Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman on Clay's 'Cathartic' Breakdown and Potential Comeback

Warning: If you’ve yet to watch this Tuesday’s Sons of Anarchy, avert your eyes now. Everyone else, read on…

The penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy‘s Season 5 set the stage for yet another epic finale, particularly for our warring leading men Jax and Clay.

On the SAMCRO king’s end, things quickly began to unravel as an always loyal Bobby seemingly betrayed Jax by striking a deal with Clay: The VP would vote the traitor out of the club but side against delivering upon him the proposed (and deadly) mayhem.

The disgraced former leader, meanwhile, set into motion an exit plan of sorts, one that would save his life — at least temporarily — and reunite him with his one, true Old Lady: Gemma.

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In the end, a distraught Jax took great pains to secure the “beautiful life” he’d promised his family, ultimately making a move that mirrored some of Clay’s darkest moments, while Clay patiently awaited the start of his new life sans the Sons.

Here, Sons of Anarchy star Ron Perlman shares with TVLine his thoughts on the stripped-down Clay and what his current status means for a future with Gemma. He also reveals scoop about the forthcoming finale, which may include a comeback for the controversial character.

TVLINE | After the past two seasons, I never thought Clay could come across as a sympathetic figure. Yet this week’s episode almost accomplished it, particularly in contrast with the extremes of Jax’s behavior —
No, no, it’s just because I’m that good… [Laughs] How could you ever write that in print and make it sound as cynical as I did when I just said it? Trust me, I wasn’t being serious. [Laughs]

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TVLINE | How do you, as an actor, feel about Clay and his current standing going into the season’s final hours?
It’s always been a tightrope walk on this show because clearly [creator] Kurt Sutter is the only one that knows where he’s ultimately taking everyone — and he’s always been the only one who knows where he’s taking us in the interim, while he’s getting us to where we’re ultimately going to end up. So, a lot of this has been seat-of-your-pants stuff. There are certain promises I had to make to myself in order to continue to play Clay and admire the character, because even though I’ve played a wide swath of bad guys or troubled individuals, there’s always something about their wiring that attracts me to them; there’s some sort of deep-seated nobility. Sometimes it’s very buried, and sometimes it’s short-circuited by psychological misfires that create some reprehensible behavior. In this particular instance, it’s a TV series where you haven’t read the whole script and you’re not performing something that you know the beginning, middle and end of; you’re having to reserve judgement.

One of the promises I had to make to myself is that I would never, ever judge Clay, I would only try to understand what his move meant in the moment and what it means in the bigger picture. The thing that I’ve always tricked myself into believing, perhaps, is that ultimately he’s a very heroic figure; he is somebody who’s a born leader, somebody who you can really, really trust in a foxhole. He will make what appears to be completely unacceptable and barefaced, ruthless moves, but in his mind it’s always for the greater good of the family. Having said all of that, there have moments where I’ve been given certain things to execute by Kurt that I’ve had trouble with, and I’ve had to go to him [asking] how I manage to get past my disdain for this specific act and play him in a way that fits into my overall overview of Clay, which is that he’s a flawed hero. So, it’s made for some lively discussions.

But I would rather be having those kinds of discussions with this kind of material, playing somebody as complex as Clay, than pretty much anything I could ever imagine doing in television. It’s always exciting, it’s always challenging, it’s always keeping you on your toes and it’s always forcing you to never become complacent… These guys are really complex and they’re not one thing or another; they’re not good or bad, but a compilation of all those things. You’d be surprised if you really examine people’s behavior and what they’re willing to do — especially when their back is against a wall and their family is at stake; we’re not that far afield [from society]. Having said that, it’s a family story, ultimately, and it’s about protecting the family’s values.

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TVLINE | The scene where Clay breaks down was pretty heartbreaking. What exactly was he grieving in that moment?
Oh man. The reason why he finally breaks down and does it in a way that’s so cathartic and so physical is probably because it’s everything. Whatever he was trying to save is destroyed… Having some sort of a functional relationship with his stepson is destroyed. His standing in the community, which he worked his entire adult life for, is destroyed. He’s now finally been sent into the wilderness; he’s a man without a country, he’s a man without a family, he’s a man without anything. Even though he’s trying to hold one thing — probably the most important thing, which is Gemma — he’s not even that sure about that. It’s just this release. The sins have finally, irrevocably come home to roost, and this is something that even he and all of his cleverness and ruthlessness cannot reverse. This is a done deal. Kurt has not given me that many opportunities to have that kind of emotional release in five years. He was very specific the way he wrote this, that he wanted it to be a violent release of emotion, and I can only assume it’s because it’s a guy who’s lost everything he ever valued.

Sons of Anarchy Season 5 SpoilersTVLINE | Talk a little about Clay and Gemma’s current status, particularly the shift in dynamic in their final scene together. Gemma seems to be genuinely considering leaving with Clay.
I certainly think he’s very unsure [about their status] up until that moment, and I do believe he walks out of that scene thinking that he’s won her — maybe not won her back, but he’s won a round in the big fight and that she’s going to give it a chance… Even though everything else has crumbled, this is the one thing he can build anew and start from scratch, like he says to her: “No more lies. No more chicanery. No more deceit. No more manipulations. Just you and me, baby.” And I think he believes that. That’s what this whole season has been about.

TVLINE | You say Clay’s a broken man, but in his latest dealings with Tig, Gemma and Galen, he seems as confident as ever. Is that just a front?
I’ll leave that to the audience to decide, but all I can say is that you’re getting to see why Clay became as powerful as he did. It’s because he’s a guy, even in the face of abject turmoil and loss, who can come up with a contingency plan, and one that makes him win. That’s why he’s an interesting character to watch; that’s why he was an interesting leader to follow for the club for many years. Whether you like his move or not, he’s a guy who knows how to turn loss into victory on a dime, because he’s really, really bright. He’s got all the moves and a huge amount of confidence in his ability to survive… You get a chance, as the audience, to watch this guy come back, or at least plan a comeback. But we won’t find out until Episode 13 [the season finale] whether that plan gets executed or not.

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TVLINE | The last scene of this penultimate episode strongly suggests that Jax is more than on his way to becoming Clay. Do you see it that way?
One of my favorite scenes of the season was kind of a minor one, but [it] really resonated deeply with me and turned out to be kind of an epiphany as to what Kurt was trying to explore. It was the one where Clay makes some comments about Jax’s leadership to Bobby, and he gets really defensive [and says] that Jax is doing a great job. Clay then said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m saying: He’s doing such a great job, but there’s no way he’s going to not be corrupted by the seat and the gavel.’ It was kind of a warning shot that Bobby doesn’t take seriously, and the audience doesn’t even know if Clay is saying this just to get even or because he’s got a personal beat on what the ravages of power do to a person and the price of it; that you cannot stay who you started out to be. The epiphany for me is that ultimately what Kurt is doing here is exploring the ravages of power; what it does to the purest of men and whether, in one’s intrinsic destiny or karmic wiring, one is able to come back from going to a very dark place or doing things that are truly reprehensible.