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Sons of Anarchy: Exclusive Rockmond Dunbar Interview and SOA Clips

Rockmond Dunbar stars in Sons of Anarchy. Rockmond Dunbar stars in Sons of Anarchy.

Rockmond Dunbar is at home in Los Angeles, cleaning up cat hair and getting ready to look at houses for his new family. Having just married fellow actor Maya Gilbert and excitedly preparing to become a father for the first time, Dunbar’s domestic lifestyle is infinitely different from the tornado of chaos he chases as Sheriff Eli Roosevelt on the FX biker drama Sons of Anarchy. Happy and content as Dunbar is in real life, his character trudges through tragedy in the bad-luck magnet that is the fictional Northern California town of Charming.

“We left off where my wife was murdered and I’m searching for revenge while still trying to keep Charming a decent place to live,” Dunbar says over the phone about his recurring role on the show.

Since the series launched in 2008, Sons has amassed a massive cult following. The show centers around the outlaw biker crew SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original), led by at-odds leaders Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) and backstabbing stepfather Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman). The show moves fast and characters face sweeping misfortune every episode, from arrests and overdoses to kidnapping and murder. Sons debuts its sixth of seven seasons this September with a 90-minute premiere, and Dunbar advises fans to prepare themselves for more mayhem.

You’re going to die a horrific death your 10th episode, and that will be that.

“You’re going to want to watch it over and over again,” he says. “There’s a lot of juicy stuff in this new season, with at least five people dying every episode. The writers are especially good at putting themselves into a corner and finding their way out.”
Creator and head writer Kurt Sutter, who himself plays imprisoned and deranged club member Otto Delaney, is famously cruel with the fates of the cast. Each season, beloved characters bite the dust in dark and twisted ways, making Sons one of the most tense hours on television. No actor is safe with Sutter, and Dunbar himself nearly learned that hard truth firsthand, originally signing on for just 10 episodes in Season 4.

“I sat down with Kurt and he was like, ‘OK, you’re going to die a horrific death your 10th episode, and that will be that,’” Dunbar remembers. “But during the episode I was supposed to die, Kurt announced, ‘Dude, we can’t kill you.’”

Having survived Sutter’s pen and found favor with fans, Sheriff Roosevelt — with his Bic-clean scalp, gold-rimmed aviators, and broad-shouldered cop uniform — holds his own in the law-vs.-lawbreaker showdowns that usually find viewers siding with the criminals. The toughest scenes, Dunbar says, are when the whole ensemble shares the screen. His first appearance on the show involved Charming Police, led by new-sheriff-in-town Roosevelt, pulling over the entire SAMCRO gang on an empty patch of highway. The challenge in this standoff was simply being believable.

“You have 20 guys on motorcycles, testosterone built up to here,” Dunbar says. “And they’re settled into their characters. They eat up the room with their presence. So you have to have the cojones to have the presentation of, ‘I’m the new guy and you’re going to listen to me and this is the way it’s going to go.’”

The ever-present conflict between good and bad continues even during the read-throughs of new scripts, where the law sits on one side of the table and the outlaws on the other. Perlman has even said in interviews that the actors often ignore each other on set in order to stay in character. It takes a strong performer to play the cop whose job it is to take down SAMCRO’s charismatic club members week after week, but of all the lawmen present on Sons of Anarchy, Sheriff Roosevelt is easily the most dynamic.

“It’s easy to be intimidated on this show, but if that happens you’ll have people going, ‘Nah, that guy’s weak,’” he says.

Weak is definitely not the word used to describe this Oakland-raised actor, whose own upbringing offered some exposure to the tough-as-nails NorCal crime syndicates that are dramatized on Sons. “I have family members in the Houston Dragons — a motorcycle club that used to go to a bar my family ran back in the day,” Dunbar reveals. “So I’ve always been around biker gangs and I know the culture and the type of dynamic.”

Still, Dunbar stayed out of trouble and soon left the Bay Area to attend Morehouse College to study law. But he found his true calling when a friend pointed out, “Is it law that you love, or is it acting like a lawyer?”

“I wanted to be a commodities executive early on because I saw Michael Douglas in Wall Street,” Dunbar says. “I wanted to be a lawyer because I saw Blair Underwood [on L.A. Law.]”

Soon after, he sent an audition tape to the renowned College of Santa Fe acting school and was accepted. From there, Dunbar quickly booked a recurring role on Steven Spielberg’s ill-fated Earth 2 series [We don’t remember it either — Ed.]. The next decade was spent hustling around Hollywood from role to role, including recurring parts as tow truck operator Kenny on Showtime’s Soul Food and as Dr. Thomas Jonas on TNT’s Heartland. His visibility rose following a stint playing hardened criminal C-Note on Fox’s Prison Break, but it was his role as Det. Mark Gustafson on the Fox show Terriers that lead to Dunbar’s current cop incarnation.

“I did a series with [fellow Sons guest star] Donal Logue called Terriers and also with [producer] Shawn Ryan,” Dunbar explains. “Shawn and Kurt worked together on The Shield, so when they were looking for the new sheriff, my name came up. In the 10th hour, Kurt called over to Shawn and said he’d been hearing stuff about me. Shawn told him I was the truth. So I went to wardrobe and got fitted the next day.”

How long Dunbar will stay in a Charming Police uniform remains to be seen, since even the head of the show seems uncertain when Sheriff Roosevelt will meet his seemingly inevitable (and certainly unenviable) fate. But Dunbar isn’t waiting around, using time between seasons to appear on multi-episode arcs of The Game and For Richer or Poorer. He also has his first staring role on deck with The Cheaters Club, the ironically titled film where he met his wife.

You never want to try and anticipate what he is going to do, and you never want to be inside of his head.

The pair met on March 11, 2012, and started dating exclusively a few weeks later. He proposed by the new year, and now a baby is on the way. One might ask if this rather sudden and rapid ascent to domestic bliss changed how Dunbar approaches intense characters like the one he plays on Sons.

“I’m not a method actor,” he says. “I do my job and come home to my beautiful, pregnant wife — that’s where my focus is. I like having the peace of home and chaos of your job.”

As Season 6 of Sons of Anarchy rolls out this fall, chaos is the one thing viewers can definitely count on.

“There’s two things you don’t want to do with Kurt — you never want to try and anticipate what he is going to do, and you never want to be inside of his head,” Dunbar says with a cautious laugh. “You have to be a really tormented person to come up with these types of ideas. I don’t know how he stays sane. The things that come out of the show are totally crazy, but it makes for great TV. It’s a roller coaster of absolute mayhem.”

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Last modified on Monday, 30 September 2013 21:04

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