From co-creators Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, the FX series Mayans M.C. is the next chapter in the Sons of Anarchy saga, now set in a post-Jax Teller world. Fresh out of prison and trying to carve out a new identity in a town where he was once the golden boy with big dreams, Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo) is trying to navigate what it means to be a Prospect in the Mayans M.C. charter on the California/Mexico border. While figuring out what the next step in his life can be, EZ is torn between his struggling but lawful father (Edward James Olmos), his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas), who is a full patch member of the M.C., and his childhood sweetheart Emily (Sarah Bolger), who seems to have moved on without him.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Clayton Cardenas talked about why he was immediately interested in being a part of Mayans M.C., how much he was told about ahead of time, when he really started to get comfortable in this character, the importance of portraying the feelings of the story they’re telling, the brother dynamic, and how keeping secrets is going to bring a lot of heat.
Collider: When this came your way, was it something you were immediately interested in because of the success of Sons of Anarchy and the connection between that show and this one, or was it something that you needed to dig into a little bit more?
CLAYTON CARDENAS: Right off the bat, I wanted it. I was drooling, when I heard about this. Being a fan of Sons, it was just so easy to wanna jump into this world, right away. The writing with Kurt Sutter is just amazing, and with what he and Elgin James created, they’ve made this beautiful world that us actors just get to play in and have fun. I would say that a majority of the actors will tell you the same thing. I don’t think it was a question for any of us, whether or not we wanted to do it. Right when everybody heard about it, this was something that you wanted to jump in with, head first.
How much were you told, ahead of time? Were you given a whole script?
CARDENAS: No, we weren’t. In the very beginning, we were actually given what they call dummy sides. We had different names, and none of the actual auditions were scenes that played out in the show, so we were not given a lot. We knew what we were getting into, knowing that it was the same creator of Sons, but at the same time, there was a whole bunch of stuff that we did not know. We knew that the writing was great. As an actor, that’s all you want, honestly. You put your trust in these directors and writers, that they’re gonna put you in the best light. That’s the fun part of it. You don’t know, but at the same time, you know it’s gonna be good.
So, taking that into account, when do you feel like you really got a handle on who this guy is?
CARDENAS: Man, I don’t think that I ever did. These characters evolve so much, and intentions change, throughout. As far as being comfortable with the character, just as the actor, it took me maybe an episode or two to lay some bones down, getting to know what the energy is like on set. You have different directors for different episodes, which is interesting for the actor ‘cause you have to learn that director’s language, for that period of time. That takes a little bit of adjusting, but then you get really comfortable. For me, it was around Episode 2.
With so much talk currently going on about diversity and inclusion in this industry, this show clearly stands out. It was a pretty big game changer, in that regard. What do you do to make sure to avoid the stereotypes and to make sure that you’re adding to the layers of the complexity of these characters?
CARDENAS: I think a lot of that is in the writing. I don’t think that’s the actor’s job. They just ask us to portray real feelings, so a lot of that is on the writers. What the writing does, after you start watching the show, is allow you to forget that you’re watching brown people ‘cause you start seeing relationships, and you start understanding moments and feelings, so all of that goes out the window. It has to do with the writing, and that’s all Kurt Sutter and Elgin James.
I love that you go in and out of English and Spanish, throughout the episodes.
CARDENAS: I love that! Especially for Southern California Latinos, that’s how we grow up, in broken English households. We go in and out of English, all the time. That’s just how it is, in real life, so that was beautifully done. You don’t see that a lot on TV. You see creators wanting to appease the networks, and sometimes they just want it all in English, but then you watch it and you’re like, “That doesn’t feel right.” When you see something, like Mayans, that’s beautifully done, it’s all organic and it’s true to our people. It really is.
How do you see Angel?
CARDENAS: I see Angel as this over-ambitious, lesser son. He always has something he needs to prove. I just see him as this broken child whose father never gave him the credit that his baby brother was getting, and he always felt left out. He’s like this hurt boy. I don’t think Angel understands that, but I, Clayton, see that. I see this hurt boy who’s just trying to prove his father right. In the end, he just wants to show his dad that he’s something.
Do you think he sees himself as somebody who could be the leader?
CARDENAS: Sure! I think that is the motive, in a sense. I don’t think he really understands the core of why he wants it, but he sees himself as a leader. He thinks he could guide the club better than the direction that it’s going.
How does Angel really feel about his brother, EZ, being back?
CARDENAS: I think that Angel, as the older brother, is always gonna wanna help out his little brother. Angel knows that he has to protect EZ. If he’s gonna get into the club and this life, he wants to be the one that’s guiding him.
We learned right away that Angel has a secret, and he shares that secret with his brother, but he doesn’t know that his brother also has one.
CARDENAS: Which is a big no-no.
Is that going to become a bigger issue, this season?
CARDENAS: Yes, that’s gonna be a big, “What the F?” There’s gonna be a lot of, “What the F?” goin’ around, and you can only imagine what that leads to. There’s gonna be a lot of heat comin’. At any moment, this can go south. You just don’t know when.
It also really changes your perspective of everybody, as you peel those layers back.
CARDENAS: Sure, with everybody. Sometimes, who you thought was the bad guy, isn’t the bad guy, and who you thought was a good guy, isn’t a good guy. I love how that’s done. Who’s to say that’s wrong, though? It might be wrong in somebody else’s eyes, but you don’t know the reason why he did it and you don’t know who it’s gonna help. You don’t know who it’s really gonna serve.
Mayans M.C. airs on Tuesday nights on FX.