BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — It’s not the most obvious idea for a series.
“The Bastard Executioner” tells of Wilkin Brattle, a 14th-century warrior who, at the behest of Annora, a mystical healer, assumes the identity of a journeyman executioner while pursuing his true destiny under Annora’s divine stewardship.
It’s also not the most obvious choice for creator Kurt Sutter to have made as his follow-up to his motorcycle melodrama, “Sons of Anarchy,” which concluded a seven-season FX run last fall.
“The Bastard Executioner,” which premieres with a two-hour opener Tuesday (10 p.m. EDT) on FX, does boast a family connection to Sutter’s previous show: It features his wife, Katey Sagal, who on “Sons” played Gemma, the tough, sprayed-on-leather matriarch of the outlaw biker club, but here displays long, gray tresses and a Slavic accent as Annora, co-starring opposite Lee Jones as Brattle with other cast members including Stephen Moyer, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Sam Spruell, Sarah Sweeney, Danny Sapani and more.
In short, “Executioner” demands to be experienced on its own terms.
“This is not ‘Sons of Anarchy’ on horses,” Sutter says during a recent conversation alongside his leading lady.
“I knew creatively I did not want to do another series in the contemporary crime mode,” he explains. “But here I do get to do what I do best: tell the story of tortured and conflicted heroes living on the fringe, and with a great deal of violence, which I feel I do well.”
“Kurt came home after his pitch meeting and said, ‘I have your next job,'” says Sagal, “and I’m in love with my character. She is so different from Gemma. She’s kind of a medicine woman. She’s lived a long time and she’s lived many lives. We know that she has a connection with Brattle in helping to guide him to this other life that he’s supposed to live.
“Meanwhile, she floats around with the Dark Mute, with whom she has a long history of unrequited love, on a mission together.”
The Dark Mute is played by an unrecognizably masked Sutter, who played another on-the-edge and larger-than-life character on “Sons.”
Why his peculiar on-camera turns?
“Nobody else in town will hire me as an actor except me,” he jokes.
“It’s been an adventure!” chimes in Sagal, who since March has been shooting the season’s 10 episodes in the wilds of Wales. “It’s stunning: to go from working in North Hollywood in the summer in a lot of leather, then, all of a sudden, I’m in this open field in peasant clothes, no high heels, flowing hair, and I get to ride a horse. It’s beautiful and very liberating.
“Everybody has yellow teeth and nobody wears makeup,” she adds. “I did my research and I said to Kurt, ‘You know, honey, they actually did make makeup out of berries.’ But he said, ‘Nope! No makeup!'”
Sagal says she loves working with her husband, noting, “It’s not like we’re across the desk from one another all day.” Indeed, Sutter is mostly based at the show’s London production office. “We actually don’t see each other enough to get sick of each other. And since he’s completely buried in what he does, for us to have the commonality of a project is good for our marriage.”
She says she long ago refined a useful on-the-job dynamic with her workplace boss.
“I’ve learned when to speak up and when not to,” she says. “I like to keep the boundary of ‘I’m the actor, he’s the writer.’ But sometimes other people aren’t quite sure how to approach our relationship. On ‘Sons,’ they got it pretty quickly. But at first, everyone just assumes that I KNOW everything.”
“As if even I know everything!” Sutter cracks.
Among the things he can’t know yet: how “Executioner” will be greeted.
“At the start of ‘Sons,’ a lot of critics watched 15 minutes of the pilot and dubbed it a ‘Sopranos’ knock-off, and I understand that: It was about a family of outlaws, and easy to dismiss as just that. I’m sure the same thing will happen with this show.” That is, at first glance, a viewer might see it as a Sutter-esque “Outlander” or “Game of Thrones.”
“But if viewers stay plugged in as the show’s world and characters develop,” he pledges, “it will gain a sense of a thing on its own path: The medieval world and the executioner become the backdrop for its relationships and story.”
A risky project for all concerned? That’s for sure.
Staking his claim in a distant period and culture and capturing that flavor “terrified me,” declares Sutter — “but in a good, exciting way.”
“As an actor,” says Sagal, “I feel like it’s the PERFECT risky. Risky’s not a bad thing to me. Risky is a GOOD thing!”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore