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

November 2012

Kim Coates as Alex ďTigĒ Trager in Sons of Anarchy. Photo credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX
Kim Coates plays bad boy ďTigĒ Trager in FXís hit drama series Sons of Anarchy. Weíre in the middle of Season 5 and fans are probably wondering how the story will unfold. Donít 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, itís on television now but we wrapped about three weeks ago. It has been quite a season. Itís such a big hit now. There isnít 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 canít 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 youíve 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 havenít done a play since 1990, which is sort of sad for me when I really reflect on that. Thatís 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 ďActually, youíre not.Ē 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 AtlantaÖ 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: Iíve 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 ďI want to go to L.A. I want to be a star!Ē I tell them ďWell, thatís not going to happen.Ē 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 itís really important to get a great foundation of what acting is. Itís 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. Thatís great. Iíve always wanted to play Richard III. Iím too old for Mercutio now. Iíve done Macbeth. So I think Richard III is my Stratford dream job. But as far as the movies go, I mean the parts I donít know. But certain people that Iíd like to work with? Yeah, thereís a list out there. Iím 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, Iím 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 canít 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: Itís a hard one! Itís really hard. I guess, just because of the scope of my performance in the movieónot many people saw it, it won an acting awardóitís 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. Itís hard to watch, because itís so intense, but people who saw it went crazy about it.
What have you been watching on TV lately?
KC: Itís hard for me. Iím pretty honest about that. Who has the time? Iím so lucky to be working so much, to be in Sons, and Iíve been offered some movies, which Iíve 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 Iím sorry to say I TiVo a lot of stuff. Iím not even caught up on Sons of Anarchy. Itís been so crazy for me. Iím 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 heís 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 wasnít for sure that I was going to do it. We were shooting the pilot and they didnít 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 ďYou do ride, right?Ē and I said ďYes, I do.Ē My first shot was on this nice beautiful hog. I had no dialogue that day and kept thinking ďWhat am I doing?Ē 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 Tigís voice early on. He really did. Iím glad Iím playing that guy, for sure.
Youíre Canadian. Do you have bike clubs in Canada? Or is it too cold for that?
KC: Oh yeah! Thereís clubs out there. The 1% is huge. Hellís Angels have a big following up there in Canada. They are around! Iím 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, ďWhere is my damn sandwich! Iím hungry!Ē
KC: Yeah, I say that every day, ďWhereís my damn sandwich, Iím hungry!Ē That would last about three seconds. No, listen, there is a lot of testosterone. Even the womenís parts are full of testosterone. Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff, what they get to do on the show, itís beautiful. These are tough broads. Itís a world that none of us know. You donít know it, I donít know it. I certainly know something about it now. But I think that when they say ďCutĒ if youíre a good person, youíre a good person. If youíre a dick, youíre 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.
Itís fun to play these guys. I guess sometimes I take Tig home with me, even if I donít really want to. But I try not to. Itís very intense. This show has been tough to deal with internally for me, so I hope people are watching. It hasnít been easy but itís 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 Popeís 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 canít do anything about it, chained like an animal. It was really difficult. My good buddy Sam Alibrandoóheís a therapist, a friend of mineóevery once in a while I talk to him about the human condition, heís 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 youíve had to bury a lot of sons this seasonóPiney, Opie, Miles. Who was the hardest to say goodbye to?
KC: I think Ryan Hurst (Opie) was the toughest. Theyíre all tough. Over the years weíve lost some leads and weíre going to lose some more now. I think Ryan was Charlie HunnamĎs (Jax) best friend and for him to go like he did, that was shocking for all of us. Weíre all going to go. Itís all going to start to happen now. It was tough with Ryan. He brought so much to the show. Weíre still trying to shake it. I think now that the season is over and weíre starting Season 6 next year, no matter who is next, at least weíll be able to move on from losing Ryan. He had a great part on this show, but letís not feel sorry for anyone. This is my first television show, that Iíve been a lead on. Iím so happy to have been on it, but Iím so ready for the next one. Whatever that is. I think we should all celebrate. Iím sure people do. Ryanís 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: Itís funny because on the second season, when Tig is all wacked out and Gemma is even more wacked out, itís very unfortunate, she had been raped in the first show. She had never been herself, sheís 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 ďWhat is it like watching that?Ē and he said ďItís just like foreplay. No big deal.Ē My respect to Katey is fairly huge. We all love her. I donít 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, Iíve lost my daughter, ultimately because Clay lied to me. Itís just one lie after the other. Thatís why itís such a huge drama now. So, Gemma and me, I donít know what her answer would be but I adore when I have stuff to do with her. Iím not really looking forward to the point of us hooking up again because I donít think Tig wants that, but I certainly love working with her.
Why do you think this show is so popular?
KC: I donít know. You tell me. Itís 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, SutterÖ I just think itís like no other show out there. I do know you only have three reactions: the people who go ďIíve never seen it, but I hear itís amazing.Ē The people who go ďI have to see it, but I have to start from the beginning because I donít want to miss anything.Ē And those who say ďIím addicted.Ē Iíve never heard anyone say ďIt sucks.Ē Itís very unique world and there is no world quite like it on TV. And itís thanks to John Landgraf. Heís the one who picked the show, believed in the show, he shot the pilot, he spent money on it, and now weíre ending Season 5 on a show thatís beating up network television for people in the 18 to 49 demographic. It has never been done on cable before. Weíre 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 ďWow, I got it. Ok.Ē Itís all a cliffhanger. Sutter is famous for that. I donít know whatís 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 donít. Iím an internal guy. I canít play an accountant knowing Iíve got a saber-toothed lion on my chest. I just canít do it. I love putting tats on when theyíre needed, but I love taking them off at nighttime. Thatís just me.