Exclusive Interview: Kim Coates on Being Tig Trager in Sons of Anarchy

November 12, 2012

Kim Coates as Alex “Tig” Trager in Sons of Anarchy. Photo credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX

Kim Coates plays bad boy “Tig” Trager in FX’s hit drama series Sons of Anarchy. We’re in the middle of Season 5 and fans are probably wondering how the story will unfold. Don’t worry, Coates stays spoiler-free. Check out what he does say about his career as a Shakespearean actor, dreaming about going back to Broadway, preparing for difficult scenes, his thoughts on tattoos, and more. Catch Sons of Anarchy Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Thanks for talking to us, Kim. How are you?
KC: Sons is over! Season 5 is over. I mean, it’s on television now but we wrapped about three weeks ago. It has been quite a season. It’s such a big hit now. There isn’t quite a show like it out there. And Sutter [Ed note: Kurt Sutter, show creator], who is a genius, always ends each season in a way that you can’t wait for the next season. This year, there has been so much carnage. The leaving of Opie is fairly epic and it shows how metaphorically Hamlet we are at times, and there are going to be more unfortunate deaths in the next seasons.

You started your career playing Macbeth and you’ve come a long way with dozens of films and several important TV roles. In which of these three environments do you feel most comfortable and why?
KC: Obviously I feel fairly comfortable in the film and television world, because I haven’t done a play since 1990, which is sort of sad for me when I really reflect on that. That’s where it all began for me. I was this little tough kid coming out of Saskatoon (Canada) when I graduated college and I had done 25 plays in over four years, which is pretty unbelievable. And when I got to Toronto, I signed with the biggest agent in town who said he was going to get me into television right away and I said “Actually, you’re not.” I had no interest in that yet. It was 1981, I needed to do more theater. I got my equity card. Stratford for two years. Then I went to Broadway with A Streetcar Named Desire, I played Dracula in Atlanta… My career was pretty staged out and I really felt like I knew what I was doing. From the early 90s I never looked back, but I need to go back to the stage now. I know that I really want to go back to Broadway, which is something I plan to do in the next two or three years. Get ready, pack my bags.

What do you think makes a great actor? Does it have to do with what happens off-screen, how you choose roles, preparation?
KC: I’ve been doing this a long time. For me, I like to give back a lot, to charities. I just did a talk yesterday at the L.A. School of Arts and spoke to these incredibly bright 16 and 17-year-old students, who want to be actors and actresses, about my impressions on the business and whatnot. For me it all started onstage, with breathing and movement and classical training. That was my beginning. When kids tell me “I want to go to L.A. I want to be a star!” I tell them “Well, that’s not going to happen.” You can get rid of that thought right now. Kids need to stay in their community. Stay in New York or Ontario or wherever they are. Just stay there, take acting classes, be with kids your age. The technology today is phenomenal and you can learn a lot about yourself by shooting short films. Audition for college movies, directors are always looking for new talent. I just think it’s really important to get a great foundation of what acting is. It’s all about listening. You need to learn about yourself, your body, your voice, and who you are so you can become other people.

That said, is there any type of role that would make your acting career complete, any dream roles?
KC: Wow. That’s great. I’ve always wanted to play Richard III. I’m too old for Mercutio now. I’ve done Macbeth. So I think Richard III is my Stratford dream job. But as far as the movies go, I mean the parts I don’t know. But certain people that I’d like to work with? Yeah, there’s a list out there. I’m a big fan of Sean Penn and Daniel Day Lewis. Kevin Costner is a good buddy of mine and I love working with Kevin. I want to do comedy. I just want to do comedy. I think people are becoming more familiar with my work now, obviously. You know, I’m intense and blue eyes and play all these different roles but, come on, I want to put a dress on, I want to eat a hot dog! I want to be funny. I can’t wait.

