The actor: Katey Sagal, a Hollywood veteran whose father, Boris Sagal, had a long career as a TV director, and whose mother, Sara Macon, was a producer. (Sagal’s brother Joe and her sisters Jean and Liz are in showbiz too: The latter are best known for their roles on the sitcom Double Trouble and their appearances as the Doublemint twins in TV commercials, though they’ve continued to work behind the camera.) Sagal planned to be a professional musician, and spent time in the ’70s touring as a backing singer for several major rock, pop, and country acts, but by the ’80s, she’d largely retired from the road and had returned to the family business. Since then, she’s helped create three iconic, radically different characters: Peg Bundy, the brassy housewife on Married With Children; Turanga Leela, the sexy one-eyed mutant tough gal on the animated Futurama; and Gemma Teller Morrow, the battle-scarred biker mama on FX’s pulp drama Sons Of Anarchy. The latter began its third season last week; it airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Sons Of Anarchy (2008-present)—“Gemma Teller Morrow”
Katey Sagal: I’d been looking for a more dramatic role. I’ve done comedy most of my career, which I love, but I wanted to expand. And Sons Of Anarchy came along, and is sort of a dream job, really, a dream character to play. It’s so different from other roles I’ve played, and it’s been challenging, which is just what I wanted.
The A.V. Club: Does being married to the show’s creator, Kurt Sutter, give you more insight into your character and where the show’s going than other people in the cast might have?
KS: You know, not so much, really. Kurt kind of lets everyone know at the beginning of each season what’s going on in broad strokes; but even he doesn’t have all the details yet. So I get that information along with everybody else. Every once in a while, he’ll drop an “Oh, this is going to happen,” not necessarily involving me, but just in terms of the whole story. I’ll get a little preview of what’s to come, but basically I’m just with everybody else.
AVC: There’s a moment in the third-season première where your character is hot-wiring the car, and you have to dig into your purse to find your glasses…
KS: That was scripted. It was so true to life. I love that moment.
AVC: …and it’s in keeping with the tone of the show, which can be heavy and funny, but is always tough. Does the tone carry over to the mood on the set? Is there a certain level of bad-assery to the way the cast behaves?
KS: Yeah, though I wouldn’t say “bad-assery.” [Laughs.] But you are dealing with actors, and actors tend to absorb what they’re playing over a period of time. I’ve never worked on a lawyer show for a long time, but I imagine the actors all start acting like lawyers. On our particular show, all the guys ride, and they’re a very colorful bunch of people. Big personalities. They’ve bonded the way a motorcycle club might; they hang out after work hours. The whole set has taken on the tone of a camaraderie that’s one of the main characteristics of these motorcycle clubs, really. Their camaraderie and their loyalty to one another.
AVC: In your past, you spent a lot of time hanging around with rock bands. Was that similar?
KS: Yeah, actually. When you tour with a band, you’re just out there, and it’s just you guys. That’s your little universe. If you do a play, it’s the same deal. That becomes your world, for the cast and crew. So that’s kind of the vibe on set. It’s a great vibe on set.
Futurama (1999-2003; 2007-present)—“Turanga Leela”
KS: It feels like we’re never done, because the show is so fan-driven. They’ve told us several times, “This is it; we’re done now.” But I’m never surprised when it pops back up. Even now, after such a long break, it feels like we never left. It feels like a continuation. We just carry on, because it’s such a good show, and it’s got such great fans that I don’t think the powers that be and the people with money can ignore that.
AVC: Do you do your voice-work in short bursts, or do you get called in throughout the year?
KS: No, we pretty much did this last 26 right in a row. I think we did two a month. The process is that one day a week, you have a table-read, and then you record a couple of days after. But it’s ongoing in that I still have ADR I need to do, which is like going and tweaking what we’ve done. But generally, it’s a normal TV production schedule.
AVC: How serious do you think Fox was a couple of years ago when they talked about replacing the whole Futurama voice cast? Do you think it was just a power play?
KS: You never really know if they’re really going to do it. At the end of the day, it’s a business. But I don’t think any of us were that nervous. You know, if we hadn’t reached a compromise, I can’t really say what would have happened, but I don’t put anything past anybody. Anybody can be replaced. I think it would have been a totally different show, though. Would it have been successful? I don’t know. But I think there’s a lot of fan investment in those voices, so I don’t like to think they would replace us.
Lost (2005-10)—“Helen Norwood”
KS: I was shocked when I was brought back for the final season, because she was dead, the last time I checked.
AVC: Well, apparently she still was.
KS: Right! [Laughs.] Oh, that’s right. No, I was always surprised every time they called me in, but thrilled. That was a great show to work on. And I loved working with Terry O’Quinn, and that was who my stuff was with.
AVC: Did you ever know during shooting last season what was really going on with your character?
KS: Oh no, no, you didn’t know anything on that show. I think the regular actors there were trying to figure things out, just as any guest actor would be. I just needed to know a few little points to make sure I knew where I was, if I was in the forward or the future or the sideways. [Laughs.] It was hard to keep track.
AVC: That’s the kind of show where even knowing you’re going to appear constitutes a spoiler.
KS: Right, exactly. But it was leaked that I was coming back on. So I’m sure fans knew.
