for the “operatic nature and pulpiness of the show,” with the play’s themes often overlapping with those of Sons of Anarchy. Though the showrunner has admitted he cringes “a little bit sometimes when people reference all the Shakespearan overtones,” they’re also difficult to avoid in a show where bodies litter virtually every episode and where manipulation, deception, and hierarchy reign supreme.
For example, speaking about Tara’s shocking death in season six — something he’d planned “for a few seasons” — Sutter told The Hollywood Reporter he knew he “wanted Tara’s death to feel like straight-up Shakespearan tragedy.” It’s a tone he appeared to stick with all the way through Jax’s tragic end in the show’s finale.
Charlie Hunnam based Jax on a real-life biker
If Charlie Hunnam’s performance as the pretty-boy-you-don’t-wanna-mess-with biker came across as more authentic than anyone expected, it’s probably because the actor based Jax on the 22 year-old heir apparent of an Oakland based motorcycle club.
Hunnam “spent an enormous amount of time in that world of bikers and clubs and rallies,” and fessed up to The Huffington Post that he “got to know some people really well.” It’s there that the actor met the young biker who would inform the complex and tragic character of Jax, right down to the aesthetics, including the character’s clean white kicks and blue jeans.
Describing him as an “old school outlaw, cowboy … badass gunslinger” for the modern day, Hunnam said the guy was “prototypically perfect” for the character. As the actor explained, “His dad was in the club and had been in the club his whole life. And he was 22. He had 22 birthday parties in the Oakland clubhouse of this motorcycle club. He was the heir apparent, like the history and future of that club.”
But it came at a cost. The biker who served as inspiration for Jax was killed the week after Hunnam left Oakland, right before the show started shooting. The actor still has a necklace from that time which he wears as a memorial.
Hunnam took the role home with him
With such a commitment to the role, it’s no surprise Hunnam got so deep in character that he struggled to leave Jax on set. The British actor revealed to GQ that he put everything he had “into that show”. That includes dressing primarily in plaid and, oh yes, acting like a legit biker on and off the screen.
“I lived it as much as I could,” Hunnam said. “I never got in a car the whole seven years. I was only on my bike and rolling around with a bunch of real bikers and occasionally acting like a maniac.” The line between character and actor was so blurred that Hunnam even rode a Harley Dyna, the same bike as Jax. Hunnam attributes his choice in motorcycles to the fact that the Dyna is simply “the best bike that Harley makes” rather some method decision. But it likely didn’t help him to shake off that SAMCRO scuzz when he went home at the end of the day.
It also made saying goodbye to the character intensely difficult for Hunnam who compared it to feeling “like a genuine bereavement.” Speaking to Glamour about the emotional process, he admitted to returning to the set after the show had wrapped. “I’d just walk around at night because I wanted to be in that environment and go through a personal process of saying goodbye.”
Happy Lowman is played by a real-life Hell’s Angel
One of SAMCRO’s most interesting (and beloved) members is Happy, the ironically named sergeant-at-arms of the motorcycle club who loves killing so much that he tattoos a smiley face on himself for every life he snuffs out. And the actor behind the character is about as legit as they come on the show.
David Labrava is a former member of the Hell’s Angels who was originally brought on to be a technical advisor. However, the guy is more than just a biker. When Kurt Sutter visited the Oakland chapter of which Labrava was a member, he jumped at the opportunity to show off his creative flair to the showrunner.
Speaking to Collider, Labrava said, “I showed him that I wrote scripts, and I asked him to let me have a chance, when he cast the show. I got cast on the show, and then he gave me a real chance to write, and here I am.” As well as depicting the trigger-happy biker, Labrava also wrote the tenth episode of the fourth season, “Hands.”
Sons of Anarchy is stacked full of strange guest stars
Throughout the show’s run, Sutter filled the series with fun, unusual cameos, usually featuring celebrities playing against type. Season two notoriously starred anti-fascist punk musician Henry Rollins as a violent neo-Nazi. Season seven featured the infinitely badass Courtney Love as a sweet-natured pre-K school teacher. Meanwhile wholesome High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale depicted a high-class escort in season five.
Sutter clearly had great fun with these playful guest appearances which were as surprising as they were oddly fitting for the celebrity involved. Where else could you possibly find David Hasselhoff playing a retired adult movie star or revered horror master Stephen King playing a “cleaner” of dead bodies?
It’s also worth noting that while Sons of Anarchy featured a rogue’s gallery of cultish guest stars, it also featured an admirable set of adult movie stars who popped up for some of the show’s more risque moments. Jenna Jameson, Puma Suede, and Daisy Marie are among the many adult performer guest stars seen in the show.
Sutter told LA Weekly that the casting of these stars was a necessity, not a gimmick, “Often in Sons of Anarchy, sex and violence were interwoven in scenes. We needed players who were comfortable enough with the nudity to be able to react to someone’s head getting blown off. … We found that adult talent was the best choice.”
The original pilot didn’t star Ron Perlman
Considering what a gargantuan presence he brought to the show as slick SAMCRO president Clay Morrow, it may seem utterly inconceivable that Sons of Anarchy could ever exist without Ron Perlman. But unbelievable though it may be, the original pilot actually starred iconic character actor Scott Glenn in the role.
Speaking to The A.V. Club about his brief Sons of Anarchy experience, Glenn actually sounded relieved that he was fired from a show that ran for so long and that would take “a break every 15 minutes to try and sell you Tylenol.” The way that Glenn tells it, he found out that FX was going ahead with the series but without him in the role. “It was ultimately probably one of the better things that could’ve happened to me,” Glenn said.