All your work is on a ship that is about to sink. Everything is going to be erased except for this one role or movie. You can only salvage one. Which one would you choose?
KC: It’s a hard one! It’s really hard. I guess, just because of the scope of my performance in the movie—not many people saw it, it won an acting award—it’s called King of Sorrow. We shot it about seven years ago and it starred Lara Daans. There was a lot of depth involved in this role. I played a very troubled cop who is trying to save the streets and deal with the wrongness of the city. I really got to work hard every day and create every day. Damian Lee, the director, he was so giving and sharing with my ideas. It’s hard to watch, because it’s so intense, but people who saw it went crazy about it.

What have you been watching on TV lately?
KC: It’s hard for me. I’m pretty honest about that. Who has the time? I’m so lucky to be working so much, to be in Sons, and I’ve been offered some movies, which I’ve had to turn down. I have my kids, my wife, and running around, and doing my charities. No. The answer is no. If I can catch the History Channel, HBO, FX is obviously my favorite channel, because of John Landgraf and what he produces out there, but I’m sorry to say I TiVo a lot of stuff. I’m not even caught up on Sons of Anarchy. It’s been so crazy for me. I’m a bad interviewee. The one show I never missed was The Sopranos, and that was a long time ago. I also like to catch up with fellow actors. Like Matty Craven, a good buddy of mine, whatever he’s on I want to see. All my colleagues, like Ron Perlman, I love seeing what everybody is doing.

Did you know how to ride a motorcycle before joining the show? Do you ride one now?
KC: Yeah. I think Mark Boone Junior and myself were the only two who have been riding a whole lot. Our whole lives. Literally, when I was cast as Tig it wasn’t for sure that I was going to do it. We were shooting the pilot and they didn’t have the character of Tig so they wanted that guy and[Kurt offered it to me. We negotiated and at 10 p.m. that night I found out I had to be at work at 5 a.m. the next day. I didn’t know anything about the biker world, or the 1% world [Ed note: Biker gangs living outside of the law, who sometimes engage in criminal activity]. Kurt started laughing and he asked “You do ride, right?” and I said “Yes, I do.” My first shot was on this nice beautiful hog. I had no dialogue that day and kept thinking “What am I doing?” My study was pretty fast and furious. I started figuring out who he was by the third or fourth episode of the first season. I think Kurt Sutter really found Tig’s voice early on. He really did. I’m glad I’m playing that guy, for sure.

You’re Canadian. Do you have bike clubs in Canada? Or is it too cold for that?
KC: Oh yeah! There’s clubs out there. The 1% is huge. Hell’s Angels have a big following up there in Canada. They are around! I’m not around any of it, but I know they are.

You play a really bad guy on Sons of Anarchy. Does the tough guy persona ever stick on set? Like when the cameras go off do you say, “Where is my damn sandwich! I’m hungry!”
KC: Yeah, I say that every day, “Where’s my damn sandwich, I’m hungry!” That would last about three seconds. No, listen, there is a lot of testosterone. Even the women’s parts are full of testosterone. Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff, what they get to do on the show, it’s beautiful. These are tough broads. It’s a world that none of us know. You don’t know it, I don’t know it. I certainly know something about it now. But I think that when they say “Cut” if you’re a good person, you’re a good person. If you’re a dick, you’re always going to be a dick. And we have more good people on the set than we have dicks. We know who the dicks are and they get no respect.

It’s fun to play these guys. I guess sometimes I take Tig home with me, even if I don’t really want to. But I try not to. It’s very intense. This show has been tough to deal with internally for me, so I hope people are watching. It hasn’t been easy but it’s been really gratifying as an actor.

There must be a lot of swearing going on.
KC: I would assume if there was an underage child, someone would be making a lot of money from the quarter jug.

