Q & A: Sons of Anarchy’s Ally Walker: “It is an incredibly tough business, incredibly tough and you just have to keep going”

Sons of Anarchy's Ally Walker talks 'Agent Stahl', how she approaches a script and her advice to actors!

ally-walker-in Sons of anarchy

Ally Walker plays the character everyone loves to hate, ‘Agent Stahl’ on Sons of Anarchy.

You’ve seen her on tv shows like Profiler, The Shield, Southland and CSI but this is a different character for her. She even said that ‘it was tough to find her.” Originally hired for 3 episodes, the shows creator, Kurt Sutter,  liked her work so much, he kept writing her into the show.

I spoke with her on a conference call where she talked about her role, how she approaches a script and her advice to actors.

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

Does your character ‘Stahl’ have a moral compass?

Ally: When I got the character thrown at me last—or given to me, not thrown at me—but there was a lot thrown to me right away with “Stahl.”  In order to really kind of understand her, I had to sort of understand that whatever worked for her in that moment was how I was going to go what—“June”—I was going to go.  That really is a sociopath, whatever works for her.  So she’s kind of like this wonderful little actress.  At least that’s what I like to think.  I don’t know if she’s so wonderful, but— That’s what I did with her.  I just made everything, anything that was to her advantage, she was lovely.  She could turn on a dime, and I really like that.

It was kind of a wow reveal when we saw that “Stahl” has a girlfriend right now.  Was that a surprise to you?  Why was right now kind of the time to reveal that in the show?

Ally Walker:  I’m not really sure why the timing was right.  You’d have to ask Kurt Sutter that, but no, actually it wasn’t a surprise to me.  Last year, I had filmed a scene in bed with a female lover, so I’d kind of built that into the character last year.  “Stahl,” obviously, is kind of a sociopath.  At least that’s how I sort of like to play her and an opportunist, so I don’t think her sexuality is really about being— It’s interesting.  I think she is gay probably, but I think she swings both ways depending on what works for her.  So no, it wasn’t a surprise to me.

I was huge big fan of Profiler.  I wanted to know what was easier for you to play, was it the nice “Sam” or this ruthless, not-so-nice “June”?

Ally: I think both of them were easy in different ways.  I think it’s been really fun for me as an actor, after playing “Sam” and after playing “Katie” in Tell Me You Love Me and sort of these kind of pure, sweet people to sink my teeth into someone so vile as “June Stahl.”  I really love this turn because there’s just nothing off the table.  She’ll do anything to get what she wants.  I just applaud her ruthlessness.  It’s kind of nice.  It’s a nice twist for me.

You hear a lot of people say they have to approach a character as like they’re doing the right thing, justify it.  She could be the hero of a show, an agent who bends the rules to make their case.  But here, she’s the thorn in the side.  How do you make “Agent Stahl” work in the dynamic in Sons of Anarchy, where she’s obviously painted as the black cat.

Ally: Well, that’s an interesting question and that’s actually what I used to laugh at.  In the beginning, I said, “Look guys, I’m on the side of right.  You guys aren’t.”  I think the way that I sort of painted the character is that everything that she’s doing is for the right outcome.  If you really look at her reasoning behind everything, the problem with her is her own ego has gotten in her way, and now it’s all about “June.”

It was probably always this way.   It’s so personal that she wants to win.  It’s not about doing the right thing anymore.  It’s about, “I’m going to beat you at your own game.”  In that respect, she lowers herself.  But I really do believe that “June” is sociopathic, at least that’s how I play her.  I think in her mind, she’s always right.

It also seems like she’s kind of evolved over the course of the show.  It seemed like in the first season that she was going to be kind of the big bad and be done. In fact, your role in this has become this interesting wild card.  Do you know if that was always the plan?

Ally: No, no.  It wasn’t. I was asked to do three shows.  I know Kurt from working on The Shield, and Kurt asked me to come in.  Tell Me You Love Me had just gone down, and he asked me to come in for three shows.  I said, “Sure,” because I really love his writing and I loved the concept of the show.   I love the character.  She was kind of wild.  No, I just kept getting written for.  It was really an honor.  I mean, Kurt was really lovely to me.  I guess she was just a good bad guy so they kept writing, and she got more and more outlandish, which is really fun to play.  So, I’m very appreciative of what Kurt Sutter did for me.

