Fact: Sons of Anarchy has never been nominated for an acting Emmy. We’ve already explained to Emmy voters why matriarch Katey Sagal is long overdue and how Walton Goggins’s return as Venus Van Dam yielded one of the series’ finest scenes. Now we turn our efforts toward reminding them of worthy contenders in the supporting actor race.
Sons has many of them, including Kim Coates, who so beautifully, simply bared Tig’s depth opposite Goggins, and Theo Rossi, who was equally affecting in one of the series’ other finest scenes, when Juice finally told Jax (an achingly good Charlie Hunnam) the truth about Tara’s death. What Rossi told EW.com when describing the response to that moment is worth repeating:
“What was so powerful about it — and what the reaction has been — is it was just two characters talking and telling information. There was nobody blowing anything up, there was nobody cutting anybody’s arms off, there was nobody stabbing each other. It was just two people talking. Sometimes we forget how powerful that is with really, really, really good dialogue. What I’ve gotten from people is them saying that every pause, they were waiting for the next word. 'What’s he going to say next? Oh my god, what’s going to happen?’ There were people who went through 15 different emotions in the nine minutes. They were standing up and sitting down. There were people who wrote me on Twitter and Facebook who said they watched the scene like 20 times. That’s incredible for a TV show to evoke that kind of passion.”
There’s another supporting actor who we’d consider the unsung hero of Sons’s final three seasons, and that’s Jimmy Smits, who helped turn Nero, the OG Byz Lat-turned-“companionator”-turned farm owner, into one of the FX drama’s most layered and respected characters through his nuanced performance. The video above features three clips from Season 7: Nero urging Sagal’s Gemma to leave Charming with him, Nero hearing from Jax that Gemma was responsible for Tara’s death and the massive body count her cover-up set in motion, and Jax suggesting Nero take his boys to the farm. Each of those scenes is special because of what Smits does between the words.
In the latter, it’s the look on his face when Jax says he hopes the boys will go to the farm often — does he realize Jax is speaking of the future as though Jax won’t be in it? The phone call with Jax about Gemma is yet another of the series’ finest scenes — and it’s because creator Kurt Sutter chose not to write dialogue. “[In the script, Sutter’s notes read], 'We don’t hear the rest of Jax’s conversation, we just see the result of it play on Nero’s face. First confusion, then doubt, then awe… Nero — a thousand emotions explode in his head. A thousand things he wants to say. The only thing that comes out: ‘You should go.’ So, words can’t even come out. This happens to me quite often,” Smits told Yahoo TV after the episode aired, “‘cause I’m not really the best communicator in life. I’m socially awkward in life, and that’s one of the reasons why I do what I do. I’m more about interpreting other people’s words. But those moments, that moment, really kind of resonated with me. That was a moment of humanity that I understand, and I think people understand.”
It’s not just Smits’s face that told the story, it was his body. There’s that heartbreaking bounce as Nero waits for Gemma to confirm that what Jax told him is true. “I think it’s, ‘Let’s stop the deceit between us. If we have a relationship, let’s be honest with each other.’ As Juice said, Gemma is the keeper of all of the secrets,” Smits explained. When he first saw the bounce, he wasn’t sure he liked it. “Because it’s a thing that didn’t happen every take. It was something that spontaneously happened, the kind of moment that [makes] you remember as an actor on TV that television is very fluid, and in some instances it might get a little blurry between the performer and the character he’s playing,” he said. “The majority of the takes did not have that particular moment in there. And I think that was more Jimmy than it is Nero. I hate to say that like that, but do you know what I mean? When I look at it, I say, that’s the little boy. … This guy, he’s the rock for people. But that’s the little boy or the little girl that all of us have inside.”
All seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy are now streaming on Netflix.