8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter (2002-05)—“Cate Hennessy”
KS: After John Ritter died, we collectively wanted to go on. It was a rock-and-a-hard-place position, where it felt really wrong to just leave and end it, but it also felt uncomfortable to continue. There was just no really obvious right thing to do. And the people who make the decisions made that decision to move forward. I thought it was the most honest thing to do, and a way of honoring John as well. I was happy that they decided to let the story unfold as the family loses the father. I did feel like they tried to get back to the funny a little quick. I understand that’s the major thing on sitcoms—you want to get people laughing, but I thought that organically, it could have taken a little more time in telling that real story of the family getting through it. I think we did the best we could. It was just heartbreaking.
AVC: Did coming back help you and the cast have some sense of closure with what happened to John Ritter?
KS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the thought that suddenly we just wouldn’t go back… Because when you’re on these shows, they become your little family. You become very close. And particularly on that show, the love for John Ritter was so overwhelming and powerful. He was just an amazing person. So the thought of all of a sudden not being where John had just been felt really wrong to all of us. So it was the right decision, personally, for each one of us, to have closure. It was all so weird, and we needed to support each other through it.
Married With Children (1987-97)—“Peg Bundy”
AVC: What’s your sense of the legacy of that show? At the time, people decried it as crass and vulgar, but it also played a major role in building the Fox Network brand.
KS: Yeah, we were on the air back when people had rabbit ears on their televisions, and you could barely find the Fox Network. I loved Married With Children. That was the job that against all odds—you know, when I first read the script, I thought, “No one will ever watch this, but I think this is so fun.” So I was really happy to be involved in it. And we laughed every single day. It was the funniest 11 years. We really, really enjoyed it.
In terms of its legacy, look at television now. It’s pretty raunchy. And television wasn’t like that when we started. So Married With Children definitely had its voice heard, in starting all that. I guess that’s the legacy. What I love about people who watch Married With Children, though, is that it had a very committed fan base, and they just thought it was funny. Because that’s all it was supposed to be, funny. People would try to put political overtones, and you know, “This isn’t politically correct,” and they tried to do all this stuff to it. But it’s really just supposed to be 20 minutes of fun. And that’s what I think it really was. And the fact that it’s endured all of this time, and people are still watching… We just did a big reunion photo shoot for an article for Entertainment Weekly. It just keeps coming around. People like to laugh.
AVC: It’s funny to see what that cast is doing now. Christina Applegate Emmy-nominated for Samantha Who?, Ed O’Neill on the hit Modern Family, yourself on Sons Of Anarchy. That’s an impressive body of work from the people who were on that show.
KS: Yeah, we’re doing okay. You hope as an actor that you can continue to do different things, and keep going. It’s sort of the mixed blessing of being on television for so long in one thing; sometimes that backfires, in that you’re not able to continue on. But we’ve all been pretty lucky.
Mary (1985-86)—“Jo Tucker”
KS: That was awesome. I was the last one to know that that show was not doing well. I thought it was fantastic. It was my first job on television, really, and I was with Mary Tyler Moore. And Danny DeVito was the director; he cast me. And I literally had never been on a sitcom, or even near a sitcom. I had not a clue as to what I was doing. And Mary was very loving and supportive; I just followed her lead, because she’s, you know, the queen. So for my first experience on a sitcom, it was awesome.
AVC: Didn’t you appear on a lot of TV movies and TV shows that your dad directed in the early ’70s?
KS: Well, there weren’t that many, really, and that was mostly about getting a union card. [Laughs.] My dad figured, “Okay, if she’s going to be an actor…” Which actually wasn’t my desire; I wanted to be a musician. But he wanted to make sure, as any good parent would, that I had health insurance. So that was his first motivation for getting me a part in a movie. And then I did a couple of little parts on a Columbo he directed. But it wasn’t so much because that’s where I thought I was headed; it was more for the health benefits. It kind of worked out another way. Now, I completely love where I am.
AVC: Your father directed a couple of feature films, but mostly he was involved with a lot of quality TV shows, like Peter Gunn and Johnny Staccato. And in your own career, you’ve stayed closer to TV than movies. Is that just you following your father’s legacy?
KS: Well, it’s just the way things worked out. I mean, I’d like to be in feature films. But for me, one of my concerns other than my career is my family. Television has really allowed me to raise my children, because up until recently, most television was shot here in Los Angeles. Now it seems like you’re being farmed out all over the place, but so far, I’ve been lucky enough that I’m able to stay in town. If you have a big feature career, you have to leave; you have to go away a lot. And I have three kids. It’s important for me not to be gone. In my particular case, it’s worked out that television has allowed me to do both things.
That being said, I would also love to be in the occasional feature film; it just hasn’t, schedule-wise and work-wise, panned out quite that way yet. It still might; I don’t know. But anytime someone says “That was my career plan,” I think they’re lying to you. Because you can’t really make a plan for all this, it just kind of happens as it happens. Every time I make a plan, like, “This is how it should go,” something usually better comes along, and it’s never the way I thought it was going to be. You know, if I’d had the career I dreamed of as a kid, I would be on the road 250 days out of the year, touring with a rock band. And that would have not been really what I wanted to do. So it works out better when I just kind of go with what shows up.