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.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, co-showrunner Elgin James talked about Season 2’s theme of retribution, how everybody has secrets, weaving SAMCRO into the world of the Mayans, why it’s time to step out of the shadow of being the brown criminals who get outsmarted by the white guy, what they wanted to dig deeper into in Season 2, family dynamics, the role of women in this world, and how impressed he is with the work of this cast.
Collider: I’m always on the edge of my seat, watching this show, because it feels like things are just never going to end well.
ELGIN JAMES: Nothing ends well. Nothing, at all, especially for some people. Last season was all about the secrets. Everybody had secrets. EZ had secrets. Angel had secrets. Felipe had secrets. This year, it’s just about retribution. As Malcolm X said, the chickens have come home to roost.
How did you decide how much more to lean into SAMCRO, this season, and really connect them with this story?
JAMES: It’s a constant conversation that we have. It’s hard because we don’t wanna be Season 8 and 9 of Sons of Anarchy. We wanna be Seasons 1 and 2 of Mayans. But we are a part of this mythology, so it’s about finding the organic way that feels honest to the story. It’s about how we can make it new story, as opposed to going back and just having it for the fans. That’s great for the fans, but it’s also pandering, and it takes away from the amazing art that these people are doing. A lot of these guys have done more jail time than screen time, but now these motherfuckers are artists. Nevermind that a lot of them already were. It’s not about [Richard Cabral]’s past, Joseph Lucero’s past, or Clayton [Cardenas]’ past. It’s about the artists that they are now, and they’re here.
So, it’s that balance of wanting to honor the mythology ‘cause we wouldn’t be here without it, but at the same time, we have our own stories to tell. We’ve been marginalized and kicked to the side and invisible for so long, and this is our time to plant that flag. And with everything that’s happening in the world, we’re not a political show, but this is the time to do it. And if we’re not, who’s gonna? We’re on the border, so we can’t avoid it. All we can use is try to tell the story from the inside out ‘cause it’s always been told from the outside in. Growing up, we had all of these archetypes of people of color being criminals. Even. recent shows that are beloved to people have all of these brown criminals coming in, and they’re nasty and ambitious, but they get outsmarted by the white guy. It’s important for us to tell these stories ‘cause we’ve been there. We’ve been in the cycle of poverty, violence and some incarceration, or just in the cycle of feeling invisible. It doesn’t even have to be about socio-economics or skin color. That’s what our show is really about.
After everything that you set up in Season 1, what did you want to dig deeper into this season?
JAMES: I have such OCD, particularly story OCD, that I wanna have everything plotted out, while Kurt [Sutter] is buck wild. He’s like, “I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.” I’m like, What do you mean?” So, it’s a dance. We had stuff that we wanted to figure out, and he was like, “Yeah, we’ll figure it out. He’s into everything being really organic, in relation to the actors, themselves, and where the chemistry pops up. It’s been a great zen lesson for myself to let things go, but I still nervously clutch the wheel ‘cause I’ve worked it all out, and then he’s like, “Nah.” So, we know what we wanna do, and then it’s about just being really invested in the characters.
When it came to the family at the core of this, what did you go into Season 2, knowing that you wanted to explore?
JAMES: The brothers were as broken and as far apart as they’ve ever been, and that was something that was either gonna repair or not. It was the same thing with Felipe. This family that is the core of our show and the heart of our show, and we started off, in Season 2, with this triangle, and we knew that we wanted to play with that. We wanted to find out what happened to their mom. And then, we had the LO (Los Olvidados) and the pact with the Galindos, and had to make sense of that. We definitely had our work cut out for us. We also were just trying to stay open to story and figuring out where to go. Working with Kurt, having watched his work in the past, there’s something that feels like real life, and that zigs and zags, ‘cause that’s the process. As opposed to making these big moves, here and there, it feels a little more like real life.
When you make reference to previous fan favorite SAMCRO characters, do you do so knowing that viewers would be waiting to see them in the show? Will we continue to see familiar faces as a result?
JAMES: You’re gonna see some people from the past, if it works organically for the story. Because one of those motherfuckers killed Felipe’s wife, and Angel and EZ’s mom, we knew that chances were that you were gonna see some of them. It’s that dance of becoming our own show and starting our own mythology, but also honoring the universe that we’re in.
Because this is a very male-dominated world, how do you approach the role of women in it?
JAMES: It’s all about balance. We wanna have strong female characters, but that aren’t the same as the Sons characters. They’re not Tara and they’re not Gemma. Then also, there’s just such laziness with strong female characters, where people just take a woman and give her male characteristics and think that makes her a strong woman, which is just not true. There were blindspots that we had to take care of, and we’re always looking for opportunities to bring more of that in. This is a male-dominated world, but Sarah [Bolger] is doing such great work, and Carla [Baratta] is doing fucking amazing work. Emily Tosta, last season, did such great work. Ada [Luz Pla], came on and played Selia, Richie’s mom, last season. There’s always more being pitched, especially ‘cause it’s a culture that is so maternal, and that’s so important. In the pilot, we had Angel and EZ’s mother cast, and she was a great actress, but then, when we redid the pilot, we actually realized that it was more powerful if she was gone. That absence of her, and these men not knowing how to communicate with each other, and what happens when you don’t have that warmth was really powerful. When you don’t have that maternal or feminine energy, it affects your relationships and everything that you do. I look at myself and where I’ve ended up, and I consider myself lucky. And then, I look at my friends, who ended up suffering from similar stuff when we were younger, but I had my mom. Every good part of me is my mom. Every shitty part of me is totally my own. My mom was that hand on my back. It’s interesting to explore what happens, when that’s not there.
Has there been a moment, over the last season, were you were particularly impressed with your cast?
JAMES: Oh, my god, all the time. And we’re just getting started. Eddie [Edward James Olmos] kicked open so many doors. And then, we have Emilio Rivera and all of the work he’s done. He’s like our Al Pacino, or our Godfather. If Edward James Olmos is God, which is true ‘cause he’s an amazing man and mentor, we have our Godfather with Emilio. The work that he gets to do and that he does this season, you’re gonna see stuff that he hasn’t had the opportunity to do before. And with a lot of these younger actors, this is their first opportunity, and they’re lucky ‘cause they don’t have to just be in the back and be Brown Prisoner #4. You get to see what these people can really do. It’s amazing. The story that Coco had last season was beautiful, and that was Richard. That was organic, from knowing Richie well and wanting to see what Richie could do. It was great. He killed it. He’s such an amazing actor. And then, we have so many other people in the ensemble that haven’t gotten their shot yet. They’re waiting on the bench, but our bench is deep. They’re like the 1990s Yankees. Sorry, that’s a weird reference. We just have so many all-stars that we can pull them out, at any time.
Mayans M.C. airs on Tuesday nights on FX.