Ryan Hurst plays modern-day outlaw characters living on the fringes of society: Aside from his breakout role in Remember the Titans, his career has grown to include the ill-fated Opie Winston in FX’s Sons of Anarchy and the ironically named Lil’ Foster Farrell in WGN’s Outsiders.
At nearly 6’5” with a beard that would put a survivalist to shame, Hurst is a rather intimidating figure, but in person, he is mild-mannered and soft-spoken. Wearing his trademark beanie, Hurst recently sat down with Inverse to discuss his career, his more colorful fan encounters, the ongoing legacy of Sons of Anarchy, and what’s next for Outsiders.
Shows like Sons of Anarchy and Outsiders have hardcore fanbases. What are some of the more interesting fan encounters you’ve had?
Oh, I’ve had so many. I had a guy at a convention come up to me and put a receipt down on the table. He said, “I want you to sign this.” I was like, “Sign a receipt?” And I signed the receipt for him, and he goes, “This is for my television. When you died in Sons of Anarchy, I broke my television.” I was like, “That’s good. That’s good.”
For another, I was doing a motorcycle convention, and a biker who was larger than me walked up, and he said very gruffly, “Mind if I ask you a question? I’m going to ask you a fucking question.” And then he said, “What do you put in your hair? It looks great.” I was like, “Are you joking?”
After Opie died on Sons of Anarchy, you made a video where you shaved your beard as a sort of eulogy for him. Is the look of the character very important to you?
For Opie, I just knew the guy before I had even said the words. All of the clothes in Sons of Anarchy, except for his kutte — the belt buckle and the wallet was all just my stuff. I’ve worn a beanie for twenty years. I just kind of started there.
I was really inspired by Jeff Bridges. I heard a long time ago that when he does a new project, he calls the costume designer and says, “Come over. Let’s start with my closet. All of that stuff already fits me and I already like it. Let’s start there.” I tend to do the same thing.
What did you do along those lines for Outsiders?
They said, “Please don’t cut your hair or beard.” And I was like, “Well, you don’t have to ask me twice!” This is how I am normally.
And [my tattoos] are all stuff I designed for Outsiders. We designed all of them with sort of a Celtic runic bent. Anything on the hands, we based as almost like apprenticeships, like a demarcation that what they had accomplished. It’s kind of like merit badges for the cub scouts. Then anything on the chest sort of reflects their connection with other people, so they’re connected to family, woman, man. Then everything for the back is spiritual.
Although Sons and Outsiders are very different shows, both involve outlaw cultures. Is that something you’re drawn to?
I mean, I love getting paid to ride a motorcycle. There’s nothing more fun than that. But yeah, I think sort of fringe secret societies is my wheelhouse.
Did you ride motorcycles prior to the role?
I learned for Sons. I didn’t even read the script. They said that they’re making a show where you get to keep your beard and they’re going to pay you to learn to ride a motorcycle. I was like, “Sign me up, why are we still talking about this?”
And what about the vehicles in Outsiders — did you have to learn?
Yeah, but ATVs are very fun and very easy to learn. You can throw them around and do donuts and wheelies. They’re very easy.
Is that aspect the most fun part of these roles for you?
That’s always a plus. That’s why they make those things is because they’re fun to ride. But the most fun for me is actually the language. The old tongue. In Outsiders they have their own language and that’s been the most appealing kind of esoteric part of the show that I really like.
What are you most anticipating about going into Season 2 of Outsiders?
It is a thousand percent weirder, darker, stranger. You learn that the Farrell clan is not alone on this mountain. The townies might be afraid of them, but the Farrells are afraid of something else.
Season 2 of Outsiders premiers on WGN in January 2017.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.