Rockmond Dunbar is the new sheriff in town on “Sons of Anarchy”

By Stacey Harrison

One of the many bright spots on this season of Sons of Anarchy has been the addition of Rockmond Dunbar as Deputy Sheriff Eli Roosevelt, a cop determined to take down SAMCRO, but who is not willing to break his principles to do it. It’s left his character caught in the middle between the criminals he’s trying to bring to justice, and the ruthless methods used by a federal attorney (Ray McKinnon) that put making the case above — far above — personal integrity.

Roosevelt is perfectly willing to go into SAMCRO’s clubhouse and bust it up, to send the group a message that things are different now, but he can’t abide the feds lying to one of the club members, Juice (Theo Rossi), and using the man’s racial background — which he has kept secret from the Sons — to manipulate him into cooperating. A reluctant cog in the machine  trying to retain his moral compass, Dunbar has made Roosevelt a compelling part of a show having its best season.

In promoting tonight’s episode, “Hands,” (10pm, FX) Dunbar spoke with reporters  about joining the show, and how his first meeting with Sons creator Kurt Sutter didn’t lead him to believe his character would be around for long:

On how he sees his character: “He’s an honest straightforward police officer, no if and or buts. I don’t think he’s a negative sort of bending the rules type of guy. … He loves policing and he loves his job, and he can never be turned, flipped, or turned into something else that he’s not. He will always try to do the right thing and the right way of policing. Unfortunately and fortunately because of the great storytelling it always looks a certain way because the bad guys are actually the good guys in the series, so when you have someone who is the new sheriff in town and he’s trying to do his job some of the things that he might choose to do then look bad or look negative but it’s actually correct policing.”

On the struggles his character feels from the feds: “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 … 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.”

On writer/producer Kurt Sutter’s original vision for his character: “Initially our first conversation was, ‘Hey, look man, we’re going to bring you in for a 10-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 10th episode came then that changed so I don’t know what’s going to happen with the character. I 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.”

On his personal connection to motorcycle gangs: “I have family members that were in the first Black Harley motorcycle gang, the East Bay Dragons, so I grew up with a healthy perception of motorcycle gangs. And I’m from Oakland, Calif., so that says it all right there. It’s family. It’s strong hardcore family, so my perception has never changed. I have two huge dragons tattooed on my forearms for a reason and I’ve always had an affinity for the family aspect of motorcycle organizations and I always will.”

Photo: Credit: Prashant Gupta / FX