Sons of Anarchy star and Emmy-winning alum of The Sopranos, Drea de Matteo has worked with her fair share of big stars on big TV shows, but when it comes to the biggest diva she's ever worked with, she names an actress who comes in a small package.
"That dog! Ohhhh! It was a nightmare. It was an untrained dog, and she was a miserable dog," de Matteo tells Yahoo TV of Little Nicky, the Maltese who played Adriana La Cerva's doomed pet, Cosette, on The Sopranos (The one who was smooshed when Christufuh sat on her in Season 4's "The Strong, Silent Type.").
"And I'm a dog lover, but I had heavy, heavy scenes with that dog, man. There are no diva acts that can trump a damn dog who doesn't understand you. She was a nightmare! Biting people… she was a freaking nightmare."
Memories of the cantankerous canine are triggered when de Matteo is asked about the old W.C. Fields adage that actors should never work with animals or children. As Wendy, Jax Teller's formerly strung out former wife on Sons of Anarchy, the actress is spending the majority of her time in Season 7 working alongside the kiddie co-stars who play Teller offspring, Abel and Thomas. And while maybe she should have heeded Fields's warning about sharing scenes with difficult doggies, de Matteo says her small human co-stars are far more impressive.
"The boys are amazing. They've grown up on the set, the twins, Evan and Ryder [Londo], and they're incredible," de Matteo says. "One is better with the active stuff, with action and facial expressions, and the other one is better with dialogue, and it's amazing to watch them both do the work… they've been especially incredible this season. They're just like little actors.
"[But] it's definitely hard, on the kids and the adults, as every actor on the show will tell you. When it works, it's magical. It sometimes takes a while to get there, though, and it's especially hard for actors like the ones on our show, who are so invested in their scenes and in their words and in their emotions, to have to contain that in a little box for hours just being on set, and then having to be patient with children on top of that, in a scene, when a lot of those scenes are emotionally charged."
De Matteo, a single mom to daughter Alabama ("Bama") and son Waylon ("Blackjack"), with ex-love Shooter Jennings, has extra patience and understanding with her young co-stars, especially now that she and her family are spending time together onscreen in her upcoming reality series, The #Muthaship.
Launching later in October, the online Endemol series was shot entirely on a smartphone and will provide a lighthearted peek into de Matteo's life with Bama and Blackjack, her boyfriend, Mikey, her former nanny, Munkey, and various friends and relatives, as she rejiggers her life after a recent string of heartbreaks that included the breakup of her relationship with Jennings and the death of her beloved father, Albert.
"[After turning 40], I just decided to start saying yes to everything," says de Matteo, 42. "I've been asked to do reality shows for years, all the time after The Sopranos. Right now, it's about watching somebody put her life back together, but it's also light. I wanted that to be the through line. It will come through in some moments. They're only six-minute episodes. They're quick. But it's fun, and crazy, and me doing things I've never done before, like saying yes to a reality show."
Meanwhile, as Sons of Anarchy roars to its December series finale — the conclusion of which Wendy may factor heavily into — de Matteo is also looking for her next great TV project, and the one at the top of her list is, like The Sopranos and SoA, a family tale.
The actress's mother, Donna, is an accomplished playwright and writing instructor, and the duo have been working for several years to develop Pleasant Avenue, a drama inspired by de Matteo's great grandma, who was a New York City midwife in the 1950s.
The de Matteo women sold the show to HBO seven years ago, but Drea's pregnancy, executive changes at the cable network, and timing — HBO was about to launch Boardwalk Empire, another period piece, at that time — squelched it. Now, as they both continue to deal with the loss of the family patriarch, de Matteo says she and her mom are ready to get the show back into development.
"My great-grandmother was delivering babies, but she was also the only person getting people abortions at the time," de Matteo says. "But it's not about abortions. It's like how The Sopranos is not about the Mafia. It was the backdrop for a really serious family drama. This is sort of the same thing. You have a revolving door of these women coming in and out, and these men coming in and out, trying to clean up messes, which makes for a great story. Also, she dealt with so many different people's stories, because she dealt with people from Hollywood, from the political scene in Washington. It's set during the McCarthy era, so there's just so much hypocrisy at that time, and the whole show really is based on that hypocrisy. That's the theme of the show, seeing the '50s in a way that it's never been seen on TV, the dark side of it, the underground. A lot of these women that were coming through her doors were also prostitutes. They were working in the blues clubs, they were mistresses of all the happy, shiny people that we always see portrayed in the '50s."
De Matteo, who also starred on Desperate Housewives and the Friends spinoff Joey, is looking for another great role to follow SoA, too, but Pleasant Avenue, which sounds particularly relevant in the current cable and streaming-TV landscape, where great storylines and great female characters and content creators are finally getting their due, is her passion project.
"It's our story, it's our family. There's a lot of Mafia stuff in there as well, because we were, my family definitely was on that side of the world, my mother's side of the family, anyways. Now that everybody is dead, everybody is gone, we can talk about it," she says with a laugh.
"I want to tell the story, and I want my mom to write it. She has to write the first one, because no one can match her tone. Except for maybe David Chase, because they kind of write the same."
Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.