A flagship program for the FX network, Sons of Anarchy roared its way onto the televisions of millions of viewers for the first time in 2008. Since then, it's received a massive following from a dedicated fan base thanks to Kurt Sutter's unique blend of gun-running violence and thoughtful poignancy. Using the fictional Southern California city of Charming as his playground, he molded a family drama from a world of gang violence, shedding light on the biker culture with his writing.
Throughout his seven seasons on the air, Jax Teller took a strong command of his motorcycle club, making one questionable decision after another for the protection of his friends and family. Along the way, he had his fair share of run-ins with some tough-nosed individuals, but behind the scenes, not everyone was as hardcore as they appeared on screen.
Although toting a gun and riding a custom chopper down a long stretch of highway can make anyone look like a tough guy, not every SoA cast member was as bad as they let on. While some convincingly acted the part, others shared more in common with their on-screen personalities than they would have the audience believe. After digging up dirt on the cast, we found out who truly was putting on a show and who acted out when the cameras weren't rolling.
Here are the 8 Sons of Anarchy Stars Who Are Legitimately Tough (And 8 Who Are Just Tough On Screen).
16 Only Tough On Screen: Kim Coates - Tig
Hidden behind his callous demeanor and high body count, Tig Trager was a surprisingly sensitive, if not overly emotional, member of the Sons. As the former Sergeant-in-Arms underneath Clay, he inevitably had a shaky love-hate relationship with Jax due to his tendencies to act out in fits of violent rage. Despite his depraved relationship with acts of violence, he was a man who lived by a code and couldn't stomach the mistreatment of women, children, and animals.
Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Kim Coates is the polar opposite of Tig, with over three decades of acting experience under his belt. Since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2010, Coates has shown support for the United States military by traveling across the world on USO tours, bringing smiles to the troops and their families stationed in locations like Japan, Guam and Hawaii. Along with many of his Sons co-stars, he's used his fame to raise awareness for veterans in need, including participating in the Boot Campaign.
Since his final days of Sons, Coates admits he's become instantly more recognizable to his fans, but before accepting the part of Tig, he almost turned it down due to the fear that the character would be perceived as a pure sociopath. Luckily, he stuck with the part and has since agreed that Tig was far deeper than he originally thought.
15 Legitimately Tough: Jimmy Smits - Nero
A seasoned veteran of the small screen, Jimmy Smits has traversed many genres in television for more than three decades. First appearing on the 1980s legal drama L.A. Law as the lawyer Victor Sifuentes and later making a name for himself as NYPD Detective Bobby Simone in NYPD Blue, Smits has had a long string of successes as an actor.
For the part of Nero Padilla, a former gang member and illegal establishment owner, he confessed to looking for the good inside his character, but much like the man depicted in the series, Smits has had a complicated past which hasn't always painted him in the most positive light.
In 1987, police responded to a call regarding a domestic disturbance at Smit's South Bundy Drive home where an altercation had arose between himself and his girlfriend.
While his partner was being questioned, a fight broke out between her and the officers, during which Smits jumped in.
Ultimately all charges were dropped when the couple pleaded no contest on one charge of disturbing the peace.
These days, Smits is much more laid back and is even giving back to the community as the creator of the National Hispanic Foundation of the Arts, which helps foster the emergence of talented young Latino artists. Still, his arrest remains a blemish on his career which he admits has left a bad taste in his mouth.
14 Only Tough On Screen: Charlie Hunnam - Jax
For Charlie Hunnam, stepping into the world of biker culture wouldn't prove to be as difficult as many fans imagine. To prepare for the role of Jax Teller, he often visited MCs around the Oakland area and frequented rallies to gather as much information about the atmosphere as possible.
According to Hunnam, parts of the Sons' way of life weren't far off from the way things were taught in his household. Violence was an acceptable problem-solver for both of his parents and the police were never allowed on the premise, but as Hunnam would explain, the misogynistic flavor that often pervades the motorcycle world was far from what he knew growing up.
