When he isn’t acting, Sons of Anarchy star Theo Rossi trains jiu-jitsu with Royce Gracie and prepares his California home for the apocalypse. But the Staten Island-native isn’t just about armbars and automatic weapons—he’s also director of a non-profit aimed at helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The night before Superstorm San- dy surged over seawalls in New Jersey and New York, Theo Rossi was at his mother’s house in Staten Island, watching the meteorologist predict the worst storm in 100 years. As he fretted, his family dismissed the storm altogether.
“I was like, ‘Mom, the weatherman said this is the worst storm he’s ever seen, and he’s like 50,’” says Rossi, but his family remained unruffled. “It was probably because I’m a little paranoid, living in California like a Doomsday Prepper with fully gassed motorcycles, canned food, and a one-year supply of water in a shed behind my house.”
The power went out that night, but no- body seemed too concerned until the next morning when Rossi discovered the weatherman had been right.
Rossi grew up on Staten Island and—in a plot straight out of Entourage—moved with a few friends to Los Angeles to try and make it in the movie business. Gigs were tough to get, but Rossi eventually landed a role on Grey’s Anatomy in 2007, acting in a two episode arc that got him some attention around Hollywood. Sons of Anarchy executive producer Kurt Sutter saw that performance and cast Rossi as “Juice” in his new FX show about a California motorcycle gang.
The show was an immediate hit with the 18-35 male demograph- ic. In addition to the clacking of AK-47s and biker boobs in leather vests, SOA is a serious, character-driven show, touching on issues relevant to the common experience. Rossi’s character was originally slotted as the show’s comic relief. “He was the ignoramus—an in- nocent lap dog,” says Rossi. In Seasons 4 and 5, however, Rossi’s role changed dramatically and began illustrating the show’s take on race and depression. “I’ve basically cried on camera every 17 seconds for two years.”
Because the SOA image is drunken heathens committing murder on motorcycles, the show was never going to be picked up on CBS, but a home at FOX subsidiary FX was a natural fit. “We’re like MMA in a lot of ways,” says Rossi. “We brought in viewers with all the big bangs, but we’ve kept them around because of the characters.”
Rossi says that his interest in MMA turned into a full-throttled obsession in 2010 when the UFC signed their seven-year broadcast deal with FOX. A boxer for 15 years, Rossi had been looking for a more MMA-centric workout—especially a ground game. It was just his luck that at the first UFC fight he attended, he sat next to UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie.
The two took some photos at the event and exchanged infor- mation. Rossi thought the meeting was great for his cache of cell phone photos with fellow celebrities—until the next day when he got a call from Royce’s manager on the set of SOA.
“He asked me if Royce could come to set,” says Rossi. “I said sure, but he had to agree to train with me. Royce was there the next day, and, I’m not kidding you, the entire cast and crew lost their minds. Here we are these actors, and everyone is running around taking photos with Royce Gracie.”
Gracie and Rossi built a friendship, and Rossi began training BJJ when his busy acting schedule permitted. During this time, Rossi’s obsession with the UFC has also grown. He started attending fights, and after several meetings, he sent Dana White the first few sea- sons of SOA. “He said he was traveling to Brazil a lot, and I thought it’d be a good way for him to kill time,” says Rossi.
In November, Rossi was scheduled to meet his cast mate and best friend, fellow MMA fan Kim Coates ( Tig on SOA), on the set of The Ultimate Fighter 17, featuring Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen. “I’d been looking forward to this since the coaches were announced,” says Rossi.
Then Superstorm Sandy hit Staten Island.
Rossi got the call that his flight back to L.A. (scheduled for the day after the storm hit) had been cancelled, which meant that the fol- lowing day’s connecting flight to Las Vegas and TUF wasn’t going to happen.
“I hadn’t really seen all the destruction, so I was still trying to see if I could make it from Staten Island directly to Las Vegas to make the TUF tryouts,” says Rossi. “But once I saw the destruction at home, I had to stay.”
Staten Island was in ruins. All the trappings of destruction were on display—totaled houses and overturned cars. Even a barge was rocked loose of its moorings and sent adrift, finally beaching two miles down river. Many citizens wondered where they could find the Red Cross. Unfortunately, they weren’t on the island yet, so Rossi and his friends set up a distribution center.
“We started by getting blankets and then food, and before you know it, we had a command center down the block from my house,” says Rossi. “We were passing out everything we got the instant it arrived.”
Rossi stayed on the ground in Staten Island for two weeks, directing his outpost’s recovery efforts and posting about it on Twit- ter and Facebook. When he returned to LA, he began working to establish Staten Strong, a non-profit that works on the local level to direct funds and equipment to those affected by Sandy. In Rossi’s absence, SOA lead actor Ron Pearlman (Clay) flew from a film location in New Orleans to Staten Island to assist in relief efforts.
Despite all of Rossi’s good works, he’s still pissed that he missed those TUF tryouts. “You know how your boys can be. Kim Coates was texting me the whole time he was there, with photos of ring girls and videos of knockouts—telling me he had the time of his life,” says Rossi. “I’m glad I was able to help back home, but dammit I wish I could’ve made it to Vegas.”
Rossi has started to firm up his travel plans and admit s they are almost entirely centered on making appearances at upcoming UFC event s. He at tended UFC on FOX 5, and he has plans to be in attendance for UFC 155 bet ween Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 29.
“Fighting is my passion,” says Rossi. “I love seeing guys do what I’m not willing to do. These are modern day gladiators in the cage but the nicest guys outside of it. It’s kinda like Sons, where you have these tough-asses who are insanely sensitive, but basically it’s just a big brotherhood.”