Danny Pino on Mayans M.C. season 1: "We may have taken the baton from 'Sons of Anarchy', but this race is different"
Pino reveals what audiences can expect from his character, Miguel Galindo, his experiences on the set, and why 'Mayans M.C.' is different from predecessor 'Sons of Anarchy.'
FX's 'Sons of Anarchy' (SOA) went out in a blaze of glory, with its series finale premiering in December 2014. But even before the seventh and final season aired, creator Kurt Sutter indicated that he was in talks with the network to make a prequel of the series set in the 1960s. While there were be certain hitches during its development — at one point, it was unclear whether Sutter would even be involved in the spinoff — 'Mayans M.C.' was born out of SOA's ashes and given a September 4, 2018 premiere.
'Mayans M.C.' also saw a change in its timeline. Instead of taking place in the 1960s, the spinoff is set two-and-a-half years after the events of SOA. It was announced that the series would focus on the struggles of Ezekiel 'EZ' Reyes, a prospect in the Mayans Motorcycle Club charter on the California/Mexico border. According to an official description, "EZ is the gifted son of a proud Mexican family, whose American dream was snuffed out by cartel violence. Now, his need for vengeance drives him toward a life he never intended and can never escape."
The spin-off features a predominantly Hispanic cast, with the likes of JD Pardo, Michael Irby, Carla Baratta, Antonio Jaramillo, Edward James Olmos, and several others starring. One amongst this talented ensemble of actors and actresses happens to be Danny Pino, who portrays Miguel Galindo in the series. The son of Galindo Cartel founder Jose Galindo, audiences got a glimpse into his character when the cartel's heroin shipment gets hijacked and he's tasked with bringing the perpetrators to justice. Ruthless and Machiavelian, Miguel also happens to be a staunch family man who is a firm believer in the separation of his two lives.
One gets the creeping feeling that Miguel will play a vital role as the season progresses and will be someone you love to hate, though when Meaww had a chance to talk to Danny, he remained tight-lipped about what audiences can expect from his character. "There's not much more I can say about the character without revealing things that could spoil the journey he takes," he says.
"But, in general, the writers do an amazing job of putting every character, including Miguel, in situations where they have to make very difficult, stressful decisions about who they want to be and where they want to go," he continued. "Miguel is strategic, but he's also emotional when it comes to his family. So, that will be a balancing act. He will be balancing his intellect with his emotion."
Currently, Miguel is on a collision course with Carla Baratta's Adelita. As a child, Adelita watched her family die at the hands of the Galindo cartel, and with his current position as a cartel supremo, Miguel will eventually have to deal with someone who may present a significant problem to his vested interests. Speaking about the dynamic between the two characters, he explains, "One character is in charge of the established law on the border, which would be the cartel. And the other is part of a guerrilla group who is trying to exert their will on the border. It's a struggle for power that sets up the dynamic of an inevitable conflict."
While from the outside, SOA may come across as a show about biker gangs, drugs, guns, and excessive violence, the crime drama explored several relevant themes such as vigilantism, government corruption, racism, brotherhood, loyalty, and redemption. Considering that 'Mayans M.C.' was cut from the same cloth and set in the same fictional world Sutter previously concocted, I was curious if the spinoff would continue that trend.
There's a small pause as Danny ponders how best he can formulate an answer to my question. He then clears his throat and says, "The way into the story for Mayans is different. There's a new way of delving into the mythology that started with SOA and exploring the realities of border conflict makes it unique. Also, having a majority of Latino actors makes it unique."
"But a lot of the themes that were explored in SOA are universal," he insists. "It's not unique to the show. I think the way they're explored in the subculture of these outlaws in terms of my character, through this criminal organization is unique as well. But there are very universal human challenges. We deal with family just like SOA did, but there's violence. There are betrayals, there are secrets, there are lies, and there is loyalty. These themes of family, brotherhood, loyalty, and deception extend to the cartel."
And despite these similarities, Danny's also of the opinion that fans will find 'Mayans M.C.' quite different. "There are all kinds of duality and multiplicity that happen throughout the storytelling," he reveals. "If you watch SOA, you'll recognize that there's enough difference in the characters and the settings and the plot that I think fans will find new and interesting."
Make no mistake, 'Mayans M.C.' has quite the billing to live up to. SOA was the show that forever changed FX's landscape concerning television programming, with its third season attracting an average of 4.9 million viewers and making it the network's highest-rated series to date. The premieres of the fourth and fifth season went on to similarly become the two highest-rated telecasts in FX history.
As the premiere of the spinoff edged closer, Sutter came out to state that 'Mayans M.C.' need to stand on its own and tempered expectations concerning crossovers between SOA and the show. I asked Danny what it was like knowing that comparisons between the two series' was unavoidable and whether he felt the specter of SOA would continue to hang over 'Mayans M.C.'
