From co-creators Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and Elgin James, the FX drama series Mayans M.C. is currently in its second season, with higher stakes, more blood spilled and even more heightened family drama. And while the Reyes family is seemingly more divided than ever, having the common goal of seeking justice for the death of their mother just might bring brothers EZ (JD Pardo) and Angel (Clayton Cardenas) back together.
While at the FX portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actor JD Pardo about how unaware he was of the way things would play out this season, what life is like for EZ as a prospect in the MC, the scene that most stood out for him in Season 1, the opportunities that the show is giving this cast of actors, what he’s enjoying about the journey of Season 2, his own brotherly bond with co-star Clayton Cardenas, and how they balance all of the darkness with humor.
Collider: Things are definitely heating up in Season 2. Before the season started, did you have any conversations about where things could be headed? Did you have an idea about how any of this would play out?
JD PARDO: No, I had no idea. I don’t think we really knew. The only thing that I was aware of was that EZ was going to dig into Happy (David Labrava), and why Happy did what he did, which I think is beautiful. For EZ, it’s different. EZ doesn’t go and just end somebody because they did something. He wants to know why they did what they did. There’s this psychological, emotional element, especially with this because it’s his mother and it changed his life. So, I think he really wants to get into why it happened and how it happened, just so he can make peace with himself, and also maybe understand his mother, in that moment, because it was something that was just taken from him.
Do you think that he’s going to be so driven about it that like he won’t care about the effects this information will have, or will he get to a point where he regrets diving into all of this?
PARDO: What’s great about EZ, right now, is that he’s a prospect, so there’s still this learning curve. And then, having come from prison and the survival tools that he developed from that time in his life, he understands that there’s always a reaction to every action. For him, it’s careful and it’s planned out. I’m sure, because he’s new to the world, that there will be moments of regret or mistakes or, “I shouldn’t have done that,” or “Where am I?” It’s also very telling of his journey, right now, having decided to be a part of the MC for Season 2. It’s a transition period for him, and any transition in your life is a difficult one because it doesn’t quite make sense to you just yet. You’re still dealing with the past and you’re trying to move forward, into the future. You’re to align yourself in that, and it can be a bit of a one step forward, two steps back, type of process. He’s going through it, and what’s gonna surprise EZ is just how easy he takes to it. It’s just not difficult for him.
Did you know that was coming, as far as him going all in with the MC for Season 1?
PARDO: I knew that. That was something that I spoke with (co-creator) Elgin [James] about. He directed the last episode [of the season], and that moment was so important, to show the audience the growth of EZ. So much of his life had been this regret and resentment of messing up his life and not being where he thought he should be, and then finally coming to a place of being like, “I may not know who I am, but I know I’m not supposed to run. I know I’m supposed to be here.” Just to see that moment in his eyes where he sees Happy and puts it all together, it’s a bit like, “Holy shit, where am I? I’m with the MC, and the Sons are hugging the Mayans. It just got crazy.”
A show like this is very intense and this is a very violent world, but at the same time, you guys are doing some killer acting, on a very emotional level, which is sometimes surprising. Did you have an episode or a scene where you felt most proud of what you were delivering, as an actor?
PARDO: One of my favorites – and I have several – is the one with Coco (Richard Cabral), where we’re sitting over his dead mother’s body, and Coco says to EZ, “I didn’t kill a whore. I freed my mother.” And when you think about that, not that I think that action is right because you can see that EZ has a problem with it and he’s looking at Coco like, “Can I even trust you? Are you gonna try to take me out? Is that the way it works?,” so to hear him talk about his own personal truth, and EZ is so full of noise, that moment was important for me. I felt like, as an actor, I have to be responsible in understanding what the audience is seeing. They’re seeing a dead woman who has just been killed. So, to just dance around that, or to feel like it doesn’t mean anything, is irresponsible. What’s so beautiful about being an artist is that I can feel, at least personally, the responsibility to let the audience in and to go into those places in my life, where I can be vulnerable and show emotion, and show that this hurts me and I’m trying to understand it. I want to just tell the story.
It seems like it must be really remarkable, as an actor, to not just be leading the show and looking at a cast full of people who also look like you, but also see the opportunity in this material. Have you really felt that, making this show?
PARDO: I’ve been on shows where leads are either disconnected or selfish, and they don’t care. Jon Favreau really took me under his wing when we did the pilot for Revolution, and he said, “You can be a leading man,” and he wanted to teach me about things that I needed to keep in perspective. He taught me that it’s about the crew. They’re the first ones in, and they’re the last ones out. If you see somebody on the crew struggling, try to speak to them and breathe life into them because it’ll serve the set, and ultimately, it’ll serve you. Also, take care of the cast. They need to be united, and hopefully, we can all believe in the big picture, and the same picture, which is that, with this show specifically, we want to be great. We don’t want to be a follow-up show, or just some good show. The fans deserve more than that. And then, lastly but not of least importance is the fact that we’re all pretty much Latin Americans and we’re very grateful for this opportunity.
