“SONS OF ANARCHY” STAR MAGGIE SIFF TALKS “CONCUSSION,” CHARLIE HUNNAM
WARNING: “Sons of Anarchy” spoilers follow
Whether it’s performing Shakespeare on stage or immersing herself in the world of 1960s advertising on “Mad Men,” all eyes turn to Maggie Siff when she enters a scene. The last five years starring as Tara, the girlfriend and now wife to Charlie Hunnam’s Jax on “Sons of Anarchy,” currently in its sixth season on FX, the character has already gone to and been released from prison and cheated on by Jax.
But in Concussion, now playing in select cities and on VOD, Siff is the one in an extramarital affair, seeking out the services of Robin Weigert’s Abby, who “works” with the name Eleanor as a prostitute of sorts.
The role and film is a big departure from the unrelenting, often violent, frequently controversial FX series set in the world of a fictional California motorcycle club. For Concussion, Siff plays Sam Bennet, an acquaintance of Abby’s from yoga and spinning class who Abby unexpectedly discovers as her latest client.
Siff sat down with The Seven Sees to talk about the drastic differences in her characters and whether there’s a common thread between them, working with her “Sons of Anarchy” attorney – played by Weigert – in much more intimate scenes here, her own personal ‘concussion,’ and her thoughts on her Hunnam taking on Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey.
THE SEVEN SEES: One of the things I think is very evident while watching this movie is its uniqueness. Maybe it wouldn’t be so different if it was a man in Robin Weigert’s position, but the fact that it focuses on the female perspective is so refreshing and I think adds a very compelling layer to everything. What were you interested in getting to explore here?
MAGGIE SIFF: I agree. I feel like it’s rare on a number of levels – it’s a film that takes its time; it unfolds in a way that is non-formulaic; it’s about sex without being sensationalist; and it really gets at something about physical intimacy that feels true. It’s a story told by and about women, although what I think is unusual about that is fundamentally I believe the film is about marriage. So it’s universal on this whole other level and I think men really relate to it, particularly because the character Abby and Abby’s conundrum is something that you often see dealt with through the eyes of a man or about a man. That’s a big gender reversal; it’s surprising and interesting and sets the mind reeling in a lot of different ways.
I’m proud of it. I think it’s a really unusual and exciting film.
THE SEVEN SEES: We see your character very early in the movie, but Sam doesn’t really become part of the story until later. Considering that there’s so much that goes on which you’re not part of, what were your initial reactions when you actually got to see the entire movie?
MAGGIE SIFF: I feel like when you read a script that you love, your imagination does all this work to fill in the blanks. And if you love it, your imagination has done a pretty good job with it. So when you see it, if it feels like the film that you read in that fundamental way and the way you loved it when you read it, it’s succeeding. And that’s how I felt when I saw it. I really felt like the strong, powerful voice that was in the script was on the screen. In addition to that, it’s just so beautifully shot. But I also felt in watching it – the parts that I’m in aside because I don’t feel like I can ever watch that with a lot of objectivity – it just felt real. [During] all of the intimate scenes, it felt like you were in the room with them, not in a titillating or tantalizing way, but in a (gasps) hold your breath way. I think she really captured something about the way people approach each other physically for the first time that’s really interesting. And the family stuff felt very real and true. Sometimes when you see a movie where it feels really real or close-to-home real, you’re like, “What’s happening here?” Because you’re not used to seeing movies that actually make you feel that way. I felt that way when I saw Rachel Getting Married. That was a movie that felt so real.
THE SEVEN SEES: Real conversations, real situations. They said things people actually say to each other.
MAGGIE SIFF: Real life happening.
THE SEVEN SEES: You mentioned how beautifully this movie was shot. I was really struck by the first time Abby and Sam meet in the coffee shop – there was something about the way one half of Robin’s face was in the light and the other was not that I thought said so much about these two lives she’s leading.
MAGGIE SIFF: She’s really great in that scene. I remember feeling that, the way she’s stuck between who she is to this woman in her town, who this woman has just discovered her to be. Moving between those two beings, I thought she did that beautifully.
THE SEVEN SEES: There’s something really compelling as well about the title, this notion that a person can experience a “concussion” – be it physical or emotional – that opens his or her eyes to the bigger picture in such a way that it alters your life in drastic ways…would you say you’ve every gone through that, be in your career or personally?
