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'Sons of Anarchy' inspired by Hell's Angels

On a blazing hot, hazy, sunny day, the FX motorcycle-club drama "Sons of Anarchy," premiering Wednesday, is on location at a high school in Tujunga, Calif. The ground starts shaking, and it's not from the roaring Harley engines.

A 5.4 magnitude earthquake rattles Southern California, vibrating walls and lighting up PDAs all over the set. Star Katey Sagal, a native Angeleno, is unruffled and strolls down, under the shade of a parasol, to a brief evacuation to the school's football field.

A few minutes pass, then she and the rest of the cast, crew and extras stroll back to a grassy area between two buildings, which has been set up as a fair. The motorcycle club in question is raising money in its fictional Northern California hometown -- or more precisely, kingdom -- of Charming.

For an event in a town run by an outlaw bunch called the Sons of Anarchy, it's a remarkably unremarkable affair. There's an awning trumpeting a "Taste of Charming"; there's a silent auction; the police department ("Grilling Suspects for Over Fifty Years") has a booth; and a slightly misspelled banner proclaims a production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

It's all very small-town quaint, and that's just the way the bikers like it.

"Charming is a little backwards," says series creator (and Sagal's husband) Kurt Sutter, formerly a writer for FX's "The Shield." "One of the things we'll explore this season is that it's the club that's really kept it backwards for a reason."

The uncrowned king of Charming is Clarence "Clay" Morrow (Ron Perlman), a founding member of the club. He runs an overtly legitimate auto garage while covertly managing the club's chief source of revenue -- gunrunning. He's married to Gemma Teller Morrow (Sagal), widow of the club's founder, John Teller.

Charlie Hunnam plays Jackson "Jax" Teller, Gemma's son and the club's heir apparent, who has just discovered some writings by his father that confirm what he's long suspected -- that the club is nothing like what John originally envisioned.

The history of the Hell's Angels inspired Sutter, who says, "They went from being this fun-loving fraternity to pretty much an organized-crime syndicate. I thought, 'What if that first guy who put the jacket on his back and said, "Hey, let's go out, have a few beers and start some trouble," how would that guy feel about what the club eventually became?'

"Would he be remorseful• Would he think, 'What have I done?' That would be John Teller, Jax's dad."

Standing in the way of John's vision is his brother in arms, who is now Jax's stepfather. If this all sounds a bit like another Shakespeare play, "Hamlet," that's no accident.

"That is the journey of Jax's character," Sagal says. "The interesting thing about Jax is he's a guy coming into his manhood. He's 30 years old; he's at that crossroads between boy and man. He doesn't blame Clay (for John's death), but there's a lot of 'Hamlet' stuff going on. That's the archetype."

"It's not necessarily that I want to be king," Hunnam says. "I just have a very different vision of what I think the club should be. When we have two completely opposite, nonmovable, nonmalleable visions of what the club should be; that's going to cause some conflict."

But, Hunnam explains, it's not the illegality of gunrunning that bothers him.

"It's the stupidity of it that bothers me," he says, speaking from Jax's perspective. "We're dealing guns. We're involved with terrorist organizations because of the guns, because they provide them for us.

"We're also in a fairly insular little underworld in terms of this Northern California thing. We're all, for want of a better expression, pissing in the same pot.

"So we're also arming our competition, which is the least smart thing we could possibly be doing."

At the same time, Jax has just become a father, no thanks to his drug-addicted ex-wife, Wendy (recurring star Drea de Matteo), whose irresponsibility has infuriated Gemma.

And that's not a good thing, as Wendy discovers in the pilot.

"This is her boy," Sagal says. "This is her son. She's not very happy with Wendy. She wasn't very happy with his old girlfriend. She's a mom. Nobody's good enough for my boy."

Speaking of the "old girlfriend," Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff), she's back in Charming, doing her residency in pediatrics, which puts her right in Jax's path. Gemma may be right to be concerned, since Tara's motives may not be totally on the up and up.

"Gemma's a fierce mother," Sagal says. "She would go to any lengths to protect her family."

"It's a very delicate dynamic," Hunnam says, "between Clay and Jax in the show, and between Gemma and Jax. There are a lot of secrets and lies already. To one extent or another, that's affecting the ways the dynamics play out on set."

Additional Information:

'Sons of Anarchy'

Premiere: 10 p.m. Wednesday

FX

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