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SONS OF ANARCHY Ray McKinnon Interview

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I spoke with Ray McKinnon from Sons of Anarchy about his character, Lincoln Potter.   Potter is a unique character that is fascinated with tables. He enjoys standing on them, dancing on them and throwing things on them.  Potter also has exquisite taste in cartoons.  It was a pleasure to speak with Ray and learn more about Potter and his acting life in general.  Ray was as entertaining as his character and was even joking around about there being a spinoff show for Potter.  Ray co-owns a film and production company with Walton Goggins.  You may recognize Ray from The Blind Side, Justified, Deadwood, NYPD Blue and The X-Files.  Don’t miss Ray in the season finale of Sons of Anarchytonight.  Lincoln Potter does something pretty cool in the season finale, so watch.

Lena Lamoray: ‘Potter’ is a very unique character and it must be exciting to go from playing the coach in The Blind Side to playing an edgy character who lives in shades of gray.  So can you talk about what it’s like bringing ‘Potter’ to life and your thoughts on his development over the season?

Ray McKinnon:  Well, as an actor you can get placed in a certain category and people view you this way and roles come to you that are within that real house.  And Kurt gave me an opportunity to play something that, in some ways parts of Potter are more like me than certainly the coach in Blind Side.  I have my own version of strange so I really kind of put it out there to the universe like, “Man, I’d like to play some really interesting, very bright dude as opposed to the other suspects that I’ve portrayed over the years.”  And there he manifest and I was just—first of all, I was very grateful.   I also was excited creatively and so once I realized that I wasn’t going to be fired ….  At first it felt like, “Oh, maybe we went too far.”  But that they embraced the character and continued to write these wonderful scenarios for him, I mean it’s like an actor’s dream.  I mean it’s my life’s work and so every week was really just couldn’t believe my good fortune to be able to say and do the things that I did through this character. And as far as how he progressed during the season, I think they gave him moments of a dimension beyond his Machiavellian approach to bringing down SAMCRO and the other entities.  And we saw a side of him that was like he does have an ability at times to have empathy and perhaps even compassion for humans, and I think the last episode—I haven’t seen it—but what was written there’s a scene between he and ‘Eli’ that’s very telling.  I just love that scene and I hope it’s in the final episode.  He’s peeled away for a minute.  He’s vulnerable and he’s honest.  You get a sense of him and really thought that was a nice … for his part.

More Conference Call Interview Highlights:

Q:  ‘June Stahl’ was so sexualized and adrenalized, and you have a much more aseptic almost asexual misogynistic kind of dislike for humanity.  Did you discuss this with Kurt [Sutter] ahead of time or when you read the script or do you took that in the word and fashioned this character that just sort of observes people but doesn’t really interact with them?

Ray McKinnon:  Well, let’s see, asexual, that’s probably correct.  I would like to see ‘Lincoln’ like at home.  What is he doing?  He must have a cat, and I would imagine he’s listening to some music that’s quieting his mind.  I don’t know—Kurt reached out to me, which was surprising.  I wasn’t aware Kurt knew me that well and I think he was forced to watch some films that Walt and … we had made over the years and he sent me the first episode of the season and I was just like, “Wow!  What a character.  I’ve never played anything remotely like this before.”  So I kind of had a take on it before I came to L.A., and I was hoping that—like the first two weeks of shooting I’m like I wonder if I’m going to get fired because he hadn’t seen this take yet so I wasn’t sure.  But I took a lot of the queues from the script so we didn’t speak that much about it.  It was just me interpreting a lot of what Kurt wrote.  And then he kept writing and it became a symbiotic relationship between the writer and the interpreter of writing, and that’s how we can manifest it.  I wonder does he hate humanity or is he just baffled by them and the emotionality of them and the unpredictability of them, and perhaps he just decided at some point in his life to be a little detached from interacting with them.  I think there are rare moments in the show where he does connect with human beings, particularly ‘Eli.’  I think about mid-way in the season he realizes he can’t get ‘Eli’ to change his way of thinking, and he can’t reprogram him.  ‘Eli’s’ too entrenched but he also recognizes that ‘Eli’s’ a good person, and he tells him that.  And I think that’s the first time that there’s a genuine upending emotion and feeling behind him so he’s not a psychopath.  He just has an inability to empathize with anybody, and I think he empathizes with ‘Eli’ so that makes him a little more complicated.  I don’t know if that answered your question.

Q:  Your character seems like the least corrupt of them all.  Do you know whether your character might come back next season or if you can tell us?

