Horror Business: SONS OF ANARCHY’s Kim Coates on Acting & Character Building
We all know him best as Tig Trager from Sons of Anarchy, but between Officer Downe, Canada’s gangster crime drama Bad Blood, the gritty western epic Godless on Netflix, and the upcoming Cold Brook, an indie drama directed by actor by William Fichtner, Kim Coates is becoming more and more of a household name. Truthfully, we couldn’t be happier to be seeing so much more of him!
Often playing edgy characters that live on the fringe of society, Kim has appeared in numerous huge movies including Waterworld, Braveheart, Innocent Blood, The Amityville Curse, The Client, Bad Boys, Battlefield Earth, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, Silent Hill, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and the the TV adaptations of Total Recall and Poltergeist.
We got to sit down with Kim to talk about his acting process, Sons of Anarchy, and whether he will ever return as Tig in Mayans MC. But first, here are Kim Coates’ three keys for aspiring actors.
- Be a big fish in a small pond. Instead of trying his luck in majorly competitive cities like L.A. & New York, Kim started out his acting career with regional theater and was able to consistently get big roles which gave him the opportunity to hone his acting skills. With regional theatre, he had a steady stream of leads for years in plays all over the U.S. & Canada. Eventually, big agents began to take notice and he found his way to Hollywood. The fishing is always best where the fewest go. The opportunities to develop as an actor are bigger and better in less competitive areas. Explore regional theatre, and look for opportunities to hone your craft with roles that are more demanding and offer better visibility. Kim also stressed that this is a gradual process, and that actors should not be in a rush. So, if you’re an actor, take the time it takes to become great; uncover hidden opportunities, and the right people will eventually take notice.
- Read everything. Kim is a prolific reader and discussed the responsibility actors have to know as much as they can about acting, art and humanity so they can bring all of that knowledge to their roles and their careers. Immersing yourself in poetry, plays, art, and literature allows you to internalize drama, nuance, and storytelling–all of which tremendously serves your acting. Kim specifically recommended the works of Uta Hagen, Ian Esko, Tennessee Williams, and the Marlon Brando biographies.
- Acting is listening. Kim mentioned how often the term “method acting” is tossed around and how so few people really understand what it means. To him, the real key to acting is being present in the moment (on screen or on stage) and constantly reacting to everything as the scene unfolds in real time. He went on to say: “The camera picks up everything; there’s no acting allowed.” He also quoted Francis Ford Coppola who said: “Learn the lines so well that you can forget them,” indicating the importance of internalizing your lines beyond memorization, to the point where you can deliver a performance while being truly present in the scene.
Dread Central: Kim Coates, it’s great to see you!
Kim Coates: Nick, it’s great to be seen, and you’re almost as good looking as me.
DC: That’s the best compliment I’ve gotten all day. So, you’ve been a pretty busy guy lately.
KC: Yeah, it’s a pretty incredible time. Sons of Anarchy ended in 2014. It was seven years of motorcycle riding, writing, acting, producing–millions of fans around the world, and I’ll never forget it. That said, it was time to get back to movies full-time. And so that’s what I did, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I did a mini-series along the way called Godless.
DC: Big fan, by the way. You felt very well placed in a western.
KC: Thanks. Yeah, it was pretty impressive to be a part of that. It was a monster $120 million shoot. Massive ratings, massive reviews, and to be part of that was so special for me.
DC: Tell me about Jerusalem. This was your first time returning to the stage in decades, and you starred alongside your daughter.
KC: It was time for me to go back to the stage after Sons of Anarchy, and so I told all my people to start looking for a play. The stage is where it all started for me. I was the youngest Macbeth ever at Stratford in Ontario in 1986. I was twenty-six at the time, and went right to Broadway. I did Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway (took over for Aidan Quinn) and Dracula in Atlanta at the Alliance Theater. On Dracula I averaged between five and ten phone numbers a night, for sure.
DC: Well done.
KC: Thank you. But it was time to go back to the stage, and Jerusalem was thrown at me. And I said “no” right away; it was too crazy for me. I didn’t understand the dialogue, really. It’s from Pusey, about an hour west of London. Then I gave it to my daughter Brianna, and she said, “Dad, if you don’t do this play, it’ll be the biggest mistake you ever made.”
