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Q & A: Sons of Anarchy’s Winter Ave Zoli and Kristen Renton on how they got their roles, lack of wardrobe and more!

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Sons of Anarchy is always a great ride and this season is no exception. With some of the smaller characters getting their due this year, series creator Kurt Sutter is giving us even more of a reason to love it.

Winter Ave Zoli (Lyla) and Kristen Renton (Ima) are absolutely getting some interesting things to work on this season and it’s going to be interesting to see where things end up by the end of the season. 

I talked with both Winter and Kristen in a conference call about how they got their parts, the most difficult scenes they’ve done so far and their character’s wardrobe. Or lack thereof.

Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on FX

For more Sons of Anarchy, check out our Theo Rossi interview

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Kristen have you had conversations with Kurt Sutter that your character somehow will have some sort of a redemptive moment.  She’s always been the bad girl, will she ever see the light, or is she being run off? Where your character is going?

Kristen Renton: Good question.  I have not spoken to Kurt about what will be transpiring later on in the coming seasons or anything like that.  “Ima,” I feel like she’s the main bad girl of this show and I don’t think that he’s going to change that.  I think he’s going to keep her there stirring the pot, causing chaos, and it makes for a more interesting character, in my opinion.  I love playing the bad girl.  I think she’s a lot more fun to play than a character like “Tara,” where she’s nice and you’re rooting for her.  Everybody loves to hate “Ima,” so I think we’re going to keep it on that path and see what other trouble she can get into. 

Winter, what about your character?  You’re now a married lady, old lady, can you give us any indication around where you’re going to take “Lyla?”

Winter Ave Zoli: “Lyla” is basically dealing with this new relationship, this new married life, and sort of jumping into a relationship that went really fast.  And I think both her and the “Opie” character are like, “now what”.  Obviously she has this secret that she’s been holding on to, which is the abortion she had last season, so that comes to a head in this season and then it’s just basically then dealing with how they’re dealing with the relationship at this point.  Yes, they have a lot to sort out this season.  

What do you guys like most about this season? Both in the storyline and in your character in particular?

Winter Ave Zoli: It’s dealing more on a personal level with all of the characters and delving into relationships and the history of the relationships and the past of the club, and a lot of things come to a head.  So it reveals a lot of information this season about the characters and the club.  About my character in particular, I like that things are coming to a head for her and “Opie” and it’s showing more of “Lyla’s” character in this season and situations come up that force her and “Opie” to deal with the things in their life. 

Kristen Renton: I agree with what Winter says.  This season is a very relationship driven season and being able to look back into the past of how the club started and where everybody came from and the different relationships and dynamics that come into play with the history of the club, where everybody is now, even seeing the relationship between “Gemma” and “Clay” start to, I don’t want to say deteriorate, but start to be really tested and all the lying and deceit, I think is a very interesting, juicy creative path that they’re going down.  For my character in particular I just like that she just doesn’t give up.  She’s coming back and she won’t take no for an answer and she’s I think gone a little over to the dark side.  She’s now carrying a gun and she’s gone a little batty.  But she’s determined and you’ve got to appreciate a girl with determination for sure.

This show is all about tough people and people that are undeterred, but nothing affects them quite as much as women, the Achilles heel of so many of these characters. Basically people tune into the show to watch motorcycle action superficially, but why they stay is a lot of the stuff that you’re involved with. I want to see how you guys help build those dynamics and make it even more explosive than the action sequences.

Kristen Renton: Well, it’s hard not to be as explosive as an action sequence when you’re playing a no-nonsense porn star.  The stuff that’s written for both my character, and I don’t want to speak on her behalf but I feel it’s the same for Winter’s character, “Lyla” as well, we’re given such juicy, amazing material by the writers and by Kurt that it would be hard to muck it up.  And when you’re given something like that the choices that you can make behind the character come so easily, there are so many different ways you can take it, so many different things that you can do, and we have amazing directors on this show that really help with the creative process, so it’s fairly easy to just take it and run with it and really make it something that the fans want to tune in, watch, and stick around and see.  What do you think, Winter?

Winter Ave Zoli: Yes.  I think that was perfectly said.  To reiterate, yes, we’re running around in our underwear and it’s hard not to draw attention and not to draw interest, let alone the storylines, which are so crazy, and they’re crazy because we’re in this different wild world of the bike gang, of the porn life.  So, yes, it writes itself, it’s such interesting material to work with, and we have great writers that, like Kristen said, give us great scenes to work with.  So yes it’s kind of easy to compete with the rest of the explosive action scenes.

