Winter Ave Zoli and Kristen Renton Interview SONS OF ANARCHY

     October 12, 2011


On Season 4 of the popular FX drama Sons of Anarchy, not only are viewers getting to learn more about the personal history and relationships of many of the SAMCRO members, but they’re also getting to know their women, or “old ladies.” One such “old lady” is Lyla (Winter Ave Zoli), the porn star married to club member Opie (Ryan Hurst). But, Lyla’s job definitely causes tension in her relationship and, when Opie finds out that she’s been keeping secrets from him, he turns to Ima (Kristen Renton), a fellow porn star who’s always looking for trouble.

During a recent interview to promote the show’s current season, co-stars Winter Ave Zoli and Kristen Renton talked about how they like the way Season 4 is dealing with the characters on a more personal level, that they love the juicy material they’re given, finding ways to relate to playing a porn star, and how working with such a great cast has really allowed them to grow as actors. Check out what they had to say after the jump:

sons-of-anarchy-winter-ave-zoli-image-1Question: What do you guys like most about this season’s storyline and what’s going on for your character, in particular?

WINTER AVE ZOLI: What I like a lot about this season is that it’s dealing more on a personal level with all of the characters, and delving into relationships and the history of the relationships and the past of the club. A lot of things come to a head. So, it reveals a lot of information this season, about the characters and the club. With my character, in particular, I like that things are coming to a head for her and Opie, and it’s showing more of Lyla. Situations come up that force her and Opie (Ryan Hurst) to deal with the things in their life.

KRISTEN RENTON: This season is a very relationship-driven season. Viewers are able to look back into the past of how the club started and where everybody came from, and the different relationships and dynamics that come into play, with the history of the club and where everybody is now. You can even see the relationship between Gemma (Katey Sagal) and Clay (Ron Perlman) start to, I don’t want to say deteriorate, but really be tested, with all the lying and deceit. It is a very interesting, juicy, creative path that they’re going down. For my character in particular, I just like that she just doesn’t give up. She’s coming back and she won’t take no for an answer. I think she’s gone a little over to the dark side. She’s now carrying a gun and she’s gone a little batty. But, she’s determined, and you’ve got to appreciate a girl with determination, for sure.

Kristen, have you had conversations with (show creator) Kurt Sutter about whether your character will somehow have a redemptive moment? She’s always been the bad girl, but will she ever see the light?

RENTON: Good question. I have not spoken to Kurt about what will be transpiring, later on in the coming seasons, or anything like that. I feel like Ima is the main bad girl of this show, and I don’t think that’s going to change. I think she’ll keep stirring the pot and causing chaos, which makes for a more interesting character, in my opinion. I love playing the bad girl. I think she’s a lot more fun to play than a character like Tara, who’s nice and who you’re rooting for. Everybody loves to hate Ima, so I think we’re going to keep it on that path and see what other trouble she can get into.

sons-of-anarchy-winter-ave-zoli-image-2Winter, with Lyla at a crisis point, where do you think she’ll be headed?

ZOLI: Lyla is basically dealing with this new relationship and new married life, and jumping into a relationship that went really fast. I think both her and Opie are like, “Now what?” Obviously, she has this secret that she’s been holding onto, which is the abortion she had last season, so that comes to a head in this season. And then, it’s just basically about dealing with how they’re handling the relationship, at this point. They have a lot to sort out this season.

Because people tune into the show to watch motorcycle action, but they stay for the personal dynamics, how do you help showcase the fallibility that the club has?

RENTON: Well, the stuff that’s written for both my character and Winter’s character is such juicy, amazing material by the writers and Kurt, that it would be hard to muck it up. When you’re given something like that, the choices that you can make behind the character come so easily. There are so many different ways you can take it, and so many different things that you can do, and we have amazing directors on this show that really help with the creative process, so it’s fairly easy to just take it and run with it, and really make it something that the fans want to tune in, watch, and stick around to see.

ZOLI: I think that was perfectly said. We’re running around in our underwear, and it’s hard not to draw attention and interest, let alone the storylines, which are so crazy, in this different wild world of the bike gang or the porn life. It’s such interesting material to work with, and we have great writers that give us great scenes to work with, so it’s easy to compete with the rest of the explosive action scenes.

RENTON: Which there have been quite a few of this year, and I’m enjoying them.

ZOLI: There have, yes.

What have been the biggest challenges this season? Were there any difficult scenes that you had to face?

RENTON: I had to do a scene in Episode 6, that wasn’t actually as difficult for me as it was for the person that I was shooting it with because it’s very far removed from something that they would ever even fantasize about doing, and it was very difficult for them to allow themselves to physically be that way towards me. I’m all about, “Look, if we’re going to do this, then let’s jump in and do it. Let’s make it as real as we possibly can. Let’s live it.” And so, I was game for the scene. It was a difficult scene. It was a very physical and emotional scene. But, I think it was more difficult for Charlie than it was for me.  From what I hear, it came out amazing, so that’s the most memorable scenes in this season, for sure.

ZOLI: For me, it’s definitely a scene I just shot with Ryan [Hurst], where we come together after some difficulties, and we have a very physical reaction to each other, and not in a positive way. That was difficult to shoot because it was actually the first time that Lyla and Opie show this other side of their relationship and of the dysfunction, and we see that, “Wow, it’s not paradise.” It was both very fun to shoot and it was really interesting to do the different takes. It was a whole different thing for Lyla.

How are your characters and their personalities similar to you, and how are they different?