So I read it another time and fell in love with it. I prepared for about seven months. I went to London four times and studied with Claire Davidson. I went to Pusey and met all the crazies there. Eleven of them took a bird from London all the way to Toronto to see my performance. It was completely sold out. We were very fortunate. We won all the awards. We were seven for seven, best actor, best in ensemble, best play, best director.
DC: Is there something that you get from the stage, as an actor, that you don’t get from the screen?
KC: Everything started on stage for me. It’s different because it’s live, and it’s vocal, and it’s real, and it’s in continuity, which is cool… and every night that we finished I had a nice big scotch and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t die on stage. Because it was just so brutally difficult.
DC: You’ve worked with a lot of incredible directors and other actors. Is there any advice that you have for current actors as far as navigating Hollywood?
KC: Fuck yeah, I do, and I say it all the time. Don’t be in a rush to move. Don’t be in a panic to go to New York, to go to L.A. Take a breath. Meet people your own age. Unless you have nepotism or a massive amount of talent and luck and beauty, you’re going to get buried for years.
There’s a regional theater everywhere. Seattle’s theater scene is amazing; Chicago, too. If you are serious about acting, you’ve got to take classes. You can’t just go to L.A., you can’t just go to New York, you can’t just go to Toronto and be a bartender and think you’re going to be an actor. It’s just not going to work. So, why don’t you stay in Edmonton for a while, and meet people, and take classes, and bartend there, and then you’ll be a big fish in a little pond, rather than rushing to get to these places.
I was naive, man. I always believed in my talent, but I never rushed anything. I finished college. I did twenty-five plays in college. I had to go to either Toronto or Vancouver. I chose Toronto. Got lucky with a big agent because I had people who knew my work from Saskatoon. But then my agent goes, “Okay, so we’re going to get you into film right away. You’re a tough guy.” And I said, “Actually, no we’re not. I need to do more theater.”
So I went to Thunder Bay, and went to Edmonton, and went to Halifax. I did twelve plays in Halifax. Then I got invited to Stratford. Then New York people saw my work and said, “You’ve got to come to New York.”
I was innocent in the most beautiful way early in my career, and that’s what I’d tell young people: Don’t be in a rush. Become good, and then the bigger places will be there for you when you’re ready.
DC: That makes a whole world of sense. Are you a method actor?
KC: Honestly, these young kids who think they know what method acting is, they don’t have a fucking clue. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Look, I’m an internal actor, there’s no question. If I’m about to play an Italian, I might buy some Italian silks, I might go hang out in an espresso place. I might watch some men watching soccer. I might soak it all up. If you want to call that method, sure. Then that’s what I am.
But am I gonna cut myself because I’m about to do a scene that requires bleeding? No. Am I going to take my teeth out because my character has to? No. That’s why they call it acting. It’s acting, but acting is listening. If you become a good listener, you’ve got a shot. The camera picks up everything. There’s no acting allowed; you’ve got to be in it. Like Coppola said, you need to learn the lines so well that you can forget them.
So for me, method gets misused a lot. I just want actors to be in it, and listen, and create a character with the director and with themselves.
DC: Speaking of creating characters, Sons of Anarchy still has a biblical level of fanaticism, even years later. Personally, I’ve re-watched the entire thing three times.
KC: Sorry. Sorry to hear that, Nick.
DC: I’ve never done that with any other show.
KC: Get a life.
DC: But what kept me returning to it was the characters. I felt like I wanted to stay in touch with these characters. For me, the whole show was the characters.
DC: What was your approach for crafting the character of Tig? How much of it was Kurt Sutter? How much of it was you?
KC: Kurt had to re-shoot the pilot–most people know the story. They had to change their Clay by casting Ron Perlman. They didn’t have Tig Trager. There was a different Sergeant at Arms, and it didn’t work out. It was all just figuring their way along. So, when he cast me as Tig and I said “Yes,” we started filming the next day. It was just at such a fast pace, I didn’t even know what I was doing.
There was a scene not in the pilot, but the first show after the pilot, where I actually had a scene with Ron Perlman, and we were talking about these unfortunate girls who died in a fire in the warehouse, and we got to see the humor and the darkness and the love that Tig had in a weird, twisted way. Ron Perlman said that was the beginning of Tig Trager.
