From co-creators Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and Elgin James, the FX drama series Mayans M.C. is back for Season 2, 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 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 Clayton Cardenas about how much he was told about what’s to come in Season 2, getting to see how the absence of their mother has affected brothers EZ and Angel, the real brotherhood he has with co-star JD Pardo, the show’s emotional roller coaster, how he likes to prepare for the more intense scenes, the scene he’s been most proud of, more deeply exploring the SAMCRO connection, the appreciation he has for motorcycle culture, and how he’d like to learn more about his character’s eventual end game.
Collider: The Season 2 premiere sets up so many interesting possibilities. How much did you know about? Did they tell you how any of these things would play out, or do you also get very anxious, waiting to find out what’s to come?
CLAYTON CARDENAS: There are a lot of things that I don’t know. Especially as an actor, sometimes we don’t find out until on the day. What you will see, in the beginning of the season is EZ telling Angel who the killer is of their mother, and hopefully they can put aside their differences and come together to use each other’s strengths and also cover each other’s weaknesses, on this journey to find the killer. Hopefully, you see that brotherhood in full effect.
I love that these two tough guys are on a journey to honor their mother.
CARDENAS: It’s beautiful.
It adds a great balance to the story, to see how the absence of their mother has affected them.
CARDENAS: Right, and you can see how it’s affected them differently. With Angel, he learned early on to bury it. In Season 1, there’s a reference to it when he tells his brother, “You’ve gotta let it go. You can’t hold onto this. It’s gonna eat you alive.” And I think he was also talking to himself. Having seen him bury it, in Season 2, you’re gonna see this explosion in Angel. You’re gonna see all these years of buried torment, just come out in an explosion.
You expect this show to be intense because it’s a violent world, but there’s also been an incredible emotional roller coaster.
CARDENAS: The difference between this drama compared to other dramas is that some dramas are just too heavy. There are some shows that I really enjoyed in the first season, but then, when I saw the second season, I was like, “Oh, I can’t!” For instance, The Handmaid’s Tale, I just couldn’t. That was too heavy for me.
As a woman, it’s worse.
CARDENAS: I know! I can’t even imagine that. I never laughed. There was no emotional journey, like you referenced. That’s the great thing about this writing. It keeps you engaged, you never know what’s gonna happen, and you’re laughing for half the episode. Especially in this M.C. culture, where you would think it’s just very stoic and aggressive, there are light moments, just like in life. You see that in all families, and we have that on set. We’re screwing around with each other, all the time. It’s a really fun cast to be around. One of our castmates, Michael Irby, who plays Bishop, has us rolling, and that’s need on set, especially on a show like this, where there are a lot of heavy, intense moments. You need that, or you’re gonna implode.
On those days that are especially intense, do you like to goof around and crack up between takes, or do you prefer to isolate yourself somewhere?
CARDENAS: For me, I totally isolate myself. I’m in my trailer until it’s time to film. I have them come and get me ‘cause I need isolation. I need to be alone with my own thoughts, to really tell truth, in that moment. To make it organic and real, I need to not be distracted. On set, you have hair and make-up people, and you have all of this crew around. Everybody’s job is important to them, and rightfully so, but as the actor, you can’t have those kinds of distractions. So, for me, I totally isolate. If I’m on set and there’s no way to isolate, I have these large headphones on, which means, do not talk to me, do not bother me, and let me do my thing. Everybody has been really great about giving me my space. Hopefully, as the audience, you see the product and you appreciate what I’ve done with it.
Do you listen to music?
CARDENAS: I’m a lover of classical, but there’s certain dark, melodic songs that I like, that really help me get into that headspace. Music is like a time warp for me. When I hear a certain tune or sound, it puts me into that moment, and sometimes into a certain decade. It’s like, “Oh, wow, I remember what that felt like. I remember that smell. I remember that sound.” Music has been such a beneficial tool that I use. If you’re not in an environment that allows you to be isolated, that certain playlist or song can be an instant trigger for you.