"I think that Kurt Sutter certainly has a pool of creativity that he draws from and Mayans is born out of that same pool from which SOA was created from," he says. "And while I think they're related, it's two different species. They're certainly related and you'll probably see a certain similarity. The biker culture is certainly present in both, and so is family."
But there's no trepidation towards having to live up to expectations and the actor expresses nothing but gratitude. "I think we've been the beneficiaries," he reveals. "The people involved with Mayans, we feel very lucky to be a part of this SOA legacy because the show was so well done on so many levels. I think people are interested in Mayans largely because of the efforts of what the creative team, the writers, directors and everybody on SOA contributed."
"We feel a certain amount of gratitude but also a responsibility to not only take the baton from SOA. but to run our own race as well and to then take Mayans along our own evolutionary track and see what it can be," he continues. "It's not a foregone conclusion as to where the characters go and how the show is written. It's an evolution from script to script and scene to scene. What the characters are going to do and how that's going to impact the next episode or the next season. So, it's very much a living, breathing organism in a lot of the same ways as SOA and it developed in a very organic way."
He elucidates further, "While I think Mayans is drawn from the same creative pool and I think we have maybe 95% of the same genetic makeup, it's that 5% that makes us so vastly different. From species to species the way you'd recognize it but it certainly has its own evolution," before laughing and asking whether he was being too metaphorical.
'Mayans M.C' features the legendary Edward James Olmos as butcher-shop owner Felipe Reyes, who also happens to be EZ's father. Olmos is revered in the Hispanic community and in the industry for his work in pioneering more diversified roles and images of Hispanics in the US media, and Danny is one of many who looks up to the 71-year-old actor as an inspiration. I asked him what it was like to share the sets with such a larger-than-life figure, and the 44-year-old spoke glowingly about his co-star.
Danny divulges how the veteran star played such a significant role in his career, "Edward James Olmos had come to my undergraduate at the Florida International University in Miami and we actually attended his speech and I met him briefly then. His work was a such a huge influence on me becoming an actor and believing it was possible. Growing up in Miami to a very working-class family, no one was in the arts. Everybody had a practical profession. They earned a degree and did something that had more security, right?"
"To have somebody like Edward James Olmos, who I had been watching on TV and film from 'Miami Vice' to 'Stand and Deliver,' come to my undergraduate school in Miami — where we're not used to seeing people who we see on TV all the time — and for him to stand in front of a group of students who were looking to see what the possibilities in their own life would be, that's what undergrad school is really about."
"And studying theater at the time and having Edward James Olmos stand in front of this group of students and say that it was possible and giving us kind of a blueprint to his own life and what he stood for, not only through his creative efforts but also his activism, it was inspirational," he says, adding how he finds himself incredibly fortunate and grateful to now work with such an icon of the industry.
But considering how hard Olmos worked to rid the community of constantly being pigeonholed into stereotypical roles, why accept the part of Miguel Galindo? Danny says that whenever these scripts are pitched to him, his radar gets stronger whenever the character he's asked to play has a job or a lifestyle that can be considered within the Latino community as being stereotypical.
"When playing a cartel boss — - I've turned down a lot more roles and chars who had that profession — from reading the script or speaking to someone who is creating a movie or a tv show you can tell instantly what their intentions are for their character," he explains. And far too often, these chars, the criminal who happens to be a Latino while everyone else in the cast is of another race. It's very stereotypical and it's rather insulting when you read the char in the script or you meet someone who pitches you the character and you realize there's no real depth beyond being the antagonist."
However, Miguel was different. "It was beyond coloring within the lines of what is anticipated of a cartel boss and that's what I found to be challenging and interesting about what Kurt Sutter and Elgin James and the writing team on Mayans were creating with Miguel," Danny discloses. "Because at first blush, he could be seen as an archetype or one of the worst versions of the stereotype within the Latino community — that of a cartel boss — and it's something that is exacerbated so much more in the present political climate."
"But I find that the antidote to that is to have a creative team who is willing to write a character who works against that stereotype often throughout the series. As somebody who has more duality, who is written with depth and thought, and deliberately explored rather than being a scapegoat for a lot of the criminality and violence. Certainly, he has that aspect to him but what makes Miguel attractive to me and the reason I wanted to explore him as a character was Kurt Sutter and Elgin James and the writers' passion to write him in a very complicated, interesting, challenging way."
'Mayans M.C' is only a few episodes in, but it already has the fans talking. With more episodes set to premiere in the coming weeks, what could fans expect from the spinoff's debut season? There's a long silence as Danny contemplates how best he can answer without revealing too many details. "Hmm," he wonders aloud. "That's a tough question to answer without spoiling things."
There's another short silence before he continues, "I would say, you can expect loyalties to be tested, you can expect blood to be betrayed, and you can expect the unexpected."