Regarding both of your characters, how are their personalities similar to your reality?  How are your characters, how are their personalities similar to you and how are they different?

Winter Ave Zoli: We’re both actresses, acting out different kinds of movies.

Kristen Renton: That’s a good one.

Winter Ave Zoli: I think it’s important to somehow relate to your character.  It brings it more to life and makes it more realistic.  I’ve always tried, from the beginning to make “Lyla” real and relate her to myself as much as I can.  Obviously there are big differences but I’d say the similarities are that she’s just a person and she’s a girl who’s in love trying to cope with life and problems and good times and bad times.  The differences are also pretty obvious.  She is a tough cookie porn star and I’d say that’s where our biggest differences lie. 

Kristen Renton: For me, her character is so far removed from my reality, with what she not only does for a living but the way she acts, the way she presents herself, the attitude that she has, but we’ve all known people that have come into our lives that are, whether it be negative or disruptive or just flat out bad people and unfortunately I’ve had quite a few of those in my life, and so I had a lot to draw on when I was introduced to “Ima.”  She’s based off of bits and pieces of different people that have come into my life that I’ve had to deal with, if you will.  And you know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’ve found myself in a much better place having met these people. 

So for “Ima” she’s a hodge-podge of things that I have seen and gone through and people that I’ve met, and the one thing that I think is the most relatable between me and “Ima” is that we’re both very determined young women.  We both will not accept no for an answer and are very driven and determined and no-nonsense.  But that’s where the similarities end.  I’m much nicer than “Ima.”  I would never steal another woman’s man.  I give her a lot of credit for being strong enough to do the whole porn thing and I think that any woman that is willing to take control of their life and do what they want to do to make their living, I have a lot of respect for women like that.  I personally couldn’t do it, but that doesn’t mean that I look down upon it, and I don’t.  “Ima” and “Lyla” I think are very strong women and I think that both Winter and I are similar in that way.

How do you feel you’ve grown as actresses since you started the show?  And has being on the show influenced you personally at all, … the wardrobe or become more in tune with the biker culture or gotten any tattoos or anything like that?

Kristen Renton: feel like any time you as an actor can be surrounded by other amazing actors you can’t do anything but grow.  There’s a phenomenal cast that we get to work with every time we go to work, and just to be in the presence of these people and watching them do their work, Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Kim Coates, all of them are just phenomenal actors.  I just sit and I’ll watch them and you just absorb, at least I do, just the wealth of knowledge that they share with you.  So I definitely feel as an actor I’ve grown since being on the show and different situations that my character, “Ima,” has found herself in, sometimes it really makes you think and you walk away going, holy crap, what did I just do?  But it’s given me a strength and a lot of determination to continue in the business that I’m in.  And as I said earlier, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and shooting this show and dealing with these situations and different people has definitely made me a stronger person. 

With regards to the bike culture, I’ve grown up around bikes, so if anything it’s just reaffirmed how much I love them.  I actually got my motorcycle license in February, it was something I’d always wanted to do and now I have an excuse.  I’m still learning.  I don’t have a bike yet.  But that’s a goal of mine.  Tattoos, yes, I’ve got 14, so I had several of those before I started, and I think my  newest one I got knowing that Kurt wouldn’t be upset with me, so there you go. 

Winter Ave Zoli: Yes, it’s true, it’s probably the only show where you can get a tattoo and  have no problem.

Just being on the set and watching Charlie work and watching Katie work and Ron and everybody is very inspiring and you do learn a lot when you see their process and how they work with the directors and how they go about making the scene as realistic and real for them as possible.  I definitely feel like obviously I’ve grown and just being able to play this kind of character, it makes you learn a lot about the world that they’re from, and that influences you for sure. 

As far as the bike culture, I’ve never paid attention to it much and I have to say I’m definitely more fond and intrigued by it.  Every time I hear a bike my heart beats a little faster and I’m definitely more in tune with what kind of bikes are out there.  I have no tattoos and, as Kristen knows, I’ve been planning on possibly getting one for about three years and I can’t make the decision to go ahead and do it.

Kristen Renton: We’re working on it. 

Winter Ave Zoli: Yes, we’re working on it.  Maybe one day.