ZOLI: We’re both actresses, acting out different kinds of movies. I think it’s important to somehow relate to your character. It brings it more to life and makes it more realistic. I’ve always tried, from the beginning, to make Lyla real and relate her to myself, as much as I can. Obviously, there are big differences, but I’d say the similarities are that she’s just a girl who’s in love, trying to cope with life and problems, and good times and bad times. The differences are also pretty obvious. She is a tough-cookie porn star. I’d say that’s where our biggest differences lie.

RENTON: For me, Ima is so far removed from my reality, with not only what she does for a living, but the way she acts and presents herself, and the attitude that she has. We’ve all known people that have come into our lives, who are negative or disruptive, or who just are flat-out bad people, and unfortunately I’ve had quite a few of those in my life, so I had a lot to draw on when I was introduced to Ima. She’s based off of bits and pieces of different people that have come into my life, that I’ve had to deal with. And, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’ve found myself in a much better place, having met these people. Ima is a hodge-podge of things that I have seen and gone through, and people that I’ve met. The one thing that is the most relatable between me and Ima is that we’re both very determined young women. We both will not accept no for an answer, and we are very driven and determined and no-nonsense. But, that’s where the similarities end. I’m much nicer than Ima. I would never steal another woman’s man. I give her a lot of credit for being strong enough to do the whole porn thing. Any woman that is willing to take control of their life and do what they want to do to make their living, I have a lot of respect for. Personally, I couldn’t do it, but that doesn’t mean that I look down upon it, and I don’t. Ima and Lyla are very strong women, and both Winter and I are similar, in that way.

How do you feel you’ve grown, as actresses, since you started the show?

RENTON: I feel like any time you, as an actor, can be surrounded by other amazing actors, you can’t do anything but grow. There’s a phenomenal cast that we get to work with, every time we go to work. Just to be in the presence of these people – Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Kim Coates – watching them do their work, they are all just phenomenal actors. I just sit and watch them and absorb the wealth of knowledge that they share with you. So, as an actor, I definitely feel I’ve grown since being on the show. It’s given me a strength and a lot of determination to continue in the business that I’m in. Shooting this show, and dealing with these situations and different people, has definitely made me a stronger person.

ZOLI: Just being on the set and watching Charlie [Hunnam], Katey [Sagal], Ron [Perlman] and everybody is very inspiring. You do learn a lot when you see their processes, and how they work with the directors, and how they go about making the scene as realistic and real for them as possible. I definitely feel like I’ve grown. Just being able to play this kind of character, it makes you learn a lot about the world that they’re from, and that influences you, for sure.

What are your thoughts about motorcycle culture?

RENTON: I’ve grown up around bikes, so if anything, it’s just reaffirmed how much I love them. I actually got my motorcycle license in February, which was something I’d always wanted to do. I’m still learning. I don’t have a bike yet, but that’s a goal of mine. I’ve got 14 tattoos, and I had several of those before I started. My newest one I got, knowing that Kurt wouldn’t be upset with me.

ZOLI: It’s probably the only show where you can get a tattoo and it’s no problem. I’ve never paid much attention to the bike culture, and I have to say I’m definitely more fond of it and intrigued by it now. Every time I hear a bike, my heart beats a little faster, and I’m definitely more in tune with what kind of bikes are out there. I have no tattoos, but I’ve been planning on possibly getting one for about three years. I just can’t make the decision to go ahead and do it. Maybe one day.

Before the season starts, does Kurt give you guys any idea what’s going to happen to your character, or do you basically find out as you get the scripts?

ZOLI: We are in the dark until we get the scripts. You get hints of what’s to come, and the general arc of the season, but even that can change, depending on which direction Kurt decides to take the story, at any given moment. So, you get the scripts and you’re like, “Okay, what’s happening this time? What’s going to happen to Lyla?” It keeps you on your toes.

RENTON: Kurt does play his cards very close to his vest. He likes to keep it quiet until he actually puts the script out there. And, it’s amazing how much information can get leaked, nowadays. It just takes one person, and then it’s a whole spoiler. So, he keeps things pretty quiet.

Ryan Hurst Sons of AnarchyHow has being on such a hot show affected your careers? Are you guys getting more auditions, or do you have different projects in the works on hiatus?

ZOLI: It has definitely affected my career. The show is highly respected in the industry. It’s growing in popularity, immensely, so you definitely garner a little more attention because of that. I worked on a couple of things on the hiatus, and that does help. They are definitely interested in using somebody who’s working on such a popular and great show.

RENTON: Yes. I feel like there’s a lot of respect for Sons, and anybody that’s a part of it, which has opened several doors. But, we still work very hard for every audition that we get, and every job that we get, and it still takes a lot of determination.

With as emotional and intense as the scenes get sometimes, is it ever hard to leave that on the set?

ZOLI: It actually takes me about 20 minutes to leave Lyla, and that’s probably the process of taking off the hair and the make-up. Especially when things are highly emotional, it can linger with you for awhile, but I always actually just feel so happy when I leave set because I just feel so fortunate to be working on such a great show, with such great people. That’s the only feeling that’s left afterwards. It’s just a sense of joy that I get to go to set and do this job and have this opportunity. I just feel so fortunate.

RENTON: I completely agree. It’s an interesting process, when you have a character like Lyla or Ima. So much goes into making her, physically, with the fake hair, the fake eyelashes, all the make-up, and all the little chicken cutlets we put in our bras to make our boobs look bigger. So, when you’re done for the day and you go back to your trailer, it’s almost cathartic, taking all of that off. You peel off that character and what you’re left with is really a bare bones of who you are, as a person. That actually helps to leave the character on set. Our characters are so far removed from our reality, of even just how we dress in day-to-day life, that it does help for us to be able to take that off and leave it there. But, I also leave set with a huge smile on my face because I just got to work with the coolest people, on the coolest show on television.