The show is a really intense drama.  I was wondering, what’s everyone like when the cameras aren’t rolling?

Ally: Really sweet and funny.  Funny, funny, funny.  It’s been my experience that when you have a really dark show—like when I was doing Profiler or if there’s ever a really scary show—the crew kind of lets loose and the actors by being funny and kind of goofy.  The guys are really funny.  Ron Perlman is hilarious, and Katey and I gab about where to go get facials.  It’s like really normal and funny.  It’s a good group of guys.  Very sweet group of boys.  I love the boys.  They’re great.

Who is your favorite character to work with?

Ally: That’s tough to say.  I mean all of them really.  I love working with Katey.  Katey and Charlie.  I’ve had most of my sort of deeper scenes with these guys, and we just kind of hum along together.  Katey and I are good buddies, so it’s been a real pleasure for me to get to work with her.  I think Charlie is just a soulful little actor.  I just really love working with Charlie.  I love working with Ron too.  I worked with him in two films.  It’s just a good group.

Is there a scene that you’re particularly proud of, the way it turned out, either this season or in previous seasons?

Ally: Yes, there’s a few scenes.  I think the writing on the show’s been pretty good.  I think it was season one right before “Donna” died, where I’m interrogating “Opie,” and I’m just kind of screwing him over.  I’m just doing it with sort of this relishing.  Then there’s the interrogation scene when “Jax” was in prison, which I really like because he kind of came right back at me.  Of course, I love the scene with Katey in the 7-Eleven, where I’m stepping over the agents and confronting her.

I think what I like about the character, what Kurt writes, is that there’s just a lot of—he does this is sort of black comedy with my character, which is just so great because it just spices everything up and it makes it really fun to try to hit those.  But I’ve liked quite a few of the scenes.

When you read a script, what are some of your initial reactions to how far “Stahl” is willing to go to get her way?

Ally: There’s so many leaps with the character.  She just flies over all the sort of logical steps to get somewhere sometimes.  At first it really scared me, and I sort of like to take baby steps, but with her, I just had to just sort of jump because you don’t really see—unless you work it with the way of it’s like, “Of course, I would do this because that’s the way I get what I want.”  I’m not really that way.  I’m used to playing much humbler characters, if you will, with sort of normal thought patterns.  Sometimes I literally go, “Oh my god.  Oh my god.  How am I going to do this?  This is ridiculous.”  But somehow I just kind of, I just hang on and it goes.  I just try to keep it real but it’s a pretty big step.  “Stahl’s” a little nutty.  But it’s a lot of fun, I will say that.  It’s a lot of fun.

What do you enjoy the most about playing “Stahl” and what kind of reactions do you get from the fans of the show?

Ally: Oh my god, it’s been scary actually.  People hate me so much.  People really hate me.  I’ve never had more people come up to me and say, “I love to hate you.  I love you.  I hate you so much.”  It’s the weirdest thing.  It’s very flattering but there’s a lot of people out there who kind of mistake it for reality, I think, sometimes, and they just are pretty harsh on me.  What I love playing about “June” is her fearlessness.  I really like that.

ally-walkerHave you ever thought one thing about your character and then get a script and think, “Oh, I was completely wrong about that.”

Ally: Yes, in the beginning, I couldn’t quite— Yes, actually this was a difficult character for me to embrace in the beginning because I came off Tell Me You Love Me, which was very very real and very down to earth.  It was a very different character.  It was a little bit tough for me at first to kind of get my head around playing someone who was kind of amoral and didn’t really follow the logical steps that one would take.  So I kind of had to find her.  But after a few episodes, I was like, “Oh, I get it.  Okay.”

She’s out there.  She’s a very out there character so it was— I tend to play things real close to the bone, and this person was not close to any bones that I really ever—maybe she was but I didn’t know about them.  She’s a, she’s a trip.  She was really kind of – at first, it was like “Huh, am I going to really do that?” and then I went, “Yeah, okay.”  I really enjoyed it.  It was a learning experience for me.  It really was.  It was very fun and very scary for me to do the role.  She’s very different than anyone I’d done.

You’ve had a really incredibly successful career.  What’s your advice to actors?

Ally: You know Betty Davis’ advice to young actors? Take Fountain [Avenue]. Ron Pearlman told me that one, by the way.