Coming into this season, everyone wanted to see how Pope would retaliate for Tig killing his daughter. We saw what happened. How difficult was it doing a scene where Pope’s crew killed your own daughter? How do you prepare for such emotional scenes?
KC: That was a tough one, right? When Kurt told me about the very first show of Season 5 and what it entailed, I had chills up my spine. It was a frightening concept. A concept that as an actor I had never gone to before. People who have seen the show, that first episode, have told me they had never seen anything like it on television. I mean, to see your own daughter in a pit, you can’t do anything about it, chained like an animal. It was really difficult. My good buddy Sam Alibrando—he’s a therapist, a friend of mine—every once in a while I talk to him about the human condition, he’s always been amazing to me. When I told him about the script he was so shocked about what I had to do, but he really did help me. And then of course, I have two daughters myself. So, a lot of internal, dark places to think about my beautiful girls and myself. I just went for it. It was a big Shakespearean moment. I was really glad that Sutter trusted me with doing it.

Not only have you said goodbye to your daughter, but you’ve had to bury a lot of sons this season—Piney, Opie, Miles. Who was the hardest to say goodbye to?
KC: I think Ryan Hurst (Opie) was the toughest. They’re all tough. Over the years we’ve lost some leads and we’re going to lose some more now. I think Ryan was Charlie Hunnam‘s (Jax) best friend and for him to go like he did, that was shocking for all of us. We’re all going to go. It’s all going to start to happen now. It was tough with Ryan. He brought so much to the show. We’re still trying to shake it. I think now that the season is over and we’re starting Season 6 next year, no matter who is next, at least we’ll be able to move on from losing Ryan. He had a great part on this show, but let’s not feel sorry for anyone. This is my first television show, that I’ve been a lead on. I’m so happy to have been on it, but I’m so ready for the next one. Whatever that is. I think we should all celebrate. I’m sure people do. Ryan’s role should be celebrated. This has been a great ride for all of us.

The sexual tension between Gemma and Tig is apparent on the show. Is it weird doing those scenes knowing her husband (show creator Kurt Sutter) is watching?
KC: It’s funny because on the second season, when Tig is all wacked out and Gemma is even more wacked out, it’s very unfortunate, she had been raped in the first show. She had never been herself, she’s a mess. But then these two stars aligned to this moment of attraction, which never really went any further, which was probably a very good thing. I asked Sutter “What is it like watching that?” and he said “It’s just like foreplay. No big deal.” My respect to Katey is fairly huge. We all love her. I don’t think about that with Tig. I protect Gemma. I love Gemma. I really used to love Clay and now Clay and Tig are on their way out. So many bad things have happened, I’ve lost my daughter, ultimately because Clay lied to me. It’s just one lie after the other. That’s why it’s such a huge drama now. So, Gemma and me, I don’t know what her answer would be but I adore when I have stuff to do with her. I’m not really looking forward to the point of us hooking up again because I don’t think Tig wants that, but I certainly love working with her.

Why do you think this show is so popular?
KC: I don’t know. You tell me. It’s like a drug addiction, they say. Once you get into it, you want to get into this world and this club, the whole Shakespearean element. Look at the great characters, I challenge anyone who has a group of actors that is better than us. I mean that. I think it is an amazing assemble of actors. The crew is amazing, the storyline, Sutter… I just think it’s like no other show out there. I do know you only have three reactions: the people who go “I’ve never seen it, but I hear it’s amazing.” The people who go “I have to see it, but I have to start from the beginning because I don’t want to miss anything.” And those who say “I’m addicted.” I’ve never heard anyone say “It sucks.” It’s very unique world and there is no world quite like it on TV. And it’s thanks to John Landgraf. He’s the one who picked the show, believed in the show, he shot the pilot, he spent money on it, and now we’re ending Season 5 on a show that’s beating up network television for people in the 18 to 49 demographic. It has never been done on cable before. We’re definitely doing something right.

If you had to describe how Season 5 will end with just a few words?
KC: People need to remember where the season started. And if they remember how it started, the ending of this season will make you go “Wow, I got it. Ok.” It’s all a cliffhanger. Sutter is famous for that. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year but the ending is a bookend for the beginning. People need to keep hanging on to see what will happen.

Finally, do you have any tattoos?
KC: No, I don’t. I’m an internal guy. I can’t play an accountant knowing I’ve got a saber-toothed lion on my chest. I just can’t do it. I love putting tats on when they’re needed, but I love taking them off at nighttime. That’s just me.