Because there has been much more of an emotional roller coaster than you might have expected on this show, have you had like a scene or an episode where you were particularly proud of the work that you did, as an actor?
CARDENAS: Oh, yeah, especially this year. We’re shooting Episode 7 right now. With Episode 6, there were a lot of a script changes, on the day, and first up was a five and a half page intense scene with Eddie James Olmos. I did it and the director said, “Look, I know this isn’t a conducive environment for you to do this right now. Do you want me to push this?” Everything was already all set up, and like I said, everybody has their own important job, so if I were to say, “No, I wanna change it,” then that screws everybody else’s time up. So, I was like, “No, let’s just do it. Let’s do it right now. I’ll do it. I’ll do my job.” So, we did it, and it was one of my proudest moments, as an actor, honestly. Eddie James helped me through it, but I was very proud of what I did, and him, as well.
This cast is so great and so varied, and some of them have been in this business for a long time. It must be great to have someone like Edward James Olmos to share scenes with.
CARDENAS: It’s so helpful. If it was any other actor, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do it. He’s present in the scene, 100% of the time. Every scene I’ve done with them, I love working with him, for that reason alone. When somebody is that present and listening intently, and is being organic with the sound of their words and their actions, you’re not acting anymore. Now, you’re just listening and really absorbing those words that are coming from that person, and that helps.
What do you most enjoy about exploring the family dynamic, not just with the M.C., but with Angel’s blood relatives?
CARDENAS: I grew up with all woman in my life, so to have somebody like JD [Pardo], who plays my brother on the show, that’s the fun part to explore. It’s a brotherhood that I always yearned for, but never had.
JD Pardo told me that he also grew up with sisters.
CARDENAS: Yeah, I know, we’ve had this conversation. I think we both appreciate each other, for that reason. As brothers on the show, we’re learning what brotherhood really is. It’s like having a best friend, it’s just by blood, you are related. I love it. It’s probably one of the most joyful times of my life.
What’s it like to explore the SAMCRO connection more deeply, this season?
CARDENAS: Kurt [Sutter] really wanted to focus on making Mayans its own mythology. Even though it comes from the SAMCRO mythology, he wanted Mayans to be organic stories, and not to go through the lens of Sons. He’s written it beautifully, to where you get these little Easter eggs and you get these little tidbits, where it’s just enough for a fan of Sons to say, “Wow, that’s really cool.” But they’re really focusing on Mayans standing on its own two feet and being its own thing. It’s enhancing it. It’s not taking away from the spotlight. It’s not, “Oh, this is the same story, just with brown people.” That’s the beauty of Kurt’s writing. Kurt and Elgin [James] could have taken the easy route out. If you were a Sons fan, you can also enjoy Mayans, but I really think Mayans has its own audience, for that reason alone.
It’s really remarakable how much this show has really established its own identity, instead of just having you step into characters like the ones we saw in Sons of Anarchy.
CARDENAS: Yeah, with JD as Jax, and me as Opie. It’s great, and that was instant. That was Kurt’s focus. In the early sessions, he was adamant in saying, “I don’t want this to be like Sons.” You see that with things like the flashbacks, which you never saw in Sons, and even down to the style of bikes. It’s really our own thing.
Has being a part of this show given you an appreciation for that culture?
CARDENAS: Of course. It’s so cool. It’s funny, I used to hate the sound of motorcycles. I used to be like, “Why do that?” Now, I love it. I love when people are revving by. I understand it. It’s this cool subculture that not a lot of people know about. So, when you put a microscope on it and you really get into it, it’s interesting. And then, you throw family and friendship in, and it goes beyond M.C. culture. It’s all part of the life. It’s interesting, when I’m riding a bike on the freeway, you can see clearly how many motherfuckers are on their phone and you’re like, “Oh, my god!” I’m so against that now. I used to be one of those people who would check my phone while I was driving, and now I’m like, “No.” And if my friends are in the car, I’m like, “No phones in this car, right now.”
What’s the balance like, between Kurt Sutter and Elgin James?