We joke around, at times, that there seems to be a role for everybody named Chris, on a big movie. This isn’t a political statement, or any of that, but the truth is that, in Hollywood, there just aren’t opportunities for Latin Americans. We’re either competing against each other for that one role, or we come in and have one line, and the roles are very stereotypical. It starts with the business. It starts with the writers, producers and studios taking content. They’re so focused, sometimes, on the bottom line and whether audiences are gonna tune in. It is a business, and I respect that, but chances have to be taken.
Hopefully, with something like Mayans, we can be successful enough to where other studios feel that they can go ahead and bring other shows around that are full of Latinos. It doesn’t even have to be full of Latinos, but just giving people great roles that have a lot to offer. There’s a huge audience to tap into there, if you wanna talk business, and there’s so many talented artists out there, with so many stories to tell. What I’m so thankful for, when it comes to FX, is that they’ve given us a place where we can all be a part of this great project. Even within my own community and my own people there, there is racism. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out for Latino roles in Latino projects with Latino producers telling me that I’m not brown enough, and that’s with my own people. It’s not who does it more. You get it from both ends, equally, I feel like. The cast is very grateful to FX because they’ve allowed all colors, and all different shades of brown, to come in. They see the artist, which is great.
What are you enjoying about exploring where EZ is at now, in this life, and seeing his personal journey, as he’s figuring things out?
PARDO: I love getting more into the Mayans and the MC life. The first season, he was just one foot in, so he was acting like he was a part of it. Season 2 is almost a step back for EZ, and naturally so. In Season 1, he was acting like he’s a club member, but in Season 2, he’s accepted his role and he is a true prospect. That’s the starting point. From there, you get to see him rise. And just to be a part of the culture, putting on that cut and riding those bikes, and having dialogue with Bishop (Michael Irby), who’s now EZ’s sponsor, changes a lot of things.
Do you think he’ll learn from the mistakes he makes along the way?
PARDO: What’s great about EZ is that he doesn’t seem to trip over the same stone twice. It’s a double-edged sword. He’s a thinker, and he can over-think things. Sometimes Angel will say, “Hey, man, it’s not that complicated. It’s simple. You do it.” But the positive side is that he analyzes how he can be better and how he can excel. He’s driven by the fact that good is just not enough. Where humbly, he takes on this golden boy projection from Angel (Clayton Cardenas) and Felipe (Edward James Olmos), there’s also a sense of pride in that. You know who you are and what you bring to the table, and EZ has always seen greatness from himself.
What’s it like to have actors like Clayton Cardenas and Edward James Olmos playing your family?
PARDO: Clayton has really been the brother that I’ve always wished for, growing up. I have two sisters. Clayton is such a wonderful artist and a beautiful person. From day one, we were always, like Forrest Gump says, like peas and carrots. It’s always fun with Clayton. He hasn’t been in the business very long, so to see him grow leaps and bounds, it’s a tribute to his work ethic and his passion for the craft. And then, with Edward James Olmos, every time that I sit with him, I know I have to bring it. The camera just has to be on him, and it’s just game over. He’s so interesting. It’s an honor. He’s done so much for the community and the people, and he’s inspired a lot of people, myself included. So, as an artist, it’s really incredible to work with him. Also, it just lets me know that I, too, need to extend my hand and bring others along, just like he’s done.
Will EZ and Angel eventually be able to see eye-to-eye, or will there always be some tension between?
PARDO: I think there will always be a certain amount of tension because it’s family history, and there’s so much rooted in that. Angel his perspective, and EZ has his own perspective. They felt loved in different ways. It has to be hard to grow up with that family member who just seems to do everything right. But they have an enormous amount of love for each other, which just makes their fighting so much more beautiful because you know that they’re gonna hug it out. They’re gonna punch each other, and then they’re going to hug it out. They’ll figure it out. Clayton places a lot of trust in me and, in return, I trust him. We just go at it. It’s not about who looks the best. It’s about what serves the story, and we keep that in our sights. So, if it’s time for him to take a step forward, then he has to take a step forward. And if it’s time for me to take some step forward, then I have to take a step forward.
Is there any lightness this season, or is it all pretty dark?
PARDO: You’ve heard the phrase that it’s darker before the dawn, so we get there. The writers do a great job of sprinkling in humor, and it makes everything more palatable if you add lightness to it. We’re aware of it. It’s tough, but you’ve gotta throw it in there. And then, you’re faced with the other question of, “How can you make a funny comment when that just happened?” So, we do the best we can.
Mayans M.C. airs on Tuesday nights on FX.