Best known for playing boisterous Peg Bundy on the popular sitcom “Married … With Children,” Katey Sagal tackles another force-of-nature mom as Gemma in FX’s critically acclaimed series “Sons of Anarchy.” But acting was not Sagal’s first choice of creative endeavors.
Born into a Jewish show biz family in Hollywood, Katey’s dad, Boris Sagal, was a sought-after director who cast his daughter in several of his made-for-TV movies, such as Columbo’s “Candidate for Crime.” But Katey Sagal turned her sights to music and began a career as a backup singer for several acts, including Gene Simmons, Olivia Newton-John and Bette Midler, who hired her as one of The Harlettes for her 1978 tour.
The music business soon soured Sagal, who was tiring of being relegated to backup vocalist. The singer-songwriter, who continues with her music to this day, returned to television in the 1985 series “Mary,” starring Mary Tyler Moore. It was fortuitous casting because it led to the sex-starved wife of shoe salesman Al Bundy. With tight-fitting capris, big hair and revealing tops, Peg Bundy became a TV icon who recently was honored with her other “Married” cast members at the 7th Annual TV Land Awards.
At 55, Sagal, married to writer-producer-actor Kurt Sutter with three children — Sarah, 15, and Jackson, 13, from a previous marriage, and Esme, 2 — she says her life is fuller, sweeter, calmer and more focused than ever.
Bankrate: You worked with many music legends — Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Tanya Tucker. So where did your confidence come from to be in this kind of company early on in your career?
Katey Sagal: I have been singing since I was a young kid, really, and I always felt my identifying factor was that I could sing. When I was in high school, at my prom I was in the band … I didn’t do all the other things. I just played music naturally. So when it became professionally for me to do so, I didn’t really think about it. When I got hired for those jobs, I just felt I was in the right place. I taught myself how to play the piano. I wanted to be Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro, one of those tormented girls that was writing and singing songs. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I sort of turned the corner and decided maybe I could be an actor. I’d done a little bit of acting in my early 20s. My father was a director, and he put me in some small things. But it wasn’t really my intention.
Bankrate: You began acting rather late compared to today’s actors. Was there ever a point in your life when you felt like giving up?
Katey Sagal: Well, I got very discouraged by the music business in my mid-20s. I had been sort of groomed my whole life that I would be successful. As my 20s went on and I kept missing the boat, I worked a lot with famous people as a background singer but I did not want to be a background singer. I was very motivated and very ambitious. I was everybody’s next best thing, but it never really happened. And I did have the thought that I needed to do something else, but it wasn’t about giving up creative endeavors. I’m not skilled in anything else so really what I did was, I opened my mind.
Bankrate: Do you think finding success in your 30s was sweeter than finding it in your 20s or teens?
Katey Sagal: At the time, you couldn’t have told me that, but in hindsight, absolutely. I have enormous appreciation for everyday being able to have a job. Because in my 20s as a struggling musician, I worked and then didn’t work, I worked and didn’t work, and I just scraped by. So I struggled. And I’ve worked with a lot of kids who have been extremely successful, extremely young. But you get that sense that they don’t know how great this all is that they’re employed, and it’s so great to be an artist with a job (laughs) because so many of us are artists without a job.
Bankrate: When was the first time you really knew you could be successful in the arts at some point?
Katey Sagal: You know, I never thought I wouldn’t be, and that’s not being arrogant. … So it was harder for me when I wasn’t being successful because to me, this was just how it was going to be. And you have to define what success is. Success to me in my 20s was being able to do what I did, and it didn’t necessarily mean monetary success and it didn’t necessarily mean fame. But it meant being credible with my peers, which was always very important to me. I didn’t really know how to do anything else. So if I could be successful at what I wanted to do, that was fine with me.
Bankrate: How did it feel to be a part of a TV show that has become a part of American culture?
Katey Sagal: I never really think about it like that until somebody says something like that. We went to the TV Land Awards and were honored there recently. I still have a pretty big fan base from that show. I’m flattered by it and I feel very grateful for it. It was a life-altering experience to be on a show like that.
Bankrate: You say success in life came later and at 55, you now have a 2-year-old daughter. What are your feelings on being an older mom?
Katey Sagal: I always say men do this all the time. When a woman does this, it’s like “Wow, how do you do this,” and I say, “Well, Michael Douglas has young ones.” But I’m a much better mom ’cause I had them later in life. The first two I had at 38 and 40. I feel like I’m less distracted. I let things roll off my back easier. Having a third one, I know she’s going to survive, eventually get out of her diapers and brush her teeth on her own, whereas with the first one, you’re not sure anything is going to work out.
Bankrate: Esme was born via surrogacy. Was that a difficult decision to make?
Katey Sagal: I think it mostly came out of love for my husband. He had never had his own kids and was step-parenting my own two. I thought it certainly might have happened a little sooner than it did (laughs) and I sort of said to him when we started dating maybe he should think about this. He’s seven years younger than I am. I think that’s good anyway — keeps me on my toes. So he came to it a little bit later, and I was very supportive of it.
Bankrate: Being a mom to three kids, do you ever think of going into a more secure line of work in order to provide for them?
Katey Sagal: I have those thoughts, especially when there’s no work around. And I’ve definitely gone through those periods where I thought, “What am I doing?” But I never, ever knew what else to do. And there have been times in my life that I wracked my brain about what else I could be qualified to do. And I literally cannot come up with anything.
Bankrate: How have you instituted cost saving measures into your everyday life?
Katey Sagal: I try not to use the credit card that much; I try not to use it at all. Of course, if you talk to my accountant, she’d say I was a big, fat failure. But I try, and I try to use cash instead of the credit card, which does help me think twice before making a purchase. And I shop sales. Both of my older kids go to private schools so they wear uniforms, which are great for the pocketbook. I don’t have to buy that many kids clothes. And Esme is wearing some of Sarah’s 2-year-old clothes that I saved. We just try to be smart.
Bankrate: What would be the title of the song you would write about your life?
Katey Sagal: “Work In Progress,” because I feel like I’m still learning stuff. “Sons of Anarchy” is such a great creative stretch for me, and it’s so what I was looking to do because it’s just different from what I did before. Everyday I go to work, I’m using a part of me I haven’t been able to access as much, and it makes me very excited.