Although Hunnam views his formative years as a closer reflection of SoA than his current lifestyle, he's remained close friends with many of his castmates and has admitted that the character of Jax was hard to escape after the series ended. Outside of the set, however, the actor sees himself as much more relaxed and has even referred to himself as "a hippie who smiles a lot."
Although he continues to portray tough-minded men on screen, he says he has an escape fantasy of someday disappearing to an isolated area in the woods to truly find himself, though that day doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon.
13 Legitimately Tough: Katey Sagal - Gemma
As the matriarch of SoA, Gemma was a vindictive personality who operated behind the scenes of the club, stopping at nothing to assure the safety of her family as well as the Sons'. Egged on by the creative support of her husband Kurt Sutter, Katey Sagal became the show's catalyst for an endless amount of grief, spurred by her character's continual web of deceit and lies. Ultimately, Sagal's malicious character was a driving force behind much of the show's drama, a fact which she believes was motivated by Gemma's desire to do what was best for her loved ones.
Outside of the series, Sagal is far from the same person, though it isn't a coincidence that Sutter wrote the part with his wife specifically in mind for the role. Much like her character, Sagal has experienced hardships as a mother, suffering the unexpected loss of her daughter in 1991.
The actress opened up about her tragedy in her memoir Grace Notes and has said she often visited psychic healers and doctors to help her get over her grief.
As an accomplished actress with a successful secondary career as a singer, Sagal has bounced back from the aftermath of her tragedy, working in tandem with Sutter to bring one of the fiercest female characters of recent memory to the small screen. There's no doubt that much of her own experience went into the creation of her on-screen persona.
12 Only Tough On Screen: Ron Perlman - Clay
Although he portrayed Sons President Clay Morrow for six years, Ron Perlman has been a resident bad man on the small and big screen for three decades. Often typecast due to his intimidating looks, he’s become accustomed to playing the tough guy on campus with starring roles in projects like the Beauty and the Beast television series and the Hellboy films. Still, playing the part of the villainous-looking tough guy doesn’t always translate to the same kind of lifestyle away from the cameras.
Far from the prototypical good-looking leading man, Perlman has stated that his fearful transitions in front of the camera began from an early awkwardness during his younger years. Rather than standing idly by for roles to come to him, he sought more monstrous parts where the character in question appeared much more humane than his looks let on.
Speaking of his inspirations, Perlman recalled watching Charles Laughton’s performance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a seminal point in his career.
As for all the characters Perlman has portrayed on screen, he admits he must first understand his parts before playing them, but he couldn’t be further from the men he plays on screen. Now in his 60s, he’s quite the humanitarian, showing strong support for veterans as well as the Make-a-Wish foundation. He also has political aspirations and has stated he may run for President in 2020 as a possible Democratic candidate.
11 Legitimately Tough: Tommy Flanagan - Chibs
Referred to as "The Scot" by many members of the club, Chibs was the only Scottish born member of the Sons and was among the most loyal of friends to Jax Teller. Given his nickname because of his facial scars given to him by his nemesis Jimmy O'Phelan, Chibs eventually worked himself up through the ranks of the club, becoming a Sergeant-in-Arms and later being promoted to Vice President following the end of Bobby. Despite exhibiting a willingness to get his hands dirty when necessary, he was one of the most forgiving friends of the group and even showed sympathy for Juice after he betrayed the club by talking to the police.
Although Tommy Flanagan is far from the thug he portrayed on SoA, the tragic story behind his scarred appearance is an inspirational account of survival that makes him one of the toughest members of the cast. Growing up in a poorer part of Glasgow, Scotland, Flanagan was working a late night as a DJ at a nearby club when he was brutally attacked by a gang. When he fought back, he was left with scars on both sides of his faces, known regionally as a Glasglow smile. Although Flanagan's scars are a living reminder of the assault, they've worked well for his career and remain a signature part of his look.
