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Sunday, April 03, 2011

‘I WANTED TO TELL STORIES, MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH AND CRY. MAKE PEOPLE NOTICE ME’

I find reading profile pieces on myself incredibly uncomfortable, boarding on the painful.  Of course I crave and appreciate the attention, but rarely does a single conversation with a stranger produce anything like an accurate portrait of an individual.  Most are insipid dick-suckings or nasty suckerpunches.  But, I'm a needy whore, so of course I rarely turn down the request.  The honest to god truth is -- I'm still so fucking shocked that people actually give a shit about who I am.  Ironically, that love/hate desperation was acutely captured in a recent profile of me published in (my new favorite restaurant/hang) the Soho House Magazine.  It was my agent, Nicole Clemens, who brought it to my attention.  Not only did I not have any idea it was being published, I have no recollection of ever speaking with the reporter.  

Interestingly enough, I was incredibly candid during the interview and the reporter stayed with that truth.  I'm guessing he talked to me soon after my father died, as that seems to be the pulling current in the piece.  Anyway, I'd never post an article about myself on my own blog, I'm not that fucking desperate, but I thought it was rather revealing about where I come from as an artist and it might give folks a glimpse into the fuckery that am I.


KURT SUTTER

By James Donaghy

‘I wanted to tell stories, make people laugh and cry. Make people notice me’ 

Looking more like a Meshuggah roadie than Hollywood glitterati, Kurt Sutter doesn’t come close to seeming like he belongs in the town. Yet the show he created and runs like his own personal fiefdom – FX’s outlaw motorcycle club drama, Sons of Anarchy – is the most successful in the network’s history, achieving record Nielsen numbers as critics warm to its sleazy pulp operatics. Everyone wants a piece of him now but the 44-year-old took a long route to success – doing it all in his own irascible, destructive, brilliant way.

It began the breadth of a continent away in the suburbs of central
New Jersey. Kurt Sutter grew up a morbidly obese, oversensitive loner, by his own admission a “huge embarrassment” to his war-hero father. Unlike a lot of future writers, he hated English at school, preferring the cartoons he consumed at home. “I joke about it, but the truth is I did learn the essentials of storytelling from Hanna-Barbera,” he says. “I wanted to tell stories, entertain, make people laugh and cry. Make people notice me.” No teen Kerouac this one – just a schlubby fat kid looking for dad’s approval.

The approval never came so, like any good outsider, he skipped town at 19 and bounced around between New York and LA for several years as a journeyman actor – a lost weekend spent in a haze of fights, pissartistry and broken relationships. “That was me letting go of my father,” he says. When sobriety came in 1993 it didn’t bring the big time with it. What did pay off, however, was his work in off-Broadway theatre that got him a gig teaching the Meisner Technique under his mentor Kathryn Sarah Gately-Poole at her New York acting studio.

When Gately-Poole was offered a position on the fine arts acting programme at Northern Illinois University she asked Sutter to join her. The opportunity to study, teach and tell stories was too good to turn down and, under the intense curriculum at NIU, he began writing like a demon. Writing replaced drugs and booze as his obsession.

The result was a feature script called Delivering Gen that got enough industry attention to land him a literary agent. Then the real work began. “I learned to write TV by getting a big stack of scripts from my agent and studying them and then writing spec after spec after spec.” The same compulsive behaviour that drove his eating and boozing threw him into writing with unholy fury.

It was around this time that Shawn Ryan, a ballsy 35-year-old writer-producer, began developing a show called The Barn about a crew of rogue cops. Ryan needed a junkyard dog to drag the cop show genre into uncharted dark territory and liked what he saw in Sutter, hiring him as staff writer. The Barn would eventually become The Shield. Guided by Ryan’s uncompromising vision and fuelled by Sutter’s frenzied storylines, it would alter the cable TV landscape forever.

Seven seasons of plaudits and success later (including the first Best
Show Golden Globe ever awarded to a basic cable show), and Sutter
had enough clout to get his own show green lit. Based loosely on Hamlet, the central conflict in Sons of Anarchy is between club president Clay Morrow and his stepson Jax Teller, club vice president and young pretender. Given Sutter’s distant relationship with his pops, it’s unsurprising that fatherhood is a recurring theme in his work.

Maybe because Sons is such a personal project for him, he promotes
it with an enthusiasm no showrunner currently operating can match
– both on his Twitter account (@sutterink) and the Sutterink blog (sutterink.blogspot.com). He’s not above settling scores there, too – accusing Frank Darabont on Twitter of poaching a Sons of Anarchy staffer for The Walking Dead. “It probably didn’t help my career lashing out at Mr Shawshank,” he concedes. He seems destined to be the eternal gatecrasher, forever bewildered by the dark arts of networking. “I have a very small Rolodex.”