Kurt enjoyed figuring Tig out through me, and I enjoyed figuring out what to do with the beautiful shit that he wrote for Tig. Tig’s storylines went from his incredible psychotic toughness to this funny, caring guy, and eventually to the moral compass of the club by the last season. I’m just so lucky to have been given such beautiful stuff to try and figure out and immerse myself in. I found Tig’s laugh, his sense of humor, his toughness, and his loyalty. Tig was a loyal dog.
DC: Sons is still like a religion to some people. What do you attribute its enduring popularity to?
KC: It’s magic in a bottle, and we were just really lucky. Really well-cast, really well-directed, from Sutter’s incredible, brilliant, crazy, fucked-up mind.
The whole Hamlet/Shakespearean theme of the show, mixed in with the one-percenters, that’s never been done before. FX gave Kurt a carte blanche and said, “Kurt, this is your show.” John Landgraf, who’s my favorite executive in Hollywood, bar none, had a belief in Kurt–and boy, did that work out for FX. It was the biggest show they’ve ever had.
DC: Obviously with Mayans MC, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s next in the Samcro universe. What would you like to see? What story has been left unresolved for you?
KC: I don’t have anything to answer to that, other than that I trust Landgraf and Sutter. I know there was a lot that he could have done. You could have continued with Chibs and Tig. You could have done a prequel. You could have done eight years later. You could have done the First Nine. There’s so many. But they didn’t want any of that right now, and it took them three years to figure out it was a Mayans spin-off. Whenever people ask me, “Oh, are you going to be in the Mayans, Kim?” I go, “No, I don’t think so. We’ve all moved on.” But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever forget Sons of Anarchy, and I just hope it’s a big hit for them.
DC: Very cool. So what are you working on right now that’s particularly exciting for you?
KC: I’ve got two big things. Bad Blood in Canada–it’s unbelievable… I had an incredible movie I did with Bill Fichtner, my best friend, this incredible little passion project called Cold Brook. We’re so proud of this film. It’s unbelievably good. I’m back now in America to find that next show and to continue doing my movies, to continue to produce. I will direct eventually.
DC: As far as directing, is there any idea of the types of projects that you want to get behind?
KC: Not yet, but if it’s an independent film, maybe I star in it. Maybe I don’t. Maybe my daughter does. Ridley Scott said this to me on Black Hawk Down, that the one thing he is proud of is he surrounds himself with the best people. He lets the DP be the DP. He lets the props guy be the props guy. Does he have his hands in the pie? Of course he does. But he lets his people do their work. He’s not a megalomaniac. And if you let people do their job, not only do they want to, they have an opportunity to excel. And so a film allows you to do that without a lot of interference from above or time constraints.
DC: When it comes to acting and navigating Hollywood–there are so many books and resources out there, most of which are bullshit. Are there any books or courses that helped you along your way?
KC: That’s such a great question, because it’s so long ago that I was in college. I took an acting class because I knew I could pass it and because I could meet girls. I didn’t even know what a soliloquy was. So for me, reading is key. Everything. These incredible acting books from Uta Hagen; I’ve read all three of the Brando biographies. I’ve taken so many acting classes. I’ve done so much Shakespeare. I read Ian Esco. Tennessee Williams is my favorite playwright.
Reading, pure reading–poetry, plays, anything–you have to do that because you will then start to suck it in and feel it. And some of the greatest novelists, some of the greatest acting teachers are the greatest because they’ve read so much. It’s all out there. Don’t be afraid of reading. Don’t be afraid of taking classes. Don’t be afraid of taking Improv, because it’s all out there for the young actor. Immerse yourself in as much as you can.
DC: Cool. Last question, possibly the most important.
DC: Do Walt Goggins’ breasts feel as nice as they look?
(Brief contemplative pause…)
DC: That’s what I thought. Kim Coates, what an honor! Thank you.
KC: Pleasure, man.
To hear this full interview with Kim Coates, check it out on The Nick Taylor Horror Show Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and everywhere you listen. And don’t forget to see Kim in William Fichtner’s Cold Brook, coming to theaters and VOD on Nov 8th from Vertical Entertainment.