Q & A: Robin Weigert Talks ‘Sons of Anarchy’, Character Research and Backstory
Robin Weigert plays Ally Lowen on the hit FX show, Sons of Anarchy. As the club’s lawyer, she knows the illegal dealings but never denies helping them out and this season, she’s doing that a lot.
Weigert, probably best known from her role as Calamity Jane on HBO’s Deadwood, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, she stayed in New York working in theatre (Broadway’s The Seagull) until moving to Los Angeles.
I talked to Robin in a recent conference call where she talked about her role on Sons, Kurt Sutter‘s writing, building a backstory for her character and her new film, Concussion.
Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on FX
Coming into the show where some of these people have been around for such a long time on this show, were they very welcoming of you?
Robin Weigert: Oh, God, yes. It’s such a good group. I think the saddest thing about things lurching towards the Season 7 is just that it really has become such a fraternity and sorority, but such a sort of brotherhood over there. There’s a lot of genuine love, and they’re very generous with that. I mean, it’s built on that over there, so I have felt really embraced and by the whole group of them. It’s really a great set to work on.
Have you had ridden any motorcycles past or present?
Robin Weigert: It is so tempting when you live in Los Angeles to want to ride a bike, because you see them just getting away with murder in traffic. You know, everything’s jammed up on the 405 and they’re just running between lanes. I think it’s kind of dangerous, and I’m a little bit maybe at this time too conservative in my approach to life to want to risk it, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question for the future. It looks like so much fun.
How would you like to see Ally’s role expand or move on as Tara in light of her deal and it looks like she’s wrecking the deal almost?
Robin Weigert: This is something that there are one or two roads that we either have to get on the same page or I’ve got to get out. We’ve either got to get on the same page or I’ve got to get out. I think that’s clearly what’s going through my mind at this point. I cannot be at odds with my client and still do well by her. I can’t be kept in the dark and still do well by her. You know, we have to join forces.
You’re also starting to see in Tara a kind of wildness, I think, because as much as she’s working to save those kids, there’s just no way she doesn’t also love her husband, no matter how much of a defense she has up against him.
This is just so deep, season after season, you’ve seen it and it just doesn’t get washed away. She’s really plunging into the territory of unbelievably painful ambivalence right now and you’re watching it. I think Maggie’s work this season is so tremendous, and you can really feel how fragmented she’s becoming inside. I think that I as her lawyer am registering how extreme it’s getting for her, as well, you know. There’s just to a lot to weigh, a lot to measure in terms of what are the best steps to take on forward.
When you first got the role did you actually do research and talk to lawyers? Especially lawyers who deal with fringe element of the law likes of the anarchy or the mob and stuff like that?
Robin Weigert: No. You know what was really cool that it was just sort of offered up to me that there’s a member of the cast who actually was a Hell’s Angel and was talking about how incredibly intense and important his relationship with his lawyer was to me when I was on set. That was actually a very useful conversation that was just sort of a gift.
You can read all you want to, but books are pretty dry and fictional accounts tend to be over dramatized. I found out when I was researching Jane as well it’s like people had agendas with her, Calamity Jane, and it was very hard to glean anything from what I read and only when I was able to talk to Jane Alexander about her, who had interviewed some people who actually knew her because she was young enough when she played her that there was some people still living that had done things like … for Calamity Jane so that was a similar thing here where a first hand account felt like I just got so much more out of it. He’s a real tough guy and a huge-hearted guy as well and just feeling the way he worked that out through his lawyer was an important piece.
Did you build a back-story for your own self? We don’t get to see a lot of it in the show, but did you build her a back-story?
Robin Weigert: Yes. This is one thing that if I could ever plant a seed with our wonderful showrunner, it would be this thought; I think her life has been about her work. I think she’s one of those girls and women who just works so hard, studied so hard, and became a very high achiever and sort of that there’s been a bit of a disconnect that she hasn’t given—she’s so much about controlling that she hasn’t given herself free rein to express her more passionate side, you know, so I just don’t even see her in a relationship at all. It’s almost like she’s married to her work.
I think it would be interesting if something happened to upend that where she was suddenly caught not being able to be in the driver’s seat because of a set of feelings that she hadn’t chosen. That, to me, would be sort of like a great next step for the character, if she continues on into next season. I’d be very interested in that.
Kurt Sutter writes some really incredible roles for women, especially in a testosterone-fueled show like Sons of Anarchy. Is that one of the things you like about doing the show?
Robin Weigert: Here’s the thing, when you—again, I don’t mean to keep drawing comparisons to Deadwood, but, obviously, Kurt had an affection for that show as well because he keeps cycling different members out of that cast … but there is something about how women emerge against a backdrop of violence and roughness like this. How what women have innately sort of pops, has focus in an atmosphere that’s so sort of scary and male dominated. You really see what metal they’re made of, and they’re really put to the test and challenged.
