Winter Ave Zoli talks life after Opie on “Sons of Anarchy”

(Note: Do not read if you haven’t been watching this season of Sons of Anarchy and don’t wish to know some pivotal information regarding the death of a major character.)

Winter Ave Zoli and Ryan Hurst star in FX's "Sons of Anarchy"As sometimes happens in Hollywood, back in March Winter Ave Zoli randomly ran into her Sons of Anarchy costar Ryan Hurst at an audition for a different project. Zoli was happy to see the actor who has played her husband for the past four seasons on FX’s hard-hitting biker drama — someone she considers to be a friend — but when she heard the shocking news he had regarding his character, the day turned dark.

Opie was to meet a violent death, depriving the show of one of its most sympathetic characters, a troubled soul who was also a fan favorite.

“I just remember my jaw dropping,” says Zoli of hearing the news. “I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe it. He brought so much to the show and he’s such a great actor and did such a great job with the Opie character. I know that [creator Kurt Sutter] has his reasons, but yeah it was upsetting because Ryan is a friend of mine. I just loved working with him, so it was hard.”

But it wasn’t just Hurst’s future that was impacted, of course. Zoli, whose tenure on the show began with what was supposed to be a two-episode stint back in Season 2 until Sutter saw the character’s potential, was concerned about her own future as well.

“My next thought was, ‘Well, what does this mean for me?’ I had written to Kurt a couple days later after processing it, and asked him what plans, if any, that he had for Lyla. He assured me that there was a character arc that he was going to be doing in the show, so I felt OK, that at least I still had a job. (Laughs)”

Lyla, who was last seen at Opie’s wake wondering how she is supposed to take care of herself, her son and now Opie’s two kids, will be back in Season 5, Zoli says. And she will be embarking on a bit of a career change. Zoli won’t go into much detail, only saying that it will have something to do with the Sons, and won’t be too far removed from her life as a porn star. One could surmise she may have something to do with the new escort business SAMCRO is running with Nero Padilla (Jimmy Smits).

Wherever the scripts take her, Zoli has to feel like she’s playing with house money after all these years. Sons of Anarchy is the kind of show that has a fair amount of female characters who are porn stars, hookers and biker groupies. So what is it that made Lyla stand out?

“When I shot the first episode that I was in, there was definitely a lot of buzz around the set that they were really happy with what I was doing and I think Kurt was probably thinking, “What could we do with this character?'” she says. “Then he called me into a meeting and told me he had this idea to make a love relationship. Lyla and Opie have a lot of similar character qualities that sort of made it an obvious pairing. They’re both these kind of quiet, subdued characters with a lot brewing underneath. I think it was a great choice on Kurt’s part to put those two together.”

With Opie’s death, he and Lyla have gained admittance into the large pantheon of TV’s star-crossed lovers. Their tale may be even more tragic than most given that they were estranged when he was killed. It left enough of an impression that Zoli recalls not having to do much acting in she and Hurst’s final scene together, when Opie pleads with Lyla to take care of his kids, knowing he’s about to go to prison.

“I knew it was my last scene with him,” she says. “We both knew, so it wasn’t hard to play those emotions, while I was feeling toward Opie this longing to make things work between the two of them.”

Photo: Credit: Prashant Gupta

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