Katey Sagal has been known as "Peg Bundy" for two decades now, despite other significant roles in popular TV series in the last 20-plus years: Leela on Futurama, John Locke's girlfriend Helen on Lost, the mom Cate on 8 Simple Rules, just to name a few. But it wasn't until her turn as Gemma Morrow on FX's Sons of Anarchy that people finally allowed Katey-as-Peg to fade slightly into the past.
Sagal won a drama Best Actress Golden Globe this year for her portrayal of the northern California bike gang matriarch, whom viewers and critics alike consider to be a Lady Macbeth for the Hell's Angel set. Gemma may not be an actual member of the Sons of Anarchy, but her scheming sets events into motion that affect the gang just as much as if she had a seat in the clubhouse's inner sanctum. Just last week Gemma implored her son to kill her husband in yet another Shakespearean turn.
But playing Gemma isn't the only contribution Sagal has made to the show. She performs on four of the tracks on the soundtrack Songs of Anarchy, joining the show's "house band" The Forest Rangers on versions of "Son of a Preacher Man," "Bird on a Wire" and more.
The season four finale of Sons of Anarchy airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX, and Rolling Stone talked to Sagal about playing Gemma, working with her husband Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, and her time singing backup for the likes of Bette Midler, Bob Dylan and Etta James.
Many people don't know that you used to be a backup singer for Bob Dylan and Bette Midler. What was that like?
That was how I made a living being a background singer for years. I was one of the Harlettes. Now if you go to see Bette's show the Harlettes are mostly dancers, but in the old days, when I worked with her it was really a vocal-heavy gig. So we did a lot of the singing behind her.
How did you get involved with singing on the show?
Well, it was [Sons of Anarchy creator and Sagal's husband] Kurt [Sutter]'s idea. He likes the way I sing, so I sang "Son of a Preacher Man" in season one. He just decided that I was going to sing every season, one song every season. It was really his impetus that got me to do that. I was pleased to help.
The whole show is such a family affair. Do you ever go home and say something like, "Kurt, I don't want to see you. I've dealt with you on set all day?"
Actually, it's interesting. We work on the same show, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we spend more time together because we have different jobs on the same show. If anything, sometimes I think we would like to not talk about it quite so much, but we also really love doing it, so it becomes a bit all-encompassing. We have three children at home, when you get into our house, as much as we'd like to just talk about us, it becomes difficult to do because there's three kids there. Thank god!
Are your kids old enough to watch the show?
Oh yeah. My 17-year-old daughter is obsessed. Our 15-year-old boy, he's not as obsessed but he I think he wants a motorcycle and tattoos. If it was up to me, no motorcycle. So I'll hold firm until he's 21.
Does Gemma sing?
No. It's interesting, every show I've done, there always comes this point where someone asks if I would sing. I've never played a character that would sing. I remember when I was on Married with Children at one point they wanted Peg Bundy to sing. For me, it just wouldn't make sense that she would have a good voice. The issue of Gemma singing, actually I don't that ever came into the conversation. It's not something that she does. It's just a nice little thing that Katey could sing on the soundtrack.
Do you know what song you want to cover for next season?
I've been pretty happy with the choices they've made. It's different than doing a song if I'm cutting a record or making a new EP for myself because the music to the show is so part of the show and it's part of the storyline and what's going on. So Kurt and [music supervisor] Bob [Thiele, Jr.] have really great taste in music and I can't imagine going to them and saying, "Oh, by the way, can I sing 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'?" It just depends on what the story will be for next season, which, he won't tell me anyway; I don't know anything.
Are you officially a Forest Ranger?
I asked Bob that, and he never includes the singers. Even my daughter sang a song on the show – which was fantastic, by the way – he called her Sarah White and the Forest Rangers. So I'm Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers. I think it's a firm boys club. Well, there may be some girls in the Forest Rangers, but I'm not, so I don't think he includes me.