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David Labrava on ‘Sons of Anarchy’

The man behind "Happy" offers his take on his character and the fourth season of FX's hit series.

When the Sons of Anarchy need someone out of the way, they often turn to Happy Lohman, a brutal enforcer portrayed by David Labrava. As a member of the real motorcycle club, the Hell's Angels, Labrava was a technical adviser for "Sons of Anarchy" before he was cast as Happy.

Within the show, Happy is one of the most feared members of SAMCRO, thanks to his love of violence and the fact that he tattoos a happy face on his body each time he kills someone.

A fixture of "Sons of Anarchy" since the beginning, Labrava also co-wrote the most recent episode, "Hands" alongside Chris Collins and series creator Kurt Sutter; which has proven to be one of the most controversial installments of the season.

Earlier this week, Labrava spoke with the press about his first involvement with "Sons of Anarchy" and his insights into Happy's psyche before addressing the fallout ahead for SAMCRO before the end of the season.

 


Q: Can you talk a little bit about your love of motorcycles and how that came about?

David Labrava: I was riding dirt bikes when I was a little kid. I got my first Harley Davidson when I was 17 years old. It was a frame with wheels and a tank on it and all the parts in a box. I got it for a great deal and six months later my mother is telling me to get it out of the living room. I have to build this outside; it’s stinking up the house. This is just what you go through if you are this person, you go through years of having motorcycles that’s been more in the garage than out on the road. It just takes a long time. It’s like you get bit by the bug and it won’t go away. 

Q: What is it about Biker culture that makes you want to come together in motorcycle clubs?

David Labrava: First of all, I never think it’s a gang, because the gang is a street gang. You know the [difference] between a gang. I know the government likes to differentiate the clubs from the gangs, but it is really a motorcycle club and it’s kind of like the Army. Everyone is your brother. You have to love everyone, but there are so many guys, some of them really become your true friends. But everyone is your brother and we definitely have to be that kind of person. Some people are loners and some people identify with being in a group. They identify it and if you identify it, then you’ll find us and you’ll find a way to become one of us. 

Q: Is there anything special you had to do to become part of that? 

David Labrava: You have to be there. I have to say of the big clubs, all of them are run basically a little bit different. I’m in a very democratic club and you basically have to be there. You have to show support. You have to show us that this is what you want to do and it can take a few years to do that. 

But it isn’t like what you might think it is. It is nothing like the mob. It’s a motorcycle club and they do defense fund parties and they go on runs together and camp out. I’m sure it gets painted to be something way more vicious than it really, really is, but in any group, I don’t care if it’s the Girl Scouts or the Lion’s Eye Bank, there’ll probably be some bad apples, some good apples, some guys who do nothing and some guys who do everything. 

Q: How did the opportunity to act on "Sons of Anarchy" come about?

David Labrava: Actually, it seems like the Hollywood thing sort of found me a couple times because I wasn’t living here trying to do this at all. I’m an artist. I’m a tatoo artist and I went to school to paint and that sort of thing. I started writing and getting published and I have to say I think every American kid grows up dreaming about being in the movies. That’s completely normal for us. 

But I mostly wanted to be a writer in my life and then I got taught the script writing program and I got a chance to act and I have to say the acting is extremely fun, extremely vital. It’s an incredible crew that I work with. They all have a great appreciation for film. Those people that you see, we do movie trivia all day long. Like [Ron Perlman] knows all the way to black and white. 

I enjoy the acting. I didn’t plan on that. It sort of fell into me and I’m having a lot of fun with it, but I’m definitely moving towards directing because I’m naturally a writer. And I think a good director edits, writes, has acted a little bit. He’s done a little bit of everything and that’s what I’m trying to do. 

I got hired to be the technical advisor [on "Sons of Anarchy"] and when Kurt [Sutter] came up to my area to get some technical advice on the motorcycle club world, I showed him that I wrote scripts and I asked him to let me have a chance when he cast the show. I got cast on the show and then he gave me a real chance to write and here I am. 

Q: Tell us more about Happy. Who do you think this guy is and why does he enjoy killing people?

