Leap from trashy Peg to staunch Gemma

By Leena Tailor

It's hard shaking off the character of Peg Bundy, Katey Sagal tells Leena Tailor

Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller from 'Sons of Anarchy'. Photo / Supplied
Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller from 'Sons of Anarchy'. Photo / Supplied

It's almost 15 years since the curtain fell on Married... With Children, but even with her Golden Globe-winning role as fierce motorcycle matriarch Gemma on Sons of Anarchy, Katey Sagal can't shake Peg Bundy. "It's amazing one actress can play Peggy Bundy and Gemma," remarks a fan as the 59-year-old actress enters the room, looking like a day hasn't passed since the sitcom ended. Reflecting on the role that shot her to worldwide fame, the mother-of-three says while she's the one that hatched Peggy's trashy style, it's Gemma who is closer to home.

"Peggy was written as a couch potato, so when I read the script I thought there had to be something more," says Sagal. "I thought their relationship had to have something hot in the bedroom, so I dolled her up and came in with very high heels and tight clothes.

"I grew up in Hollywood and never met anyone like Peg Bundy, so I was shocked by how many people would write in saying, 'You're just like my mum.'

"But with Gemma, she has some basic instincts which are very familiar to me - loyalty, love of family and her husband. Her ways and means of taking care of things aren't my approach, but she's motherly, sexual and comfortable around men. I grew up playing in rock bands, so I'm used to being around lots of boys."

While the show, about a biker gang, sees Sagal out-numbered by men, she credits it for helping grace television with stronger female roles for older women.

"This country is so hell-bent on being young. I grew up in a household where it was all about respecting our elders and knowing more the older we get. What's great about cable television is that it's allowed creators to create something that - surprise, surprise - has a lot of women of an older age. They've lived longer, they're interesting and viable. It's opening up better parts for women of my age.

"And [SOA] is a voice for women who maybe feel a little repressed about their angry selves... they'd rather cry than scream when they need to scream.

"These women live in an aggressive world so to be heard they voice that aggression.

Gemma carries a gun and Gemma will take you down! Like a lot of women, she's the strong woman behind the man."

Her own man, series creator Kurt Sutter, penned the role with Sagal in mind, but sharing a bed with the creator doesn't give her any scoop on storylines. "If anything he tells me less."

The couple have a six-year-old daughter Esmé, born though surrogacy, as well as Sagal's two teenagers from her second marriage. Son Jack plays music while daughter Sarah is following in the family footsteps studying theatre.

"Every once in awhile I think, 'Wow, this is weird to be in my 50s with a six-year-old, but it's easier because I have the knowledge she's going to grow out of anything too traumatic and that my teenagers have done just fine. For our family it's been lovely to have Kurt as step-dad to my older two then have Esmé together."

Her teens watch the show, now in its fifth series which kicked off with a bang thanks to the jaw-dropping death of much-loved Opie. Sagal, who also sings and is working on a new album, recalls the awkwardness of taking Jack to the series premiere.

"On the way I suddenly thought, 'Oh sh**! I totally forgot about that [love scene.]' I looked at him and said, 'Honey you're going to see Mum in a way you've never seen Mum,' and he started guessing what sex act he's about to see his mother do.

"But these are kids who have seen movies way beyond what I would think you see at 16.

My kids know what we do is make-believe - they've known that since they were little, so luckily they're able to separate!"

Sons of Anarchy screens on Wednesdays at 9.30pm on TV3

- Herald on Sunday

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