Small screen anarchy

His kickstand dragged on the pavement, and his mirror was spinning. Worthless.

Even actor Charlie Hunnam, with the little experience he has riding motorcycles, knows a road hazard when he rides one, and the beat-up Harley-Davidson fitted the bill.

"This bike's ..." Hunnam trailed off, as he pulled off the road, unstrapped his brain bucket and lit a cigarette.

Hunnam was blurring the line between his fictional role as a motorcycle miscreant on outlaw biker drama Sons of Anarchy and his real life as an actor.

He was spending a rare day off from filming to ride the dusty Hollywood hills that double as Charming, California, the fictional setting for the show.

And he was riding the only bike the producers would let him borrow - a barely working back-up model that at some point in a future episode will be crashed.

Like many of Sons of Anarchy's fictional club members, Hunnam doesn't own a motorcycle.

He learned to ride for the part.

Motorcycles and the outlaws drawn to them have long been fodder in film. But recently they haven't had much play on TV.

When motorcycles do make an appearance on the small screen, they tend to be ridden to make a character look tough or cool, not to drive the plot or give insight into the culture.

Executive producer Kurt Sutter developed the characters and plots by hanging out with "one of the bigger clubs" in Northern California.

Which one, he won't say.

"What was eye-opening to me was the way these guys lived.

"These sort of normal, middle-class lives. They all have day jobs," he added.

"These guys all have family lives, and they have the same conflicts and problems that all married couples have.

"They face the same conflicts that all people who work together in proximity for long periods of time face."

It was the unexploited and darker elements of this renegade subculture that drove Sutter to create Sons of Anarchy, a drama about a gun-running motorcycle club doling out eye-for-an-eye justice in a small Californian town.

The show's ensemble cast features Hunnam as a pretty-faced bad boy; Ron Perlman as his tough-as-nails stepfather, and Katey Sagal as the club's leather-and-lace matriarch.

Sutter says the show is about family, which may explain why it's popular with female viewers overseas - about 40% of its audience is women.

And that's despite brutality and strong sexuality that has ranged from boozy brawls and blowtorched-skin scenes to rape, prostitution and castration.

As much as it strives to demystify biker stereotypes, the show still trafficks in the standard triumvirate of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

"The fact that we're taking this culture and trying to put them in some sort of box and write about it and put it on TV sort of flies in the face of the nature of being outlaw," said Sutter, who receives dozens of emails a day from real-life outlaw club members.

"Generally, the feedback has been positive. I'll just say that most of the emails have a picture attached."

Sutter's muse for Sons of Anarchy was Shakespeare.

Specifically, the play Hamlet, and the idea of a man in the making.

In Sons of Anarchy, the Hamlet character is Jax, played by Hunnam.

Jax is a member of the gang by birth; his father founded the group.

But Jax's dad is now dead, and his stepfather, Clay, played by Perlman, is running things - taking its members to morally questionable places with no regard, respect or remorse for the club's past principles.

Jax's mother is played by Sagal.

As Clay's wife, her character too has little nostalgia for the past.

The situation has Jax questioning where the group is heading and what he should do about it.

Sagal got her part "because I was sleeping with the boss", she joked.

Best known for her role as the tacky but wise-talking Peg Bundy on Married With Children, Sagal is Sutter's wife.

- Sons of Anarchy screens Wednesdays at 9.30pm on 3.


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