“Ink is a way that [the characters on Sons of Anarchy] express themselves, or a way they let people know what’s going on with them or the changes that they’re going through.” - KURT SUTTER
INKED MAG: Tell us about how the actors in SOA get to help decide what their characters’ tattoos look like. What’s it like giving them that kind of artistic control?
KURT SUTTER: I wanted to allow the guys to help carve out their characters and decide what pieces they might have and what they represented. Like, Ron [Perlman] ended up getting pieces that represented his time in Vietnam. [Mark] Boone [Junior] ended up getting this really crazy snake on his arm, and he had all this internal monologue about what that represented. So we had some of the guys come up with ideas, and then we had our makeup people and design people here, who then have relationships with graphic artists and tattoo artists who generate those pieces. And then once we sign off on the pieces we’ll create stencils so that they can be quickly applied for the episode. They usually last two or three days before we have to replace them. We still give people the opportunity to add tattoos in between seasons, as these guys often do—Charlie [Hunnam] adding the names of his sons over the last couple of seasons and Ron adding something this year. Our guys will have different ideas for their character. I know a lot of these guys. Ink is away that they express themselves, or a way they let people know what’s going on with them or the changes that they’re going through. So we pretty much let the guys do what they want—as long as it doesn’t fly in the face of who I think the character is.
Do a majority of the cast members have their own ink?
Yes, actually. I know Charlie has his own tattoo. Charlie has a big one on his back that we have to actually cover up every time we put the reaper tat on his back. I know Ryan [Hurst] has tats and Tommy [Flanagan] has some tats. I know Theo [Rossi] has a bunch of tats. I don’t think Ron has any tattoos. I don’t think Kim [Coates] has any tattoos. I think Dayton [Callie] has tattoos. So yeah, I would say a majority of my cast, including my wife.
What’s it like being married to Peggy Bundy?
I don’t know. Peg is dead.
Do you have a lot of fans send you photos of Sons of Anarchy tattoos they’ve gotten?
Oh my God, yes. Not so much in off-season, but while the show is running I’ll get a few a week. Some people actually go and get the back tattoo. A lot of people get the reaper. I’ve had one guy get my Sutter Ink logo done on his shoulder. Katey and Charlie tell this rather terrifying story. They’re at some bike convention where they were signing auto- graphs and this guy came and had Katey and Charlie sign his arm with a Sharpie, and then came back about three hours later and he’d had a tattoo artist permanently tattoo their signatures to his arm. For me, it’s a weird mix of being astonished and appalled and flattered. Do you know what I mean? I love the fact that people feel as part of and connected to the show as they do and they want to embrace it and remember it. And then there’s a part of me that thinks, What happens 10 years from now when we’re not on the air and people are like, What the hell is that on your arm? But yes, we have a lot of passionate fans that tend to show up with ink.
Tell us about Outlaw Empires, the new show on the Discovery Channel you’re executive producing.
I’ve always been a fan of documentary series. I had conversations with the Discovery Channel, and we went back and forth with different ideas and we came up with this idea of doing a documentary series on outlaw empires, on large criminal dynasties. I was intrigued with the idea that we would be able to tell the story through the point of view of the individual, meaning that it would be done from the outlaw’s point of view rather than from a historical or a law enforcement point of view. So that we would actually get inside and talk to these individual members and try to understand what drew them to the life—why did they become part of it? what happened? where are they now?—and really use their stories to give context to the world rather than just sort of a dry, exploitative overview of bad guys doing bad things, which is what I did not want to do. So that’s really what the premise was. I think for the most part we’ve been able to go in and tell these stories—I think probably for the first time—from some point of objectivity.
You talked about a potential back piece. What else does the future hold for your ink?
I have these two pieces on my arms that really go all the way up onto my shoulders and start to extend into my back. And my sense is that I’d try to tie them all together in some kind of a cool back piece. I like exploring different styles, and I think I’d probably want to go to a different artist to do that next piece, and have it not be tribal, and really try to explore a different genre of art. I know it’s traditional to do sort of a life story— a life history in the back piece. I think that’s probably why I’d seek out a guy like Freddy [Corbin]. That’s where my head’s going for the next piece.