If you want to do this, you have to really love what you’re doing.  You have to really take care of who you are because it’s a very difficult business and you have to really believe in yourself because— It is an incredibly tough business, incredibly tough and you just have to keep going.  Perseverance is everything.  It’s everything.

How do you approach the scripts? You have a lot of tense scenes, how does it translate off the page?  Is there ever anything that needs to be changed in order to improve or make the scene work better?

Ally: The thing of Kurt Sutter is he’s really a wonderful writer.  There’s not a lot of changing with Kurt.  He likes us actors to really adhere to the script, which I respect.  He’s a very good writer.  He has really sort of thought everything through.  I try to gather as much information and just kind of bathe in it before I shoot and just kind of— Then on the set, new things will come.  You pick up things and subtleties in an actor’s performance that will change your reaction.  It’s all kind of listening and reacting, and we have this history now.

For example, we did a scene—Charlie and I—this year and it became very interesting.  I never thought—you’ll see it in a few shows—I never thought we’d do a scene like that.  It was very seductive and kind of creepy.  Charlie and I at the end of the scene were like, “Whoa, what was that?”  But it played beautifully and Kurt was really happy.  None of us could have seen that coming.  It was kind of this intimate little dance of threatening each other that was really kind of sexual—there’s like a lot of sexual undertones, which is really weird, but it was fun to play.

Those kinds of things seep in.  They seep in because people’s essence—for lack of a better word—their persona kind of comes in and it changes everything.  It’s really interesting.  The older I’ve gotten as an actress, I do my preparation but I don’t think so much anymore.  I tend to just go, and it’s gotten a lot more fun for me.  I go, “Okay, the water’s— I’m on a diving board.  I’m going to get up to the diving board.  I’m going to walk to the end of the diving board, and the water’s going to be deep enough to catch me and,” but that jump— I don’t plan it.  I don’t know what’s going to happen in that jump, but I jump.  It has made it very fun for me.  I hope it works.  Most of the time I think it does, but there’s always a swing and a miss going on.  But it’s really fun to see what happens on the set.  It’s really fun.

I noticed that you did Universal Soldier back in the 80s and 90s.  What was that whole experience like working with Van Damme?

Ally: Oh, that was a great experience for me.  I sort of came off a television series. It’s funny because I was asked to audition for it like every other— There were a lot of girls and they had wanted bigger names than me.  It was very flattering, flattering —I was doing a lot of comedy at the time. Roland Emmerich picked me because I was funny, because I made the scenes funny. It was a great experience because Roland would go, “I would just ad lib something and make it funny.”  It was really fun.  I had a wonderful time on that film.  I loved the guys.  I’m a tomboy.  I always get along well with boys.  I love Jean Claude. It was really fun for me.  It was really a very fun experience for me.

What can you tell us about your new Lifetime pilot?  How did the project come to you?

Ally: Gosh, it’s been really quick.  I’d just signed with Innovative Artists, which is my new agency, and Katie Mason is an old friend of mine.  She became my manager all within the last couple of weeks.  Well, Katie’s been with me for a couple for months, but then I just signed with Innovative.  One of the first things they did—I met with them and I signed with them and then literally a week later, they said, “We have something here.  We want you to look at it.  We want to know—”  In the beginning, they all will try to figure out what you like, what they like, you know blah, blah, blah.  How it’s going to work.  They sent me Exit 19 and I just loved it.  I just went, “Oh.”  I loved it.  Then they got me an offer.

I’ve sort of stayed away from being a regular on a series for a really long time.  I did Tell Me You Love Me but it was so ensemble, I worked like two days a week, which was great because my children were very little at the time.  The baby was just two and a half.  Now it’s been ten years since I got off Profiler and I went, “It’s okay.”  I wanted to come back and it’s just kind of fortuitous that this thing landed in my lap.  I know Nina Wass and Gene Steiner, the producers of the show.  It’s just really good.  It’s very sweet, and it can be dark but it’s funny and it’s quirky.  I love that.  It’s not one thing, it’s a lot of things.  I think the writing is excellent.

For me, it’s always the writing, because you’re the voice.  That’s who I am ultimately is what the writer has prescribed, so I really just go with the writer, the writing.  But it’s a really great little pilot and I mean not little, but it’s a great pilot and I hope people respond to it.

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