10 Only Tough On Screen: Walton Goggins - Venus Van Dam
As a former full-time cast member on The Shield, Walton Goggins' working relationship with Kurt Sutter spans more than fifteen years. After Goggins caught word that Sutter promised to never have him on SoA due to his unmistakable connection to Shane Vendrell on the police drama, the actor reached out to his friend to discuss a way of coming on the show without being easily identifiable. After spitballing multiple ideas, the two settled on the character of Venus Van Dam, a fierce but loyal transgender nightworker who would later become Tig's love interest.
Although Goggins' role would begin as playful banter, Venus Van Dam would become far from a joke for fans of the series. Brought up in a rough household, Venus underwent a gender identity crisis in which she was severely mistreated by her mother. As the usual tough guy who's played the villain in everything from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained to Justified, Goggins brought a new kind of fierce perspective to the biker drama, but off screen he's much kinder than he appears.
When he's not acting out his bad guy fantasies, Goggins is making sure to leave a light footprint on the earth as a supporter of the nonprofit organization Global Green USA. Raising awareness about sustainable living, he's involved with many projects which aim to educate people about the consumption of unnecessary things that could bring harm to the planet.
9 Legitimately Tough: David M. Labrava - Happy
From a tattoo artist to a regular cast member, David Labrava's journey to becoming a Son began when he was contacted by Kurt Sutter to act as a technical adviser on set. Having previously worked as a camera operator for the Zalman King Company, Labrava began having Hollywood aspirations. After going to school to become a painter, he started taking screenwriting lessons and wished to someday step behind the scenes as a professional writer in film and television, but rather than just giving him a chance at the writers' room, Sutter put Labrava in front of the camera.
As the most heavily tattooed member of the Sons, Labrava portrayed Happy, the enforcer of the club who carries out much of the gang's dirty deeds, which is something not too unfamiliar from Labrava's real world situation.
Off set, the part-time actor is a fully patched member of the Hells Angels, one of the most notorious one percenter biker gangs across the world.
Rather than just looking the part, he's actually found himself on the wrong side of the law. In 2008, while in Missoula, Montana for one of the Hells Angels' annual USA Runs, Labrava was arrested on possession charges. The authorities were called to his hotel room after claims were made that he was holding a woman against her will. He was later released on a $2,500 bail.
8 Only Tough On Screen: Marilyn Manson - Ron Tully
Remove his dark eye shadow, black lipstick and morose gothic style and Marilyn Manson appears much more approachable when he's not on the stage. Remembered best on Sons of Anarchy as the guy who ended Juice's story in the final season, Manson portrayed Ron Tully, a shot caller of the Aryan Brotherhood incarcerated in Stockton State Prison.
The role would come to Manson with a phone call. Believing he was only going to make a song for the final season, he received the news from Katey Sagal that he would become a full-fledged character. Speaking to a CBS radio station about SoA, Manson stated that he and his father were fans of the series and that the role helped them both to cope with the recent passing of his mother.
A heavy metal icon in his spare time, Manson often comes off as an antisocial, hard to pin down figure, but in reality, he's carved a niche for himself through his trademark vampiric appearance and sullen sound. Although some listeners have misinterpreted Manson's entertainment persona as a cry for help, the singer-songwriter has said he merely created his own fake world because he "didn't like the one he was living in." Ultimately, he's become a voice for many unheard adolescents, a role which he believes makes him a catalyst for change.
7 Legitimately Tough: Emilio Rivera - Alvarez
As the President of the Oakland Charter for the Mayans Motorcycle Club, Marcus Alvarez was forced to make some questionable decisions for his club, which included eliminating his own son and going to war with the Sons for most of the show's early seasons. As time wore on, he proved himself to be a capable leader, working beside Jax in a lucrative partnership which kept money flowing into the MC through the gun and drug trade.
