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Shedding Light on a Dark Soul

Kurt Sutter, the rabidly outspoken creator of FX’s violent Shakespearean drama Sons of Anarchy, has always been drawn to the murkier corners of the human heart. “I was always sort of a dark cat and a little bit on the outside,” Sutter says. “So, I really was drawn to characters that had very big feelings and made really bad choices as a result of those big feelings.”

Sutter is brimming with his own big feelings, and he’s not averse to airing them. His profanity-laced blog,, has helped define him as a Hollywood outlaw. When a former Hell’s Angel from New York City filed a $5 million lawsuit claiming Sutter purloined the idea for Sons of Anarchy, Sutter characterized him as a “delusional bitch.”

In an open letter to tabloid fave Lindsay Lohan, he called the media “despicable whores who prey on the indiscretions and weaknesses of celebrity vulnerability.” And when the Sons actors were snubbed by Emmy voters, he called them “lazy sheep.”

But Sutter’s easy familiarity with rage and pathos, so evident in both his blog and the richly drawn, deeply damaged outlaw bikers of Sons, has been an integral component of his success. After graduate school at Northern Illinois University, where he says he discovered iconoclastic poetic realists such as Strindberg and Ibsen, he made his way to California. A successful screenplay—Delivering Gen, which Sutter describes as Bonnie & Clyde with a baby—got his foot in a few doors. Eventually, one opened at Shawn Ryan’s The Shield, the ground-breaking FX drama about dirty cop Vic Mackey and his merry band of sadistic deputies.

“When I met with Shawn and [late executive producer] Scott Brazil, they said, ‘OK, you have a minute to tell us, putting aside any sense of humility, why we should hire you, why you are great for this show,’” Sutter recalls. “And I didn’t know what to say other than I think I can write damaged people very well. And Vic Mackey was a highly damaged character.”

Whatever attracts Sutter to the dark side, it’s not a sinister childhood trauma. He grew up in a stable, middle-class New Jersey home with two parents and two older sisters. “I’m not quite sure what draws me there,” he says. “It’s not necessarily who I am. But I’m just attracted to those flawed characters, and obviously Sons is filled with them.”

It was Sutter’s time on The Shield— where he was hired as a writer, and worked for the show’s entire run to eventually become an executive producer— that honed his storytelling. “I found my voice as a writer on [The Shield],” he says. “And Shawn was a great mentor and really let me lend my voice to the show.”

Sons of Anarchy is an organic heir apparent to The Shield, which ended in 2008. But developing and executing a show about something as esoteric as an outlaw biker club was a “painful birthing process,” says FX President John Landgraf.

“You’re talking about a completely different genre,” he says. “And that’s just really hard. But I felt strongly about Kurt as a creative visionary. He has a very strong and self-assured point of view about his characters and the story he wants to tell.”

Sutter spent time with a biker club in Oakland, Calif., researching the subculture. He still rides, and with his long hair and tattoos looks every inch the biker, fitting for his portrayal of jailed club member Big Otto Delaney. But his wife and the show’s co-star, actress Katey Sagal, was perhaps his most vivid inspiration.

To hear Sutter talk, their relationship is truly a love affair. The couple has a 3½- year-old daughter Esme, who was conceived with the help of a surrogate. Sagal, who also has two children from a previous relationship, inspired the role of Gemma, the matriarch of the Sons biker club and the show’s moral center, he says.

“Katey was my secret weapon coming into this project,” Sutter says. “She’s a really fierce mom. I didn’t have kids when I met Katey, and my mom was not that way. So, to meet someone like Katey, who was just a fierce mother and very protective of her kids, there was something really powerful about that.”

[Editor’s Note: Our Fifth Estater profiles always include the subject’s birthdate, but Sutter did not want to give his away. When asked why, he commented on why he feels his age has a negative connotation for what he does.]

“I wish it didn’t matter, but unfortunately it a certain point when you have a big enough body of work, [age] doesn’t really matter. I’m sure David Milch and David Mamet don’t give a f*ck if people know how old they are. But I’m not there yet.”