What does it take to infiltrate a real-life Sons of Anarchy? In History Channel’s new fact-based drama series, Gangland Undercover, we’ll follow Charles Falco. A convicted criminal turned ATF informant who took on the Vagos, one of the most historically dangerous motorcycle gangs in America. Falco sought to avoid decades in jail on drug charges but ended up living on a knife’s edge as he worked to gain the Vagos’ trust and then ultimately betray them. Not only to save innocent lives but to redeem his own. Before the six episode series premieres, we got the chance to chat with the show’s star, Damon Runyan.
MLAS: Before we get into “Gangland Undercover” can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Damon Runyan: Where to begin? Been acting for about 12 years, worked in the financial industry before finding my way back to what I love to do. I’m married, a dog father, I’m a filmmaker, writer, and avid cook. I live in Toronto, but work all over. I’m a huge Raptor’s fan with season tickets. I’m greatly influenced by music and listen to a crazy wide variety of styles. I’m obsessed with motorcycles and would love to own a custom DEUS one day.
MLAS: What attracted you to this role?
DR: I was attracted to this project because it was a story about a man who hit rock bottom, but found a way to survive against all odds. I could really sink my teeth into this character because there was always so much at stake. I love going to the darkest parts and finding light in those depths.
MLAS: Was the audition process for this show difficult?
DR: The audition process was not out of the ordinary. Anytime you’re up for a series lead there is added pressure, as your life can change in that moment. For the final audition I was beyond prepared. I found a way to just sit in Falco’s shoes and listen and respond as him. It was the strongest audition of my career. That said, there’s immense freedom in preparation.
MLAS: Is it more challenging to tell a real person’s story instead of a fictional character?
DR: It is more challenging as you have a life to defend; a person who has their own mannerisms, way of thinking, and physical characteristics that make up who they are. I always think you have to find yourself in the character as opposed to imitating another being, thus it can be harder when the blueprint is as such. With this project we had greater freedom to interpret the characters as it is a fact-based fictionalized account of the events as opposed to a straight up bio-pic.
MLAS: It seems like a daunting task either way with this story. How did you prepare to play Charles Falco?
DR: I prepared by being extremely well-versed in Charles Falco’s book “Vagos, Mongols and Outlaws.” I also read “God’s Of Mischief,” “Under and Alone”, “Being Uncle Charlie”, of course my favourite “Hell’s Angels” by Hunter S. Thompson. I watched the TV shows “Sons Of Anarchy”, “OZ”, and “True Detective”, and the movies “The Departed”, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, “Donnie Brasco”, to name a few. I created playlists of metal and spaghetti western styles, that I would play before takes. I got my motorcycle licence and bought a bike. I work out with a great trainer, Ben Dussault, and we incorporated more of an MMA-style training into my workouts, so that I would be prepared to fight daily, if needed. Also, I spoke with several real bikers to get a feel for their view of the world.
MLAS: What kind of skills did you have to learn for this role?
DR: I had to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I’d never ridden before and needed to be able to ride at 60-70 mph with a pursuit vehicle beside you with a camera in your face. So I took the course after my first audition, bought a Triumph Thruxton, which I rode as much I could to get comfortable, though riding a Harley is way different.
MLAS: Do you have a tough time separating yourself from the character or material?
DR: To be honest with you, I would say no, but my wife would disagree. There is an atmosphere that lingers. You trick yourself to believe the story is real, that you are really facing these circumstances, that you are living and breathing this world; and when they call cut, you’re a 1000% back to yourself? It’s hard not let some things bleed into your everyday life; your tongue maybe a little sharper, your suspicions more heightened. Playing a man that has to fight daily gets deep to your core survival instincts, and it’s hard to fully let that go.
MLAS: Presumably filming on “Gangland Undercover” has wrapped, has anything about playing Charles Falco resonated with you on a personal level?
DR: Falco’s story of redemption deeply resonates with me; the fact that you can hit rock bottom, lose faith in humanity and yourself, and fight your way back to find meaning in life. This is a man who was done; a meth addict facing 22 years in prison, then infiltrates the Vagos, but doesn’t stop there, and goes on to infiltrate the Mongols and the Outlaws. It taught me that we all have this ability to overcome bad situations and find our path, no matter how bad it gets.
MLAS: I’d be remiss not to ask: what’s your daily driver?
DR: I drive a 2012 Jeep Wrangler, 4 door in the winter, and as often as I can, my Triumph Thruxton.
A Final Word
We’d like to thank Damon for taking time to chat with us and wish him well. Gangland Undercover premieres Tuesday, February 24 at 10 PM ET/PT on History Channel.