Ray McKinnon:  I agree with you.  Yes, human beings are funny.  If they can identify with people on a human level, which you can with almost everybody on Sons of Anarchy, you feel for them.  They’re regular people outside of the fact that they kill and sell drugs and guns and do the things they do, but they have their own form of ethics.  And people who watch the show I think they’ve obviously become attached to those characters, and so my character shows up and he’s not someone you can easily identify with, and I think that really rubs people the wrong way.  Yes, I don’t think he’s corrupt.  I don’t know that he sees the world in the correct way, I don’t know.  Yes, (jokingly) I think there’s going to be a spinoff. (Call it, “Love that Linc.”) “Welcome Back Potter II.”  I don’t know.  I don’t know what’s going to happen with him.  I’ve got some other things going on so we’d have to figure it out.  I don’t see how he could be there all the time.  I think it feels like it’s run its course in a way, you know, that character.  I think with him a little bit goes a long way.

Q:  Where did you go for inspiration to play ‘Linc’?  I think most people consider him a little bit extravagant so I’m kind of wondering where you got your inspiration for his looks and particularly his mannerisms and if you can also explain his climbing on tables?

Ray McKinnon:  That’s Kurt.  I wasn’t comfortable enough in the SOA family to leap on a table that early so that was in the script, and I’m like, “Wow.  Okay.  Sure.”  So a lot of the behavior, the more extreme behavior, was Kurt.  He initiated the … sport and, again, that just informed me more as to who the character was.  I think he’s definitely eccentric but I think like most eccentric people he probably puts another layer of that on for show, and I kind of saw him that way.  So that informed me along with Kurt’s descriptions as to how he would dress and what his manner would be.  The jacket, which I think some people probably wish I would burn—but my friend who’s a fashion designer sent me an eBay picture of this…type leather jacket that was very similar.  I can’t remember the brand but it’s a famous brand and I went, “Wow.  That’s—” That really struck me and so I brought a number of ideas to Kurt and he picked out that jacket, and so I tried to wear that jacket in every scene much to the … of the sound people.  It made a lot of squeaky sounds.  So I don’t know, I guess it’s just kind of an organic thing the way his mannerisms were but I did enjoy jumping on the tables.

Q:  Can you share with us who you think the character ‘Linc’ has the most contempt for in terms of the Charming people from the SAMCRO side, and who do you think he respects the most?

Ray McKinnon:  Because most of his interactions with the SAMCRO are from a distance, he certainly got to know them through observation through afar and through reports of their criminal histories and other means, so I don’t know.  I don’t know if he was that contemptuous.  Perhaps ‘Clay’ but I think he, in some ways, envied them but he realized that they have a code of ethics that’s for them.  They have convictions that are for them.  They have something that they’re willing to die for, and I always felt like he secretly admired that ability to commit to something in a way that is that emotionally connected because I think he has an inability to do that.  I don’t know that he would risk his life, really die for a belief, and I think he’s envious in some ways. And as far as who he respected the most certainly I would say ‘Gemma’ in a lot of ways because first of all she’s a woman in a male dominated smaller society, and she’s able to thrive and actually go beyond what a lot of women in that culture do, so I would say ‘Gemma.’  But I think he, in a strange way, respected a lot of those guys, but he also understood that what they’re doing is threatening along with the other cartels and the IRA and the Russian Mafia.  It’s a really threat really in real life to the security of the nation’s state that is the United States, and I think he thought we’re going to take this down by any means necessary.  This is war.  This is not let’s play nice and play fair.  So that’s a longwinded answer.

Q:  You’ve written, produced and directed and you’ve been all over with the film industry.  How do these past traits influence how you portray your character?

Ray McKinnon:  I’ve done everything but make money.  Wow, I guess, in a lot of ways that I haven’t thought about consciously but if you’re directing something or producing you’re helping to run a system and be a part of a team and perhaps a leader at times.  And I think that certainly Lincoln had that kind of authority and I think doing the things that I’ve done in the past in regards to production certainly would—he plays the adult, the head adult in this group.  The strange head adult in this group of FBI and ITF and … folks and I’ve played a strange adult as a director so that was good.   As far as directing I think I’m a more understanding actor as to what Kurt and the directors of the show, Paris [Barclay] and all those guys have to go through.  What pressures they’re under to get the show shot every week, and I think I’m just trying to serve that better and not be quite so self-centered on my own goals as an actor but as the bigger goal of helping to get the show made. And as a writer, my goodness, just reading what Kurt wrote and the rest of the writing team wrote every week was—it’s not easy to do that.  Not everybody can do that and I just felt what a special situation I was in and what a wonderfully talented group of storytellers I was working with.  I was very gratified by it.

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