Before the season starts, does Kurt give you guys any idea what’s going to happen to your character, or do you basically find out as you get the scripts?

Winter Ave Zoli: We are in the dark until we get the scripts.  You get hints of what’s to come, sort of the general arc of the season, but even that can change depending on what Kurt decides, which direction Kurt decides to take the story on a given moment.  Yes, so you get the scripts and you’re like, okay, what’s happening this time, what’s going to happen to “Lyla?”  So it keeps you on your toes.

Kristen Renton: Kurt does play his cards very close to his vest.  He likes to keep it quiet until we actually put the script out there.  And it’s amazing how much information can get leaked nowadays.  It just takes one person and then it’s a whole spoiler.  So he keeps things pretty quiet.

Being on such a hot show, how has it affected your careers?  Are you guys getting more auditions or do you have different projects in the works to do when you’re on hiatus?

Winter Ave Zoli: It has definitely affected, I mean, the show is a show that’s highly respected in the industry.  It’s growing in popularity immensely.  So definitely you garner a little more attention because of that.  I would say, yes, I worked on a couple of things on the hiatus, and I think it does help.  I think they are definitely interested in using somebody who’s working on such a popular and great show.

Kristen Renton: Yes, ditto.  I feel like there’s a lot of respect for Sons and anybody that’s a part of it and I do feel that it has opened several doors.  But still, we work very hard for every audition that we get and every job that we get, and it still takes a lot of determination.

Winter Ave Zoli: Yes, definitely. 

Kristen Renton: But being on Sons sure as hell helps.

The show’s such an emotional roller coaster and you really have to get yourself worked up I think to play these characters.  They’re just so rich.  Is it ever hard to leave that on the set for the rest of your day, or does it affect you, just the things that you’ve done or seen on the set?

Winter Ave Zoli: If I may, actually it takes me about 20 minutes to leave “Lyla,” and that’s probably the process of taking off the hair and the makeup.  Sometimes things do get, especially when they’re highly emotional that can linger with you for a while, but I always actually just feel so happy when I leave set because I just feel so fortunate to be working on such a great show with such great people.  So that’s the only feeling that’s left afterwards is just a sense of joy that I get to go to set and do this job and have this opportunity.  I just feel so fortunate.

Kristen Renton: I completely agree.  It’s an interesting process when you have a character like “Lyla” or “Ima” that so much goes into making her physically, the fake hair, the fake eyelashes, all the makeup, all the little chicken cutlets we put in our bras to make our boobs look bigger, all of it, and so when you’re done for the day and you go back to your trailer it’s almost like a cathartic, taking all of that off you’re peeling off that character.  And you know what you’re left with is really a bare bones of who you are, as a person you’re sitting there and everything’s gone and you’re like, okay, and that actually helps to leave the character on set because I think Winter will agree that our characters are so far removed from our reality of even just how we dress in day to day life, that it does help for us to be able to take that off and leave that there.  But I also agree with, you leave set and I have a huge smile on my face because I just got to work with the coolest people on the coolest show on television.

If there was one thing for these characters that you’ve learned or that you’re going to take away with you, what would that be, if anything? 

Kristen Renton: I think that I’m the girl that everybody loves to hate, but I feel like every person has a story and I definitely don’t judge people overtly the way that – I don’t ever think I was fully guilty of that, but you look at somebody like a porn star and you’re like, oh, they must have gotten molested as a child, or they must have had a tough upbringing.  How could they do that for a living?   But everybody has a story and everybody has a reason to be there.  I think that that’s one thing that my character has taught me is you don’t know what that story is, you don’t know what that history is, and how dare you judge until you know.

Winter Ave Zoli: Yes, I’d have to agree.  I think working on the show definitely opened my eyes to this lifestyle of a porn actress, especially since we do have some actual porn actresses who are extras on the show and you get to know them after working with them for so many seasons.  And these girls are, they’re just normal girls.  Yes, they’re doing something that is not perceived as something normal or it’s a very different kind of lifestyle and job to have, and I don’t know them that well, I just know their backgrounds, but to sit there and judge them would be completely unfair.  These girls are completely normal, nice girls who are just living their life and I’d say it’s taught me, I would leave “Lyla” knowing that I respect her survival so much, the strength that she has, and what she did to take care of herself and take care of her son, and it’s like she makes it work and I really admire that.  I admire the strength of “Lyla” and the courage.

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