I, actually, kind of like playing a female character in what you’re calling a very ‘testosteroney’ show. I like that because the imperative to sort of define what you are against that backdrop makes interesting colors come forth.
I know this isn’t in the script, but does she have other clients that she’s juggling?
Robin Weigert: Yes. I kind of loved—it was fun to sort of play a little bit of that with the thought of like I sort of—I’m forgetting which scene it was … Kurt’s really dealt with Tara, and I’ll be in court all day and I was on my cell phone dealing with what was clearly other business, the idea that this is just one case of many is an interesting piece to play. I mean the stakes exist for her elsewhere in her life as well; and on any given day, this is going to be priority one or priority seven depending on what’s really coming to head where. That’s been—not that I have a ton of scenes to play that out, but I always look for opportunities to sort of paint in that outside life as well. Yes.
When you’re not working I’m wondering what TV shows you like to watch?
Robin Weigert: Oh, God. I sort of binge watch or jag watch things, so I’ll pick up and watch a season of something. I can’t help but be hooked this season by American Horror Story. Part of it is I just have so many friends who are actors who get to do sort of deliciously wicked things on that show. I mean sometimes it’s beyond my ability to tolerate the gore or the violence or something, but it’s mostly just kind of, especially this season, it’s sort of the deliciousness to it all, which is always fun. God, I love watching Jessica Lange in that.
I’ve gotten, like everybody else who’s an actor, and I got really into Mad Men at one point. I think that’s where I first saw Maggie on TV being really great was in that role she had on that show. I’m looking for places where there’s really a high level of acting going on, I guess.
One show I regret not having tuned in on from the beginning because I feel like I can’t watch it now until I go all the way back is Homeland. I feel like I missed the boat on that. I should’ve started watching it long, long ago, so I think I’d be utterly lost now. I understand it’s a very complicated plot, but there are some great people on that, too.
I think there’s just some really good TV. I think TV is an amazing medium right now. There’s just so much good stuff going on. It’s not at all what it used to be. It’s such–some of the best people are working in TV as writers and as actors, and it’s just an exciting place to be right now.
Kurt has said that a lot of the writing he does is based on the actresses he hires. They’re the muses for their character in a way. So it begs a question, how much are you like Ally or are you totally polar opposites?
Robin Weigert: That’s a good question. I have really, really contradictory sides to me; so if somebody chose to draw on one side, they’d get a completely different character than if they drew on another. Maybe that’s why I’m interested I having there be somebody who puts Ally in to real conflict with herself, as well, because that would actually be true to me than the either/or of it. You can probably hear in my wordiness, as I mention these questions, I’m fairly free role, but I’m also apt to be swept up by a tide of emotion, too. I’m sort of extreme in both ways. Just to say, I’m very much a feeler and I’m very much a thinker and so far what’s been drawn on for this character is in her mind, her logic, reason, and her mind have been very much at the helm, so, again, I’m curious to what she’s like when that gets exploded somewhat ….
Is there a role you’re still looking to do. Have you found your role?
Robin Weigert: This part I’ve just played in this movie, Concussion, was a major step for me because it was about 140 scenes to play of a movie, and I really was a very thorough, character study piece and that was a wonderful departure and it was really, really interesting.
Right now I’m doing a role in movie called Pawn Sacrifice, which is about Bobby Fischer, and I play Regina Fischer, his mother. This is more in keeping with some of the roles I’ve played in the past in the sense it’s a really interesting character part, a departure for me from who I appear to be. She’s a Brooklyn leftie, a communist, you know. Her life spans 1952 to 1972 in the film, so it’s period peace. It’s just sort of delicious fun, and I love this kind of stuff.
It’s funny I’m at a bit of a transition point because it used to be that my favorite, favorite, favorite thing—and Deadwood was an example of it was to totally vanish from view and just become somebody totally unrecognizable, and I’m still in love with that. I’m still in love with sort of disappearing into a role, but I’m ever more interested in the reveal aspect of it, as well, kind of like letting private colors and emotions and feelings and textures of subtler things just sort of shine through and let the audience track you.
You did mentioned Concussion. How is it different working with Maggie Siff on that, as opposed to—do you change your whole attitude? What is kind of the process?
Robin Weigert: Well, I mean it was an utterly different backdrop because it was sort of all women over there and it’s sort of all men on Sons, and it just creates a different vibe. You know, it was a great thing to be able to work with her in a different context and also on two such different characters, you know, we’re both these sort of in some sense bored or frustrated suburban housewives in that, and she ends up hiring me as a prostitute.
It was crazy, but yes, it’s just a joy to work with a good actor. What can I say? It’s like she’s very available. She’s very—one of the openers were free and that was a really good experience.