I spoke with Michael Ornstein from Sons of Anarchyabout his character, Chucky and what it’s like filming the best show on television. Chucky is my favorite character and Michael does an amazing job bringing him to life. My only complaint about the show is that he isn’t in it enough. It was an honor to speak with Michael and I can’t even begin to imagine how this season is going to end.
Lena Lamoray: Hi Michael. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
Michael Ornstein: You too. My daughter’s name is Lena.
Lena Lamoray: That’s great. Now, ‘Chucky’ helps out the club so much and his fast thinking with the chili was incredible. Can you talk about filming that episode and your thoughts on this amazing season?
Michael Ornstein: Oh, man. I am so loving this–I so love shooting this season and I’m so loving watching this season. It is just so exciting. Every single show is so exciting the way it’s unfolding. Shooting the show that aired last night was incredibly fun. I mean, the heads were just–I was looking at them and I had a hard time believing that someone actually made them. I mean they actually looked so real it was unbelievable. Like every episode, I just have a complete blast in it. I just love existing in this world and I really loved watching last night’s episode. I thought it was really, really deep and serious and very funny. I thought it was really cool and I loved it.
Lena Lamoray: Definitely. Now what kind of reactions do you get from fans of the show when you meet them?
Michael Ornstein: Wow, you have fingers. Yes. I’ve met so many different people who love the show and I’m always interested in that. I’m always interested in–wow, you know I just talked to an 80-year-old woman who is a diehard fan of Sons of Anarchy and so many different people. That’s my favorite part. Like, wow, you too? You watch Sons of Anarchy? I’m just amazed at the large span of our audience. I just love it and I think it just reflects what we’re dealing with is, I guess, a basic honesty that everyone relates to which I think is a real credit to Kurt and to everyone who is working on the show.
More Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: You paint as a creative outlet. What do you think ‘Chucky’s’ creative outlet would be?
Michael Ornstein: I think ‘Chucky’s’ creative outlet is probably management of whatever is in front of him at the moment. And I think he probably lays out a lot of tasks for himself, like at all times. And I think he wakes up in the morning, gets dressed, and goes to work on whatever he can find to go to work on.
Q: On Facebook you were talking about possibly touring your artwork. Were there any definitive plans on that yet?
Michael Ornstein: Yes. I’m working on that. I’m working on–what I’m doing with my oil paintings is really interesting. It’s like the first time it’s ever been done actually. I’m using hand-mixed oil paintings and I’m linking media that I’ve created and I’m adding music to it. So it’s very much like rock ‘n roll. I’ve written these stories that go along with the paintings and it’s something–I’ve been working this way for quite a while now, many years. And I’m using QR codes, which is really cool. It’s cutting edge modern technology. So, basically, in the live show I have a QR code next to the painting and people can scan the code and get the media delivered to their phone in a matter of just a couple of seconds. And they can listen to the story of the painting; actually hear the painting talking to them. So I’m trying to tour that and also work out some kind of life performance because that’s how these stories originated. I wrote the stories and I used to get together with my friends in New York and L.A. and stuff and we would perform these stories in little cafés and bars or wherever we could find a space and it was a whole lot of fun. So, that’s what I think the tour would be. It would be the exhibition and then some element of a live show. I was even thinking about going to London with it.
Q: What have you learned about the motorcycle club culture that surprised you from filming the show?
Michael Ornstein: What I’ve learned about it is that it is an incredibly American culture that goes back to the Wild West and that it is still in existence and that’s a really cool American fact that this part of American culture has survived through time. It’s about loyalty, and it’s about family, and it’s about friendship, and it’s about being involved in something that’s kind of larger than you. If you take a look at all the charity stuff that clubs deal with and if you take a look at how they add to a community and if you take a look at American history it is just, kind of, a really interesting part of our culture that I actually love.
Q: Have you talked to actual bikers while you’ve been on the show and what’s their reaction to the show?
Michael Ornstein: Yes. They love it. I mean they really love it. We honor and respect the reality of the world and I think that they really enjoy the show because we respect the reality of the world so much and I think that’s real important, you know.
Q: It’s clear that you are a very talented oil painter. How do you channel your artistic skills into your acting and visa versa?
Michael Ornstein: Thank you. Well, I feel it’s all coming from the same exact place. When I get a script and do my work and then show up on set and work. It’s the same kind of zone that I’m in when I’m in front of a canvas or when I’m writing a story about one of my paintings or playing music. Whatever I’m doing at any given time it’s the same exact zone. It’s like, I’m a creative person and I use painting, and acting, and writing, and writing songs or whatever as tools to just get a point across in order to communicate a story or an emotion or something like that. So if I’m feeling something, I know if it’s a song or if it’s a little story that I’m going to write or if it’s a painting or if it’s a play. You know, I might sit down and write a play. I have. I used to write and perform a lot of my own materials with my friends. I made a film at one point about something I was going through. I didn’t want to make a film. I didn’t say, “Hey, I want to make a film now.” I was just going through something and I said, “Wow, man, this is a film.” So I got together with my friends and shot a feature length film on a budget of like $500, I think I spent, to shoot a feature film. I used digital video and it was actually the first film ever to be shot on digital video, like in the world. And I did that by accident because I didn’t want to spend any time trying to raise money for the film and started shooting on Hi8 and I just didn’t like the way it looked and I went to be in B&H Camera in New York City and bought a digital video camera and went to work. I actually shot the film by myself and all the actors acted as crew and it was awesome. So, you know, that could have been a play, or that could have been a painting, or a story. But it was a film. So I went and made a film. So what I’m saying is that it all comes from the same exact pool of creativity.
