Kurt Sutter Defends Violence in ‘Bastard Executioner’: Brutality Is Not ‘Openly Gratuitous’

“Bastard Executioner” creator Kurt Sutter was prodded to speak to the violence in his upcoming fall drama at FX’s Television Critics’ Assn. press day Friday when a reporter compared the “colorful brutality” to the highly controversial scenes in “Game of Thrones.”

“Nothing wrong with colorful brutality,” Sutter joked, then defending the inclusion of violence in the medieval-set series about an executioner.

“My mandate, as it was on ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ is same for this — the violence, as absurd as it could be sometimes on ‘Sons,’ it always came from an organic place and it was never done in a vacuum. To every violent act, there were ramifications. That’s sort of my same mandate here.”

Sutter expressed that the show’s time period lends itself to violence, saying, “Yes, it’s a medieval setting, and their laws, in terms of punishment, were brutal and heinous, so that’s a reality of the world.”

He continued, “There are ways to portray that violence that don’t make it openly gratuitous, so I sort have the same mandate with this show. Anything that happens, be it battle sequences of an execution or a torture scene, it comes out of story, and once we see the characters’ conflict or, as importantly, their non-conflict in carrying forth that violence, it always has some ramification, whether it be an emotional ramification on the character or somehow, it impacts the narrative.”

As the reporter persisted on further explanation for the necessity of violence, Sutter kept his cool, and switched his focus to the character-driven element of the series, telling the room that the vast majority of the pilot is not inclusive of violence, other than two battle scenes and one execution. (Note: The word “executioner” makes up half of the show’s title.)

“Not to avoid the question,” he said, “I can’t come at something with an external agenda…I feel like when I tell a story that’s driving the mythology forward, that’s driven by character and relationship, that’s organic to the world, what your left with, I hope, is some sort of balance of all of those things.”

Sutter also spoke about his pitch meeting with FX boss John Landgraf, recalling their preliminary conversations about this character and the complications of coming into this world. “His original response, and rightly so, is he doesn’t want to show where there’s just a head in a basket every week. So for me, it was trying to find an interesting way in.”

The multihyphenate (he created the series and serves as showrunner, exec producer, writer, director and acts, playing the Dark Mute) says that, like his former hit “Sons of Anarchy,” the new 14th century series is, at the heart, a character-centric project and is much more than just a period drama.

“It’s always about character and the relationships and the world. As it was with ‘Sons,’ the outlaw motorcycle culture became backdrop to a very conflicted hero and the relationships that surrounded him,” Sutter said. Of “Bastard,” he explained, “The period and the job functions and all that will ultimately become backdrop for what will become an interesting character struggle and complex relationship.”

Further proving his point, Sutter — sitting alongside exec producers Brian Grazer and Paris Barclay, plus actors Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer and Katey Sagal — said he wasn’t even looking to produce a period piece. Deadpanning members of the press, he quipped, “I thought it would be difficult to set an executioner in the 1960s.”

Bastard Executioner” premieres Sept. 15 on FX.

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