When he's not busy playing the tough guy on screen, actor Emilio Rivera is thankful that he's not dealing with the realities of gang brutality on an everyday basis. Growing up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Frogtown alongside the L.A. River, Rivera admitted to being full of machismo in his youth, which inevitably led to him joining in on much of the gang-on-gang crimes of the area. His downward spiral in criminal activities began a series of substance addictions. Although he eventually found solace in the acting world, Rivera has stated that he's lucky to still be alive.
Rivera estimates he's lost more than forty friends to senseless gang violence, but it keeps the positivity flowing by focusing on his craft.
Now the star of more than sixty movies and forty shows, he's looking forward to the premiere of Mayans MC which is set to debut later this year.
6 Only Tough On Screen: Maggie Siff - Tara
Being an "old lady" in a testosterone-fueled world of hot-headed biker dudes can be an unnerving experience for any woman, but for Tara Knowles, the intimidating presence of SAMCRO was an unfortunate reality she was all too familiar with. As Jax's ex-flame, she immediately began mixing back in with the club when she returned to Charming years after leaving her hometown.
As an attending surgeon at St. Thomas Hospital, she often dealt with the battle-wounded members of the club. With her toughened exterior and higher than normal intellect, she used her know-how to protect her family until she inevitably turned her back on the criminal activities of the Sons.
Often finding herself on the bad side of her mother-in-law Gemma, Tara met an unjust and brutal end after divulging information about the club to the police. Behind the scenes, the impact of Maggie Siff's final moments would resonate as deeply off camera as they would in the final season of the show.
After finally viewing her character's demise, Siff became noticeably emotional about Tara's sudden end, stating that it was difficult to accept that the character was gone after portraying her for so many years. In the end, however, her biggest loss was the relationship between Tara and Jax, and the chemistry she and Hunnam had worked together to create.
5 Legitimately Tough: Rusty Coones - Rane Quinn
Blurring the line between reality and fiction, Kurt Sutter delved deep into the biker culture to recreate the rough and tumble world of one percenter motorcycle clubs. To capture the authenticity of that world, Sutter frequented many custom bike shops as well as many local club hangouts, which is where he first began using real life Hells Angels members as consultants for SoA.
Although many of the extras used on the show were products of Hollywood, others were the real deal, including Coones, a longstanding Hells Angel who portrayed Rane Quinn in the series' last three seasons. Built like a tank at 6-foot-5 with bulging, tatted-up biceps, Coones built many of the bikes seen on SoA. Working out of Westminster, California, he's the owner of Illusion Motorsports, which he first bought in 1999 before falling in with a rough crowd.
Unlike many of his castmates, Coones' character is essentially a small screen adaptation of his real life personality.
A central California native, Coones has been to prison twice, once for illegal substances and guns and a second time for conspiracy to distribute an illicit chemical used to make illegal substances. For him, his work on Sons was a way of bringing more attention to his work as a custom bike builder. Speaking on the subject, he said the show was a way to legitimize his business and create more enthusiasm for his projects moving forward.
4 Only Tough On Screen: Ryan Hurst - Opie
Stand at 6-foot-6, Opie Winston was Jax Teller's best friend of the series. After spending five years in prison for the club, he was released a renewed man, torn between his family and the Sons' criminal activities. After the passing of his wife, he was drawn back into the crooked ways of his old life, stricken by grief which ultimately left his children alienated from their only remaining parent. Savagely beaten in a sacrificial manner, his life was taken when he refused to let Jax lose his life for the club.
When he’s not busy being Jax’s personal savior, Hurst is a much more laid back kind of guy.
Nothing like the violent version of himself depicted on screen, he admitted to being emotional after receiving the call from Kurt Sutter about Opie’s impending departure. Months after his time had ended, he still sported his long beard as a reminder of the life he had lost. As a final, tearful farewell, he bid ado to the character when Charlie Hunnam helped him chop off his beard with a souvenir samurai sword purchased as a parting gift by the rest of the cast.