Enter Perlman, who gave NPR his own side of the story. Revealing that he’s “a huge fan” of Glenn, the actor divulged that “the network decided that they weren’t getting what they were hoping” from his performance. Instead they wanted “a more operatic version” of Morrow, full of “higher highs and lower lows.” This required Perlman to take on the role with hardly any prep time, which might explain why he never exactly became too accustomed with riding a hog the way his fellow Sons of Anarchy co-stars did.
One of the show’s most beloved stars met a tragic real-life end
half sack johnny lewis sons of anarchy
Eager but often mocked, Half-Sack was a fan–favorite for the two seasons that the character managed to survive on Sons of Anarchy, and he likely would’ve lasted even longer had actor Johnny Lewis not asked Sutter to cut his time short. “Johnny wasn’t happy on the show,” Sutter explained at the time. “Creatively, he really wanted out of his contract.”
Just a couple of years after leaving the series, the 28-year-old was found dead in a driveway in Los Angeles after allegedly beating his 81-year-old landlady to death. The actor was reportedly struggling with severe mental health issues at the time. Sutter published a blog post responding to the actor’s death, in which he called it “a tragic end for an extremely talented guy, who had unfortunately lost his way.”
“I wish I could say that I was shocked by the events last night, but I was not,” Sutter said. “I am deeply sorry that an innocent life had to be thrown into his destructive path.” Investigators said the actor died after climbing atop his landlady’s home and either jumping or falling to the ground.
Ryan Hurst’s symbolic beard-chopping
Suffice to say, fans were utterly devastated when Jax’s ride-or-die besite, Opie, was horrifically killed at the start of season five. And it seems that the cast and crew of the show were hurting just as much as fans over the lovable character’s demise.
To help Hurst and the rest of the cast properly say goodbye to the character, Hunnam bought his friend and co-star a samurai sword and encouraged him to use it to remove his beard. “It has some significance,” Hunnam told The Hollywood Reporter, “because that’s what a samurai would do at the end of their career; they would take their sword and cut their topknot off to signify the end of their life as a warrior.”
As Hunnam tells it, the actor hadn’t shaved for the three months since he’d left the show. In fact, he hadn’t shaved once since landing the role of Opie, which had been over five years ago at this point. “It was a catharsis that we all needed for him to get rid of that beard and for all of us to just let Opie die,” Hunnam explained.
Cue a supremely emotional video of the symbolic beard-cutting, in which Hurst, Hunnam, and Mark Boone Junior absolutely sob as they take turns lopping off Hurst’s beard before watching the remainder be shaved off his face. See? They’re big softies at heart, really.
Each character carries a weapon tailored to their personality
Charlie Hunnam in Sons of Anarchy
According to first assistant prop master Brandon Boyle, there was a great amount of thought put into what pistol each character is packing. That means that old guard of the club, Bobby Munson, is rocking a classic Smith and Wesson 459 9mm, while the kill-crazy Happy opts for the nimble and high performance Glock 17 9mm.
The aesthetically pleasing Ruger SR9 9mm is the weapon of choice of the charismatic Tig, while Jax — representing a new generation of bikers fighting to lead the club in a new direction — has the military grade Springfield Bureau Model .45 caliber, a weapon truly fit for a man at war.
On set, the actors handled real guns firing blanks, and they used replicas for scenes where a weapon needed to be hurled at an enemy. “That way, it doesn’t damage the gun,” Boyle explained. Meanwhile, rubber guns were used for scenes where characters are “gonna crack somebody across the head.” In other words, characters’ weapons were key to the show, and they spent a lot of time in getting those guns right.
The Sons of Anarchy set was insanely hot
Let’s face it. Wearing a whole lot of leather is one of the least appealing sartorial options no matter the weather. So to have to wear such a challenging costume during long work days on set in 100 degree heat? Yeah, it’s less than ideal.
However, that’s exactly the environment that the Sons of Anarchy cast and crew found themselves in while filming the show. “We used to call it doing ‘the timber,'” Kim Coates told Entertainment Weekly during a set visit. “We’d lose a crew member a week from passing out. Boom. Gone.” Tommy Flanagan, who plays Chibs on the show, was once in such bad shape from the heat that he was even sent to hospital for an IV.
Suffice it to say, the team used to search out ways to keep as cool as possible between takes, with Hunnam even taking to drinking a unique, replenishing tonic recommended to him by a yoga instructor. It was something Hunnam described as being “untreated, unheated ocean water from some f kelp forest somewhere.” Err, sounds delicious?
A Sons of Anarchy guide book spoiled the finale
In such stridently anti-spoiler times as these, spare a thought for the poor super-fans of Sons of Anarchy who had the final episode of their favorite show spoiled due to a stupid, throwaway mistake. The snafu was thanks to the release of a Sons of Anarchy guide book that was immediately sent out to fans who’d pre-ordered it. The book arrived just before the final episode, and it basically screamed sensitive plot points in the faces of unprepared fans.
Kurt Sutter was understandably livid about the mistake, calling it “a storytellers worst nightmare.” Despite adding that “there are a thousand f people I can blame” for Sons Of Anarchy: The Official Collector’s Edition being delivered far too early, he also decided to shoulder the brunt of the blame for coming up with the idea for the book in the first place. Sutter apologized profusely, and also urged people not to ruin the ending for others.
“I ask that you not share your wrath or pain or opinion in social media so as to not spoil the experience of others,” he said. “There is no excuse for utter ineptitude. It pains me that this will be the parting memory of some fans. I hope you all tune in for the finale. It plays much better than it reads.” And how.