David Labrava: I remember when Kurt [Sutter] explained to me why I was called Happy. “Why didn’t you call me Psycho?” He’s like, “No, because your name is Happy, you’re an assassin for the club and you’re never happy. It’s like ironic.” Happy is just soldier. I look at Happy, he’s got his aunt and he has his mom, but the real family to Happy is that club. Those are his brothers. That’s his little world. He’s there to do whatever. He is an assassin for the club. 

This is a TV show, you know what I mean, and his character is this guy who’s like, he’s ready to do whatever for the club, whatever it takes. He’s gotten very good at it through time, that’s why he does lines like I’ll do this and I’ll do it very well and they know he will. Like in the beginning when Clay said, these guys are not killers. That’s why they’re having problems with the cartel. Like gun dealing is the extent of their ambitiousness and that’s why they have a guy like Happy. Although Clay has really emerged as evil personified for sure he has. It’s Happy’s calling to do whatever it takes that the club needs, which is a lot of time kill people. 

 


Q: Could you share with us the creative process of you and the other writers collaborated on this show?

David Labrava: Writing a TV show is totally different than writing features or just what I started doing is writing features. You write a little bit more organically. You start from the beginning to the end, beginning, middle and end. In the TV world there’s probably at least 25 points that have to get carried over from episode to episode to make the show work. It’s an incredibly creative process to sit in that writers’ room with six other people and pitch ideas and pitch ideas until you have a great story and Kurt [Sutter] comes in. He is an incredible writer and you pitch ideas until everybody gives feedback and everybody signs off on it. And then you move away to write the dialog and fill in the blanks on the show. 

Q: What are Happy’s thoughts regarding the present situation that the club is facing and what can we expect from Happy as the season comes to a close? 

David Labrava: I think Happy is getting a little bit more vocal, but like in the club, there are all kinds of members, every kind you can imagine. Some guys are basically just soldiers, which is Happy. He’s there, he’s a solider. He’s not an officer. He doesn’t desire to be an officer. He’s there to just make things happen for the club. 

On the show production level like Happy, I as an actor couldn’t be in episode ten and sit in the writer’s chair behind Peter Weller and do the writer job. So it was very important for me to learn that aspect of it, but I know I’m pretty certain Happy will be in the rest of them.

Q: Inside SAMCRO, whom does Happy respect and relate to the most?

David Labrava: No question, Happy relates the most to Jax. You will see it sort of near the end. You’ll see little moments between those two. I have to say Happy respects everybody, but there’s a lot of emotion, it’s a lot of expressions. 

You watch people, like if you watch closer, you could see the faces of the actors on the show, they’re all like, like especially Chibs (Tommy Flanagan), they’re getting in deep with this cartel and they know it. That’s not who they are. 

You have to watch closely, because Happy doesn’t have a lot of dialog, but if you watch closely, he’s watching Juice. It’s painfully apparent [to Happy] that Juice is a rat. Juice has really screwed up with a lot of things going on and Chibs and Happy, some people are looking at him very closely. But I have to say on just a member level, Happy is basically just a soldier.  He’s not going anywhere. He’s not looking for a way out. He has no escape plan. This is his plan to be in the club and that’s it.

Q: Your latest episode was very intense. How did you feel watching Clay and Gemma fight? And how did that come about?

David Labrava: I think it’s been culminating for quite some time. I think in my personal opinion if we just stay on the show level, I think Clay should keep Gemma a little bit closer since she is complicit from the start. Like if you’re following the show, they [supposedly] killed [John Teller] together and now Clay is pushing her to the outside and Gemma is no dummy. She’s been around the block, so I thought that that fight scene was… it’s right on time. It’s right where it should be.

Q: Do you think it was a risk to show that much violence? 

David Labrava: Not at all, violence sells…  I think if you follow the Internet… I think the entire viewing public, they really want Clay dead, which makes for great television. That’s the A story, it’s Clay and Jax, it’s Clay and Gemma and how evil can Clay really be, which seems to have no boundaries… You got all these people with history, Gemma and Unser grew up together, Clay, they have history. It’s prime time for everybody…wants Clay dead and Gemma’ wants him dead by the hand of a son, her son, so it’s going to be interesting as it comes to an end. 

Q: What do you prefer to do more, to write, act or direct?

David Labrava: I love writing. I think writing and directing go hand in hand. I’ve been writing and getting published since 1990 and I kind of fell into the acting, which is a lot, a lot of fun. I enjoy acting, but I’m definitely pushing towards directing.