Although Hurst has since come to terms with his character’s demise, calling it a noble way to go out, he’s still not exactly sure if it was a necessary end, though he admits the show was a once in a lifetime journey he’s happy to have been a part of.
3 Legitimately Tough: Mark Boone Junior - Bobby Munson
With his long grey beard and devil-may-care appearance, Bobby Munson looked like the standard weathered MC member, but underneath his rough exterior, he exhibited a rare level-headed demeanor unlike anyone else in the club. Unhappy with Clay Morrow's direction of the Sons, he quickly sided with Jax, believing that the best future of the club could be found in the hands of a capable leader looking to steer the group away from criminal activities.
Although his castmates firmly believed he was among the most likable members of the cast, actor Mark Boone Junior actually shared more in common with his on-screen personality that one might think. In 2010, the actor was taken into custody after a routine traffic stop in Glendale, California escalated into a hands-on dispute between himself and an officer. According to reports, Boone Junior was driving his 1955 Ford Thunderbird when he was stopped for talking on his cellphone and not wearing a seat belt. When the officer attempted to arrest him, an argument ensued which reportedly ended when Boone tried to take a swing at the officer's face but missed.
After being released on $20,000 bail, the L.A. County District Attorney involved in Boone's case declined to prosecute the actor due to insufficient evidence. Although he may not have been dealt any serious punishment for the case, he was left with an abominable mugshot for the Internet to see.
2 Only Tough On Screen: Theo Rossi - Juice
In SoA, Theo Rossi portrayed Juice Ortiz, a half-black member who struggled with his own identity and loyalty to the club. Shown to be incredibly naive in the early seasons of the series, he's later exposed as too soft-hearted for the group when his secret of being half black is nearly revealed to the club. Believing his life is in jeopardy, he begins feeding intel on SAMCRO to the police, which ultimately sends his life into chaos, eventually forcing to harden up for the sake of his own preservation.
In real life, Theo Rossi is even more kind-hearted than Juice is often portrayed on screen. As a devoted humanitarian, he's found a passion in helping the men and women of the military. As an Ambassador for the Boot Campaign, he's raised money and awareness for wounded soldiers and returning vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This includes paying visits to multiple military bases and organizing an annual Boot Ride where fans had the chance to ride with the Sons cast to raise money for those affected by war.
Outside of his military aid, Rossi also helped create Staten Strong, a program used to help rebuild homes in Staten Island shortly after the effects of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He also has a soft spot for street dogs and has launched a campaign with the Humane Society to protect sick and hungry dogs left on the streets without owners.
1 Legitimately Tough: Kurt Sutter
A self-described self-medicator since birth, Kurt Sutter's first drug of choice was food. As a teenager, he weighed in the vicinity of 400 pounds, which resulted in him barring himself off from most of society. Ultimately, his time stashed away in his parents' basement did nothing but build upon his adolescent frustrations. In time, he had swapped his food consumption with alcohol and substance addictions. Together, his rage and fears meshed with his spiraling sense of self-control, fueling his creative process and giving rise to the psychodrama evident in Sons of Anarchy.
Although Sutter's been sober for nearly a decade, his off the handle, rebellious ways are still a part of his everyday life.
On the show, he portrayed Otto Delaney, an imprisoned member of SAMCRO who was so faithful to the club that he bit off his own tongue to protect its remaining members. In the real world, Sutter faces everything with just as little fear as his on-screen character.
Unfiltered and foul-mouthed, Sutter found himself in hot water in 2012 after Tweeting about the real life San Diego biker gang the Laffing Devils, believing the Sons could go toe-to-toe with the group. The online war was enough for the gang to put forth an invitation for Charlie Hunnam to meet up for a fight. Luckily, neither Sutter nor Hunnam exchanged blows with the club, though it didn't stop Sutter from continuing to insult the group through social media.
Who's the toughest cast member from Sons of Anarchy? Let us know in the comments!