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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