MAGGIE SIFF: Yeah…I don’t know that it’s ever been as on the nose as getting hit in the head. I think the concussion is more like a metaphor than it is an actual medical condition. The movie isn’t about a medical condition. What I love about it is, in that first scene it’s so unbearable [for her] – the pain, the hit, the children – it distills a feeling that has been alive in her, which is something is untenable. That’s the thing that I think stays with her just a little bit, but it’s not a medical condition.
I actually think we have moments like that all the time, these subtle things, like scabs getting ripped off. In my own life, there’s one moment, I guess, of a relationship ending and all of the sudden the world is different; everything is different.
THE SEVEN SEES: Speaking of different … “Sons of Anarchy.” You’re currently still shooting Season 6 that has already started airing, correct?
MAGGIE SIFF: Yes, shooting the tail end of it.
THE SEVEN SEES: So how has it been for everyone seeing fan and mass media reaction to the new season? Or do you even have time to discuss it?
MAGGIE SIFF: We talk about it a little bit. There’s always an initial, “What were the numbers? How many people watched it? What are people saying?” The season began with a controversial – usually the premieres are somewhat controversial – but I think people are paying attention to what people are saying about it. And I also think we’re still paying attention to how the season is dealing with it and how we’re ending. We talk about it somewhat, but I think because we shoot so much and so fast, we have to keep up with the reality of where the characters are in their lives, we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on previous episodes. It’s just too hard. Some of us don’t watch them.
THE SEVEN SEES: Not that these two characters – Sam from Concussion and Tara from “Sons of Anarchy” – would ever cross paths in real life, but hypothetically speaking, if they did, do you think there’s a common thing they would bond over? Would they be kindred spirits in any way?
MAGGIE SIFF: That’s a good question. I cannot imagine what scenario it would be where those two characters would cross paths with each other. I think I bring something to a character that is a little unusual for “Sons of Anarchy.” The character is an outsider and always has been, so in another world she could be a doctor in New Jersey, but she’s not. I think they’re very different; they’re really different in their souls. Tara is a tortured soul and Sam is the opposite of a tortured soul I think. I think she’s pretty at easy and at peace with herself and her choices.
THE SEVEN SEES: Having said that, how would you describe your approach to Sam? Do you view what she does as exploration for the fun of it?
MAGGIE SIFF: I think she’s someone who’s living a very conventional life on the surface, who is not a very conventional person when you scratch the surface. I think she is genuinely bisexual. I think she and her husband have a certain agreement. I think she knows that she needs to live a certain way and have a life outside her marriage that keeps her alive and feeling expressed, and I think she’s okay with that and that it’s okay within their marriage.
MAGGIE SIFF: Sure. It’s one of the reasons why I so love that scene in the grocery store with Ben Shenkman, who’s a great actor. He’s only in that one little scene, but I think the reason why having a great actor in that was so important is because he communicates a whole world that exists between them in that one little moment where he looks at Abby and he looks at Sam, and that’s the end of the scene. (laughs) You’re just like, “Oh, something is going on here.”
THE SEVEN SEES: It’s one of the great things about the movie, I think, is that it has a chance to breathe and isn’t bogged down with dialogue. Only the important things that needed to be said…
MAGGIE SIFF: Were said. That’s what I felt about the script when I read it. You know a great script when you’re aware of all the things that aren’t said. She was very spare in how she told the story. And the relationship between Abby and her wife, when they’re talking about the other couple and her wife says to her, “Then breathe,” that’s a moment where the conversation could open up to something about them. Abby turns away from that and the conversation doesn’t go there because with real couples who have history, who have dynamics, you often turn away from the node of the problem or the complicated thing. That’s what people do; they avoid it because it’s uncomfortable. I think you see that in the movie again and again where people don’t move into it, they move away from it.
THE SEVEN SEES: Speaking of interesting couples, have you teased Charlie Hunnam any about stepping into the shoes of Christian Grey for Fifty Shades of Grey?
MAGGIE SIFF: (laughs) I think it’s great. Everybody’s been supportive and I think he’s going to do a great job.
THE SEVEN SEES: He’s a great actor. I was shocked at the backlash, but I get it a bit because I think they’re just seeing how he looks in “Sons of Anarchy” and that’s not Christian. And he, as you know, if comfortable with the nudity.
MAGGIE SIFF: Yeah. He’s going to be just fine. I just put him in front of the camera when we have to do scenes like that – “You stand right there.”