“It’s about a Hell’s Angels-style Motorcycle gang in Northern California.”
Johnny wrote this description to his acting coach about a new TV series brewing in the summer of 2008, one that would vault him to much greater public attention and grab hold of millions of cutting-edge viewers world-wide.
It was Sons of Anarchy. Johnny had sworn off TV, specifically episodic TV. He’d already had several doses of that in, among others, MTV’s Now What, FOX’s Quintuplets and The OC, among others.
Johnny wanted no part of typecasting, nor of redundant, repetitive roles. He wanted roles he’d be proud of. He wanted to leave the easy stuff behind, which for him meant closing the door on TV forever.
But Sons of Anarchy intrigued him. He liked the creator of the series, Kurt Sutter, and he liked the producer, John Linson. He was excited to be a part of something edgy and original.
Hamlet on Harleys
“The arc of the show, so I’ve been told, is Hamlet,” Johnny wrote in an email to his acting coach. “Clay, the leader of the gang, is the ‘King,’ while Jax is the ‘Prince.’ Clay (who started the club along with Jax’s father, John Teller) actually killed Jax’s father (who was President), married his mother, and took ownership of the club. The show focuses on Jax, the reluctant outlaw with a conscience. My character name is Kip, ‘Half-Sack’ Epps, (an) Iraqi war veteran and the youngest member of the group (got one testicle blown off in the war, hence the name). I’m the only Prospect — which means I’m not a full member yet. Half Sack in my mind is the story of damaged youth, of trying to find a family. I’ve played him very childlike and also a bit dark. He’s fairly dim.”
To prepare for the role, Johnny put together a monologue from “Hamlet,” his favorite Shakespearean play, and developed a bit of a Southern twang. He tried out different readings and characterization on his brother.
Along with that came group preparation. The cast learned various motorcycle moves, practiced riding in formation, rode to Oakland together, and hung out with Hell’s Angels and other gangs. Johnny found that motorcycle gang members often acted like overgrown kids, remarking to his Mom on the sight of a large biker standing in the middle of the street stopping traffic with a bullwhip, and having the time of his life doing it. “From the guys I’ve talked to who are in these gangs, they view it as a FAMILY. They are BROTHERS,” Johnny wrote.
Sons of Anarchy, Episode One aired September 3rd 2008. By October, the series had garnered a large enough following to earn the cast the honor of riding at the head of Jay Leno’s hour-long charity “Love Ride” from Glendale to Pomona.