Rockmond Dunbar on ‘Sons of Anarchy’

The new Sheriff of Charming shares his thoughts on the fourth season of FX's hit series.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

When the leading members of SAMCRO emerged from jail at the beginning of the fourth season of "Sons of Anarchy," they found out that there was a new Sheriff in town by the name of Eli Roosevelt; who is portrayed by veteran actor Rockmond Dunbar.

"Sons of Anarchy" is actually Dunbar's second stint on an FX series following his turn as Detective Marc Gustafson on the critically acclaimed (but sadly short-lived) series "Terriers." Prior to that, Dunbar was best known for his roles as C-Note on "Prison Break" and Kenny Chadway on "Soul Food."

Earlier this week, Dunbar spoke with the press to offer his thoughts on Sheriff Roosevelt, whether his character is softening his stance on SAMCRO and the original plan for his character; which has apparently been changed.


Q: After "Terriers," were you looking for a character completely different than the detective you played on that series?

Rockmond Dunbar: You know it’s kind of hard. I don’t think that there are so many jobs out there for actors, especially African American actors, where we can pick and choose what we want to do so you kind of have to be in a position where that next job. I’m always looking for that next job. I mean just from the "Sons of Anarchy" I’m rolling into another television series, "The Game" on BET. I’m doing like eight episodes of that show, and I wasn’t looking for the next job but now I’m starting to get in the position where I’m getting offers, like "Sons of Anarchy" was an offer.

You know, I have a small production company so I try to create my own type of characters that I want to do. So I don’t think I necessarily have had the choice to look for a specific character. It just depends on what the job market is like and what comes across the table.

Q: Is there a backstory about why Eli became a cop?

Rockmond Dunbar: A little back story is he comes from a long line of police officers. He actually grew up within the neighborhood. Grew up within the area, loves the area, loves the Bay area, and went to school outside of the area, and then came back home, so he loves the area just as much as the bikers do. He’s probably at the end of the day I’m not sure how many generations down the line but he comes from a decent lineage of police officers.

Q: What do you think will happen now that Eli has no choice but to go along with Lincoln?

Rockmond Dunbar: I think we just wrapped the full season so I kind of know where it’s going and where it ends and I can’t tell you, unfortunately. But, it’s going to be a really interesting twist. Everyone thinks that they know exactly what’s going on but Kurt [Sutter] is so genius with his writing and storytelling that you’ll never be able to figure it out. I mean even when we read through for the scripts, for the next episode it’s always surprising. We have a great, great talented group of writers so it’s going to be interesting.

Q: Do you have more fun playing a cop or a criminal?

Rockmond Dunbar: It’s fun to work on most characters that are three dimensional. I love characters that basically have something to say and a lot to do. I love characters that are conflicted, characters that are not just surface presentational models basically, so this character’s definitely a job. I loved the last character that I played, Mark Gustafson [on "Terriers"] with FX  [who was] another great character that Sean Ryan created. So yes, I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. It’s more the basis of the character and if the character’s three dimensional or not, and then I get to play and have fun.

Q: Eli appears to have become more wary of Lincoln's manipulations. Has Eli's opinion of SAMCRO changed as a result?

Rockmond Dunbar: I think it’s going to be very clear towards the end of the season. Those thoughts will actually be verbalized and played into action. But to give you where he is right now he doesn’t like to be manipulated or bend to do things that are unnecessary. He does like to be fair, but at the same time his life of criminal activity is really harsh. 

So what’s going on in his mind right now is he’s being manipulated and he doesn’t like it, and he’s trying to figure out how to get out of this situation but also how to police his town. It’s very, very difficult when you are under the strong hold of another government official and can be put in the position where you might not be able to do the things that you love, and so he’s trying to figure that out. He’s very, very conflicted.

I don’t think his views on the Sons have changed. It might look like his views on the Sons have changed because of where the line is being softened; but if he wasn’t being manipulated it would still be the same thing. If the Sons [were] doing drugs, there’s no drugs in his town. The Sons are trafficking guns and he knows about it. He’ll police that way. But I don’t think his view of the Sons is changing. I think his view of the situation is changing because he’s being manipulated.

Q: With the RICO investigation and the threat to Tara, is Eli handling the Sons any differently to avoid what happened last year in Charming?

Rockmond Dunbar: I don’t think [Eli is] doing anything differently. He’s being himself. He’s absolutely just doing what he does best and trying to put it into place in the situation where everyone is treated the same, but, again, that manipulation is being turned over. But outside of that I can tell you this; I started off when I came into the office to speak to Kurt about the character and what he wanted to do with the character. 

Initially our first conversation was, “Hey, look man, we’re going to bring you in for a ten episode arc. You’re going to die. It’s going to be great. I don’t know what your demise is going to be but of course it’s going to be brutal because you know our show.” And that was my contract. That’s what I knew my contract to be. I signed up for it at the very beginning. But once the tenth episode came then that changed so I don’t know what’s going to happen with the character.  have no idea if… well, the way it’s being set up now there will be some type of continuation, but I don’t die so that’s one good thing. But we’ll see.