Q&A: Drea de Matteo talks ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and Her New Lifetime Backdoor Pilot, ‘Stalkers’

Drea: "Growing up I was dying to be an actor my whole life"

Drea de Matteo returned to FX’s Sons of Anarchy as Wendy, Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) newly clean and sober ex-wife. The reason for the return is that she wants to be a part of their son’s life but in order to do that, she had to get passed Jax’s wife, Tara (Maggie Siff).

Drea is probably best known for playing Adriana on The Sopranos, a role which got her an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series but after taking time off to raise her kids, she’s back. Not only reprising her SOA role but also in the new Lifetime movie (and backdoor pilot), Stalkers.

She recently had a conference call where she talked about returning to SOA, Stalkers, her time on The Sopranos and the difference between cable and basic cable (hint: She can’t say the F word).

Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on FX

What did you do to kind of bring her to that place?  What did you think in your mind?  What brought her back to that place, being away from it, did she go to treatment in your mind or how did she get there into this most peaceful place? 

Drea de Matteo: Well, I know from some of my own experience and many of my friends’ experiences, going through that sort of program.  The whole addiction game, it really forces you to focus on what brings you there and accept the only way out, sort of.  So I think once you really put this focus on getting better and figuring out what your flaws are that’s what brings her back.  I don’t think that she would’ve come back.  I think she could’ve been more reckless and shown up earlier, but then again, I wasn’t really available to come back ….

What were you doing?

Drea de Matteo: Well, making babies. I was on another show and stuff.  So anyway, yes.  I definitely think that it’s perfect timing.  She’s been away a long time.  She’s been focusing on herself, taking care of herself, getting to a place where she likes herself.  Once she can feel confident in who she is and she’s free to love somebody again, I guess.

If you’re not reading the script ahead of time you don’t actually know how the whole thing is going to end yet?

Drea de Matteo: No.  I’m not on the show very much.  I just kind of pop in and out.  I’m such a huge fan that I just try to leave it open.  I read my scenes.  I show up.  I say my words.  I don’t even want to know what’s going on.

Do you have anything planned for after the show?

Drea de Matteo: I’m actually starting another show.  We’re not sure if it’s going to go to series, but a show for Lifetime that is about stalkers.  It’s actually called Stalkers.

Is it like a fictional show or like a docudrama?

Drea de Matteo: It’s actually based on this woman Rhonda Saunders’ book about how she tried to change the laws for stalkers because there really are not any great set laws for it.  They’ve kind of gone back and forth.  She got these things put in place but people only want to deal with a stalker once the person who’s been stalked is dead.  There’s no prevention for it, really.

It’s pretty cool and I’m playing a cop.

What makes your character one that you want to keep coming back to play?

Drea de Matteo: “Wendy”?  Well, first of all, I think I would shoot myself if I ever had to play straightforward characters that really didn’t have much of a past.  Maybe it’s just that I’m not a good enough actor to have to embellish.  But I like having these really, really rich roles to play where—anything where being a drug addict, number one.  Having all those demons makes it interesting for me.

I mean, coming back now and being completely sober is okay for me but I do like going back into the messy area.  Coming back confident and healthy, and being able to sort of, I don’t know.  I don’t really know what to say about how to take control of my life and possibly my son and all of that.  It’s an empowering thing to play, but at the same time I do like to play the dirty side more.  So we’ll see if she slips or something.  I’m always on the edge.

Has it been a challenge for you to fit in with the cast and kind of coming in and going out, or do you feel like you’ve clicked with them at this point?

Drea de Matteo: No.  I don’t feel like it’s been a challenge.  They are a family there.  I came from that on Sopranos and stuff.  I understand that dynamic.  They’re always so welcoming and happy that I am there for a brief moment.  I absolutely love working with Maggie, Maggie Siff, because I’m such a huge, huge fan of her work.  So I don’t know.  I’m so happy to be there.  I hope they’re okay with having me there every now and then to shake some … up.

Kind of tell us how you originally got involved with the show in getting cast for the role of “Wendy.”

Drea de Matteo: Originally, I came with John Linson before the show was even–I don’t know if it was written or if it was–I don’t know what was going on.  I know that I came with John and he introduced me to Kurt.  Originally, the character was going to die in the pilot.  Then when I decided to do it they kept her alive and I’ve been there ever since but back and forth because I couldn’t fully commit to being on the show at the time.  So I was off the show for a while and became a huge fan of the show while I was off of it.

Then I just started writing Kurt and Katey [Sagal] and thinking, oh my God, I can’t believe what’s going on.  When does the next season air?  I was like, and I want to come back.  You guys have to figure out “Wendy’s” turn.  So I came originally with John.  Then, once it became Kurt’s show they wove me in and out when possible.

What’s been the most difficult part of playing the “Wendy” character because when we do see her it’s always a dramatic change from the last time we saw her.

Drea de Matteo: Well she’s been in recovery.  So it’s like it’s watching a child grow up to a certain degree.  I think in the very beginning of the series she was extremely, extremely vulnerable.  At first she was a mess.  Then she was sober and a raw nerve.  Now she comes back with her confidence intact and not wanting to stir any … up except for being a responsible party.  It seems that the whole entire world has imploded and she’s going to have a hard time maneuvering within it because nobody’s stable over there.  She’s now become the face of stability, which is kind of funny.

When people recognize you on the street, speaking of Sopranos, do they see you now from the Sopranos or do they say, “Oh, you’re the gal from Sons of Anarchy,” or is it a combination of both?

Drea de Matteo: You know, it’s shocking to me, I’ll be totally honest with you.  Sopranos has been off the air for so, so long.  I’ve been off the air for longer than the show’s been off the air for Sopranos.  It’s still Sopranos and it never ends and it never stops.  Although, when I was 200 pounds overweight after having my kids no one had a clue who I was, period.

