Shedding Light on a Dark Soul

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter is as bombastic as his shows

Why This Matters

Kurt Sutter

Creator, Sons of Anarchy

B.A., Rutgers University, 1986
M.F.A., Northern Illinois University, 1998

Employment Highlights:
The Gately/Poole Studio, acting coach, 1993-1995
The Shield: writer, executive producer, 2001- 2008
Sons of Anarchy, creator/executive producer, 2008-present

Married to actress Katey Sagal; three children, Sarah, 15, Jackson, 14, Esme, 3½

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.”