Sons of Anarchy fans know how devastating it was to lose Ryan Hurst’s Opie Winston this season. While we’re all still reeling from the loss, the saddest thing about his death actually occurred off-screen when co-stars Mark Boone Junior and Charlie Hunnam participated in the shaving of the Opie Beard, using a samurai sword and weeping like manly men the whole time.
“I couldn’t stop crying. I tried to talk him [Sutter] out of it,” Hurst recalled. “I went through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. He wasn’t sure of the particulars yet, just that it was gonna be bloody and gonna be noble… I didn’t see the way that it served the story. But then again, it’s not necessarily my position to comment on that. It’s Kurt’s show that he created, and whether it’s the right decision or the wrong decision, remains to be seen.”
Charlie Hunnam, who plays the show’s protagonist, Jax Teller, said that the table read for the episode in which Opie dies was very upsetting for the cast: “We finished reading the script and basically sat crying in silence for about 45 minutes afterwards. None of us could go back to work. It was such a profound thing.”
Though precious few SAMCRO members were in Opie’s last scene, Hurst made a special request for his death scene: That all of his SAMCRO co-stars stand in his line of sight when the fatal blow was delivered to Opie’s head. “I wanted everybody to stand behind the camera for the last shot so I could look at them. If you look at that last shot of Opie, he is just looking at all my brothers, and saying… thank you.”
But Hurst said that he himself had a lot of trouble letting Opie go. Haunted by the character he has lived in since the beginning of Sons of Anarchy, he turned to Hunnam in desperation:
“This is the first experience he’s ever had where the character will not die. Opie was alive and well inside him and had unfinished business. And he didn’t know how to kill Opie. In an act of desperation, he found himself online at 4 in the morning. He said there were a thousand books to help actors with character development but not one on how to kill the f—er when you are done. So, I said, ‘Why don’t you come to my house, man, and we’ll do this really right. I’ll get a few of the boys there and we’ll cut your beard off as that’s ultimately going to be the final farewell.’”
Hunnam gave Hurst a samurai sword as a parting gift, and the group decided to shave Hurst’s Opie Beard with it as something of a catharic cleansing ceremony. “I started crying, and then Boone started crying,” Hunnam said. “By the end of it, it was the catharsis that we’d all hoped it would be.”
Hurst now calls the TNT drama pilot King & Maxwell his home (for now) but he admitted he’ll have a hard time letting go of Charming and the Sons for good.
“These people are much closer than just friends or acquaintances. I’m one of those all or nothing kind of people,” says Hurst. “I’ve been with my wife for 18 years and my manager for 22. When I buddied up with these people, I was like ‘Okay, we’re going to know each other until we’re actually dead.’”
For the heartbreaking video of the shaving of the Opie Beard with a samurai sword, head on over to EW.