Messrs Hanna and Barbera finely tuned his sense of what audiences
want. The second Sons series doubled its audience from the first and
continued to grow in its third, achieving a mixture of cult appeal and commercial success that showrunners will happily cut throats for. With a feature film project with DreamWorks starring Eminem in the pipeline, his star has never been higher.

The same compulsive behaviour that blighted Sutter’s youth now
drives his success. His love of telling stories was his redemption. This story ends well: the fat kid with a quick temper comes good in the end.

James Donaghy is a TV critic for The Guardian www.jamesdonaghy.co.uk

12 comments:

Carly P. said...

I enjoy your honestly and your writing... I never felt like you are tooting your own horn by posting articles on yourself. Your fans are curious about who you are, where you came from; and learning more about you is just par for the course. Keep up the good work and we are all excited for SOA4 and your feature film!

Carly P.

brigidgael said...

You do,baby,you do.

Jennie said...

I appreciate when you post articles about you or others involved in your projects. Saves me a lot of work ;).

I love this article! Donaghy did very well with it.

k_ward36 said...

As always your candor shows us how true greatness can be achieved.Waiting ( impatiently, I might ad) for Season 4 of SOA and am thrilled to hear about Southpaw.
Keep writing , you are my literary hero of the 21st century.

Karen

Tom said...

ROCK ON!
Thats it, really.

lowecat said...

From the iPhone

This guy deserves to be on your shirt list of interviewers who aren't cunts. Informative, well - written, and no preplanned agenda to make you look less than human.

To your credit, you don't hoist yourself on your own petard, which is probably why the fanbase is supportive if you, as well as the show. You treat us like people with brains, not as cash cows.

The storytelling is what draws me back to SOA. The charcters have depth; they're believable and even though they're on the wring side of the law, we care about 'em anyway.

HB made us laugh back in the day. You tell us a story that makes us want more. You're the Stephen King of TV, without the scary stuff.

robyjean said...

Hanna Barbera would be proud. You make so many laugh and cry. As always thank you for sharing your gift, telling stories that make me think and giving voice to strong women as well as men.

Robyjean

dirtywater22 said...

You've succeed in your goal. Season three of SOA had me laughing and crying. Following the show made me want to know about you as a writer and person. I love your candidness and that's why I tune into your blog. I never know what I'm going to get and that's why I love it.

Jenny Girl said...

Interesting article and great learning a bit about you.
I love your writing and know it comes from an honest place. Eagerly awaiting SOA 4 and that movie. Keep up the amazing work.

ZMANOWNER said...

Dude, let me just say that you are a master storyteller. Which is the reason why SOA and The Shield (you wrote some of that too right?) were masterpieces. You tell it like it is. Keep on keepin on...and for chrissakes kill off ethan zobell..that douche needs to get it already...zman sends

katherine. said...

I saw on Twitter that you're looking to increase SOA's social media presence.

A couple thoughts...in more than 140 characters.

Geeks love Bikers. Both are outcasts from the norm. Both are loners in their own way. Both band together in their individualism. Both have the impression they are better than most mere mortals.

You and/or your talent make a Twitter office visit. Celebrities, politicians, authors…from The President of Russia to Lady Gaga…have visited the Twitter corporate office in San Francisco and experience tremendous followings. Jack Dorsey is fucking brilliant, not just with Twitter but his latest gig…Square. This boy has seriously changed the world we live in. And trust me, the Twitter staff, surprisingly small in numbers, would love SOA. If they start following SOA you'd be golden.

Facebook Interview. Randi Zuckerburg (sister of Facebook founder Mark) has done live interviews with heads of state and at least half of Hollywood. Perhaps you met her at the Golden Globes? At the very least, send Mark a few SOA Hoodies.

A couple of shows have done Twitter chat type things. The writers for The Good Wife, and Shawn Ryan of Chicago Code come to mind. It'd get a lot of your fans who are not on Twitter to sign up just to participate.

Convince Dennis Crowley to give Foursquare a “Biker Badge” of some sort. I totally check in from the back of the bike.

I could go on and on. There are a dozen ways to get the SOA fans and fanatics to join you on Twitter and Facebook. And they would also bring the geeks to SOA. Bonus.

Sam said...

This really has nothing to do with anything, except that I read this quote last night and thought of you.
Or, more accurately, I thought of John Teller... but he's kind of hard to get hold of.

"The paradox of education is precisely this -- that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make decisions.... But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If society succeeds in this, that society will perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to fight it -- at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change."
- James Baldwin
Sam Adams