Q: What can we expect from ‘Chucky’ in the episodes to come?
Michael Ornstein: Well, you know, more of the same. ‘Chucky’ is a guy who has found a home in this club and is extremely loyal and just basically makes himself completely available to whatever anyone needs at the moment. I think he’s real attentive to what’s going on and he knows when it’s time to just get out of the way. And then he knows when it’s time to help out. And if he can help out he just jumps in and just helps out. It’s a cool kind of person. I really dig ‘Chucky’ because of that, you know. I love that, very selfless individual, you know?
Q: When you started the role or when you got the job, what was your reaction when you found out the character would have the habit he does?
Michael Ornstein: Well I love that. I mean that was what I loved about it. I love people who are complicated. I love to play people who are complicated. I always did. Like characters that I played in the past or like I developed the character of ‘Louis’ in Angels in America. A very complicated guy. I played people like, ‘Ivan’ from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, very complicated people. I love being an actor because I love that. I love being presented by a character that kind of boggles my mind. And that I have to do some work, do a lot of work and exploring, okay, how can I make this guy absolutely real and absolutely believable to myself. And then I go to work in doing that in order for it to be believable to an audience, to other people. When I learned about ‘Chucky’ and the compulsive masturbation and this and that it wasn’t very difficult for me to believe that that could be true. I mean, I feel like no matter what you think up has already happened somewhere in the world, right. I mean there are so many people that exist and I felt like it was just a tick that I really loved it. And what was cool about it is that I was able to separate the tick from the guy so that he could be sitting next to ‘Clay’ and ‘Jax’ is in the van and just have a conversation and be wickedly masturbating and imagining something like hdpornvideo while he’s just talking and not even be aware of it I think that’s really, really like a challenge. And it ended up being really funny and I’m very happy about it. I really dig ‘Chucky’ and I really dig that whatever’s thrown at him he just survives. His fingers get chopped off, he survives. He figures it out. He gets shot. He figures it out. I just love that about the character.
Q: At what point did you actually find out what he would be like? Was it during an audition or was it in the script originally?
Michael Ornstein: No. I saw the script. I read the script and I just was able to see the whole script and the journey during that first episode in Season 1, the journey that he makes. It starts out with ‘Otto’ up at Stockton and the first thing that I thought of was, I’ll bet that ‘Otto’ is the first friend that ‘Chucky’ ever had like in his whole life. The first person he ever connected to, ever. And I think that, right there, is the key to ‘Chucky;’ that he has such a loyalty to ‘Otto’ and to this club and I think it’s because of that. I think ‘Otto’s’ probably the first person who ever really talked to him and connected to him. And I find that to be really, kind of, beautiful.
Q: Do you think you’ve been on a show like this before, one that can mix humor and have a dark aspect as well?
Michael Ornstein: Yes. That’s the brilliance of what Kurt’s doing. I find that that’s what makes something compelling. When it’s just so, so as dark as possible and then as buoyant as possible. I mean, I find that to be just a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant balance that is presented to us as a cast and that’s a really lush and inviting challenge for an actor to take a script that is kind of that extreme. The more extreme the better, actually. The more serious and dark and the more funny, the better. Like, you look at people like Lenny Bruce, you know. You look at stuff like that and you just see the stakes are really high. And I have never in my life laughed harder than I have when I’ve been in a dark situation, you know what I mean? I mean it’s just something that happens. It’s just a natural aspect of things. And I think that’s a really good world to be living in. I think it’s really exciting to watch and I think it’s really exciting to work in as a creative person.
Q: I was hoping you could walk us through the progression or evolution of ‘Chucky’ on the show? Were you originally assigned for x amount of episodes? Did you know you’d be on for this long or does your character kind of catch on and Kurt told you little by little that he’d be sticking around?
Michael Ornstein: Yes. I mean, I was just hired to do that one show in Season 1 and that was it. Then, basically, he gets thrown back to ‘Lin’ in the Chinese club and that’s it. What I did on the last shot when they threw me in the car I said to myself, “Well, hey man, this is not a guy who would just sit in the car and let them take him away.” So what I did was when they threw me in the car I just jumped at the other door and I opened the other door and I just took off out of the car and they chased me. I think that was what this guy would do. He’s a survivor, man. I just did that one show in the first season and then, yes, they brought me back. They brought me back into the second season. Since then, ‘Chucky’ and me have been just trying to figure out what’s going on and ‘Chucky’ seems to have found a real home there, you know, and he’s useful and that’s how it is.
Q: ‘Chucky’ is often used as the comedic source on the show. Do you have more room to do that kind of, sort of, thing to improvise more than those actors because your job is almost to make the viewers laugh in many ways?
Michael Ornstein: No. I never improvise. There’s no improvisation at all. It’s just everything is completely scripted and what I do is, basically, I get the script and I figure out what’s going on and I just go and do it and it’s inherently funny. He’s inherently funny. So I don’t even really think about the comic aspects of it. I just let that be what it is. I just kind of go in and play the truth of it as the character and I’ve been playing the guy for a while. I really know who he is and I know his relationships with everyone in the club and everyone in the town. And, basically, just go in and play the truth of it. It ends up being funny because it’s inherently funny. It’s written funny, you know.
SONS OF ANARCHY
Michael Ornstein Interview, “Chucky Marstein”
Sons of Anarchy Tuesday Nights at 10 EST on FX
November 1, 2011