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 Richard Cabral (who plays Johnny “El Coco” Cruz, former Army sharpshooter and weapons specialist who is a full patch member) talked about how having lived the life helps his color his characters, what he’s most proud of when it comes to his success as an actor, working with actors that he admires both professionally and personally, where his character fits into the M.C., learning about where things are going episode by episode, and what it’s like to wear his M.C. cut.
Collider: You’ve been in a wide variety of projects now, always playing very interesting characters.
RICHARD CABRAL: I’ve been blessed to have done a variety of things.
How do you find ways to differentiate the characters you play and keep them from becoming stereotypes? Do you feel like you’re able to find ways to add to the layers to make them more complex?
CABRAL: Definitely! I think it’s because I’ve lived this life. Until I was 25 years old, I was incarcerated, so I know the reality, and it’s not all dark. There is humor, love, pain and suffering behind all of that. For me, living that existence, I could definitely adapt, which is why I’m able to bring what I bring to life. A bad person or a gangster wasn’t always like that. There was a time when they were an innocent child. We were all innocent children. So, that’s how I go into everything, no matter who it is. If you read it, it might be the worst person, but I know that the worst person, at one time in their life, was an innocent person.
It’s all about the different paths they find themselves on, along the way.
CABRAL: Yeah. What happened to that child? What happened to that man that made him fear? What made that man act out in violence? What happened to that man that he decided to do drugs to numb himself? What happened to him? That’s how I approach it, and that’s how I’ve always done it.
Going from that kind of life to acting is a very different path. It’s definitely a career shift. What do you feel most proud of, in regard to what you’ve been able to accomplish?
CABRAL: That my children will never have to live the way that I did. I’m a father of four. My oldest is going to be 16, and he wants to be a filmmaker. He told me that this summer. So, it’s not about me. I have something physical that’s not a vision or dream. I have physical beings in front of my eyes, and I want the best for them. That’s the biggest thing for me.
What’s it like to work with a cast like this, and learn from people like Edward James Olmos and Emilio Rivera?
CABRAL: First of all, you look the hardest within yourself. They’re powerhouses, but I’ve been blessed that I had personal relationships with them before this project. Emilio coached me from my first scene on Southland, at his apartment. Seven years later, we’re on this show together. And with Eddie Olmos, we went to the same night school. It’s those personal stories that make it all that much richer than just being a fellow actor in the cast.
Where does Coco fit in with the M.C.?
CABRAL: He’s not connected to much. He’s connected, in the bigger sense, but he’s doing his own thing, and I think you get a sense of that. As the season goes on, there’s a whole other story that Coco is gonna get into, and that’s gonna hit the heart of our audience.
Is he more of a loner then?
CABRAL: He’s really a loner. If you look at everybody else, they’re all tied into something, but Coco is not. You’re definitely gonna see that, and it’s gonna be heavy. It will pull at your heart.
He seems like one of those characters where you can’t really tell where he’s coming from, and he really could go just about anywhere.
CABRAL: Yeah. He’s holed up, and you’re gonna go on a journey with him that you don’t expect. For me, this is some of my greatest work that I’ve ever done, on this show. I was just so blessed that Kurt [Sutter] honored me by giving me that.
How do you feel this show is pushing you, as an actor?
CABRAL: Working with the guys for a year and a half has been powerful, being able to build that chemistry. What you’re seeing on screen is a brotherhood. Working with people like this, that you can trust, makes such a difference in what you see on camera. We’re the first 99% Latino cast, so it’s definitely a game changer for future generations to come. To know that we did this, we executed it, and people are watching, is just a lot of fun.
Along with the casting, there is a lot of Spanish on the show, which is great.
CABRAL: We honor it like that. It’s so cultural. We went to Mexico to shoot. I love the fact that we’re able to go to the places we talk about and can be amongst that energy and spirit.
Since you’re not given a lot of information ahead of time, how surprised were you by how things played out and where the story went?
CABRAL: Episode by episode, we were totally caught off guard. You’re like, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!” Because of Sons, you know people are gonna die, so it was like, “When is that gonna happen?!” Someone will get it and you’ll be like, “Oh, man, that was horrible!” You know someone is gonna die. Some shit is gonna happen. Hopefully, I’m not on that chopping block. All you can do is hope. I just don’t wanna get the chopping block this season.
What was it like for you to put on the M.C. cut, for the first time?
CABRAL: I was just truly grateful and truly blessed. The cut was made at a real place that does real stuff for bikers. To know that I was putting on a cut that was authentic was like, “This is for real.” It’s not just a piece of leather. The cut has the spirit of people that really are a part of the M.C. biker life.
Mayans M.C. airs on Tuesday nights on FX.