Well, okay, I was 70 pounds overweight. No one recognized me from Californication because I was giant on Californication.  But recently, we got pulled over for not having an updated registration on the car in New York.  New York is only Sopranos territory, that’s good.  We had the kids in the car and the cop was so mean.  I have never experienced–it was abuse, basically.  Then he took my license.

Then he went back and did his work and came back.  A, I should’ve gotten a ticket cause the registration was so overdue.  B, he was like—and I was like oh, he totally recognized me from the Sopranos, for sure.  He hands me back my license and he goes, “Sons, right?”  And I was like … You’re not even going to give me a ticket and you just abused me in front of my children and everything?  Sons, I was like thank you Sons of Anarchy.  That was my first one.

You’ve gotten some really choice roles; not just on television but in film.  Do you ever think how did I do this or do you just not even think about it just keep on going?

Drea de Matteo: Well, I’m going to be totally honest with you and totally humble about it.  I definitely play roles that are close to my persona.  I think that growing up I was dying to be an actor my whole life.  I just always wanted to be someone else.  Then once I decided that I really thought I was pretty cool I kind of wanted to see myself.  So, “Adriana” was not myself; that was the complete opposite of me.  But that will always be my favorite, favorite role of all time.

Now I play people who are a little more comfortable with themselves.  “Adriana” was not, and it was perfect at that time because I was not.  Yes, I do feel really lucky that I get to play really strong women.  I think that’s mainly what the common denominator is that I’m always playing a really strong person with a giant vulnerable streak because that’s who I am.

I read when you first started out you were interested in becoming a director.  As an actress have you developed a more critical eye and business sense as you’ve gone along or are you more hands-off when it comes to production and other areas of the business?

Drea de Matteo: I went to NYU for acting for six years.  I ended up acting–and I know this is going to be a terrible thing.  Actors will think I’m an … for saying this but, for me, it was the easy way out or in because I didn’t put in enough effort in school being a crazy kid in college.  I was good at it.  So that was the other side of it.

I would love to direct.  I think what I’ve learned mostly from being on set is more how to deal with actors than even the visual part of it all.  The visual stuff just kind of lives inside of you.  As far as really being able to take care of an actor on a set, how to talk to an actor, and how to get what you need out of a scene is probably where I might know a thing or two.  Although, in TV the actors are pretty much left alone.  It’s really the writer’s medium more than anything.  Did I answer your question?

You said before that they were originally going to kill the “Wendy” character off in a pilot.  With them deciding to keep the character were you allowed to kind of develop it from that point, or were the scripts just given to you and you kind of went on what they told you?

Drea de Matteo: Well, Kurt’s a great writer, so they don’t need me.  They didn’t me to say, “Well, this is what I want to happen to ‘Wendy.’”  When you go into a series like this I’m sure Kurt had the entire season, the first season, outlined for himself and where it was going to go.  My character was never a part of where it was going.  It was all about “Tara” and “Jax.”

So, I guess, once they kept me alive the goal was to just sort of have me there as like this thorn on everybody’s side.  Then I couldn’t stay on.  So they just put that story to rest which was perfect because I went away to treatment anyway.

So, yes, I didn’t really develop.  The writer’s tend to write around the actor and their style to a certain degree as long as it’s keeping with what they’re writing about.  So I know with “Adriana,” when I did “Adriana,” David Chase would do that with me a lot.  I don’t know that Kurt did that with “Wendy,” but I think bringing her back as a strong character and it’s also very much who I am in real life.

So I wouldn’t say that I was involved in development.  I mean, TV is a writer’s medium 100%, and the writer’s king.  We all just need to understand that.  It’s not a director’s place.  It’s not for the actors.  It’s really all about those writers.

Do you find that there’s a big difference in shooting between what’s done on FX being a cable channel than your HBO, your Pay-Per-View channel, do you see that there’s a difference?  Obviously, you can do a little bit more on HBO but shooting-wise, is there any difference or anything like that?

Drea de Matteo: Yes.  You can’t say f…  That’s difficult for me.  It’s difficult for a biker show, I would imagine.  When you say, “Get the hell out of here.”  But you really just want to say, “Get the f… out of here.”

The shooting is very similar.  Sopranos, look, it was a whole different ball game.  It was the first of its kind.  We set the structure for it.  Long shooting weeks, tons of money going into a show. That was brand new, man.  Nobody knew what that was on cable yet.

So all of these shows, Breaking Bad, you’ve got Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Rescue Me, like all of these are great shows.  No one ever knew a TV show would be treated like a small film every week, big budgets and whatnot.  Sopranos we shot 16-day weeks.  Here we shoot 7-day weeks, 8-day weeks.  I think that’s what they do.  I don’t know.

What did you do to take off the baby weight, because you look gorgeous now? 

Drea de Matteo: Oh my God.  You’re just kidding me.  I gained 80 pounds with my daughter and then I gained 60 pounds with my son.  I love it that someone showed me that when you Google my name it comes up Drea de Matteo fat, Drea de Matteo weight gain.  The funniest thing and I don’t even care because I know that I have this most smoking body of all time my whole life.

I never really went on a diet, to be honest with you, because I don’t care about that stuff as much as other people do.  I was happy.  So it took me two years to take the baby weight off.  The difference between taking it off–well it’s different in Hollywood.  People are so crazy about taking off that weight.  You keep weight off when you do it that way.  I didn’t starve myself.  I ate my regular meals.

Now I’m down to my last 15 pounds.  I have a delivery food diet coming to me which is by Sun Fair, but that’s it.  I don’t really stick to it to be honest with you.  I am an eating fool.  I try to cut out carbs and work out.  That’s all I can do.  We just did an exercise video called “F… You, I’m 40.”

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