If you’re a Sons of Anarchy fan, then you know who Theo Rossi is. If you are unfamiliar with his work, Rossi is the actor who played Juan Carlos ‘Juice’ Ortiz in the worldwide phenomenon biker series Sons of Anarchy – a character that endured a lifetime of emotional upheaval in a mere seven seasons.
In a telephone interview with Rossi Thursday, I admitted that I didn’t’ know his work as an actor prior to his role as Juice and I wondered how he could have stayed hidden for so long considering the emotional complexity of his SOA character and how real Rossi made him on screen, “‘I did 50 TV shows [before SOA] – LOST, Grey’s Anatomy, you name it – I was lucky with SOA and, more importantly, the character of Juice. As an actor, you hope to play every emotion like the psychotic killer, etc. and with Juice, each passing season I played a completely different emotion than the season before. I looked at it as such an opportunity. What an exciting way to go to work. It was always right for the character. I was always appreciative of how Kurt [Sutter-SOA creator] wrote him. It is this time of year that we would normally be filming and I miss the character.”
Of all the many real-life hats he wears, how close is Rossi to the helmet – or rather beanie?
“I think everything happens for a reason,” responds Rossi. “When I moved to LA, I thought it would be an economical and smart idea to get a motorcycle license. I mean, growing up I would ride scooters, dirt bikes etc. but in reality, after I got my license, I couldn’t afford a motorcycle. Then I am in the [SOA] audition with Kurt [Sutter] and one of the requirements to play an SOA character was to have a motorcycle license and I did but I didn’t know how to ride one other than the 3-day training course I took 8 years before.”
Now, however, Rossi has more than one ride. His everyday bike being a 2012 Harley-Davidson Street Bob, his show piece custom chopper with an S&S motor and an Indian Larry tank which he refers to as a ‘road beast’ with a kick starter but his prize motorcycle is his 2003 Harley-Davidson anniversary edition Low Rider with the SOA tank that was gifted to him at the wrap of the series.
“I love the bike but I can’t ride it because of the SOA tank,” he says. “I have boxes of SOA clothing that I like to give to friends but I can’t wear it. That would be weird.”
As much as he loves riding, he rarely does so in his native New York because of the people on the road but says “in LA, I could ride everyday all day.” When asked about California lane splitting Rossi admitted to spending most of his riding hours right down the middle. In fact, the only time he has ever gone down on his motorcycle ‘was when I lane split and a guy intentionally cut me off and I went over his car.”
He elaborated, “Often the cast members would ride together to and from set. One day – around season 2 or 3 – Tommy [‘Chibs’ Flanagan], Charlie [‘Jax’ Hunnam] and I think Opie [Ryan Hurst] and I were all riding to Charlie’s while splitting lanes. After I went over this guy’s car, he gets out, I am lying on the ground, I asked him why he did that and he said he didn’t want me to hit his car so I reminded him that I just rolled over the hood. Then I realize behind me are the guys and he has his guys out of the car and it was like it was about to be an episode of the show.”
“I had a pretty banged up ankle and on a show like SOA, you were mad if you had a day off because you wanted to be there at all times so I faked it pretty good.”
He may have been able to fake it through an ankle injury but faking it through his character was not possible. So how much of Theo Rossi is Juice?
“I am pretty much the polar opposite of my character in every day life other than loyalty. Like Juice, I am extremely loyal. I have the same group of friends I have had since I was teenager. I appreciate close family and friends.”
Any biker can tell you that even though you may choose to ride alone, you are never alone on a bike. Any bike community anywhere will open their doors to other riders in need of a helping hand. However, not having been a biker before being cast as Juice, I asked Theo what he learned about biker culture.
“The motorcycle community is an incredible, worldwide, diehard, caring and giving group of people. It isn’t just here – it’s all over the world and I have been around a lot of bikers. I would say that 99% of bikers are like Rotary Club members [metaphorically speaking] and maybe 1% are outlaws but you can say the same thing about any group that you put a label on, whether it is military, football or bikers.”
So why has Sons of Anarchy had such a global impact and drawn in biker and non-biker audiences? Rossi credits Sutter and the writing, “these could be people you know.”
The Final Ride may have wrapped the series but the ride itself is far from over. Since the conclusion of the series, Rossi has embarked on new challenges. For starters, his production company Dos Dudes Pictures, produced its first feature film Bad Hurt and premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. He founded a charity Go Get It LIFE late 2014, followed that up with being cast in Universal Pictures upcoming film Lowriders, was most recently cast in a Screen Gems picture When the Bough Breaks, is currently training to run the Hood to Coast 12 man, 199 mile relay in Portland, Ore. at the end of August but his greatest feat yet is becoming a parent of a son with his wife Meghan.
“Parenting is the best job ever. Being a parent is not for everyone. If you are one of those people that still has some shit to work out in your life, parenting isn’t for you. . . It’s all about him now. Everything I do is about him now. I want to be an example to people. With my son, I get to be that example. How I treat myself, how I treat others. I want to be able to tell him that you can do anything you want. I did.”
When Rossi is working away from home he now journals his thoughts to his son, and when I pointed out the irony of his actions considering how SOA began, I could hear his smile over the phone, “I didn’t even realize that.”
If you don’t already know, Konquer Motorcycles in Kelowna is hosting Theo Rossi and Kim Coates Saturday, August 15. I will be catching up with Kim Monday so keep reading. Tickets to meet the pair are $125 ea. with a portion of the proceeds going to local charity Kids Care. The evening event is a licensed event and participants must be at least 19 years of age. However, stay tuned to Power 104 for a possible all ages event announcement.