From showrunner Elgin James, the FX drama series Mayans M.C. is promising quite the roller coaster ride for Season 3, with Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo) now a fully patched member alongside his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas). A border shutdown is disrupting business and danger is threatening the M.C. at every turn, leading them to get creative to find a new path that will keep them afloat in business, in the hopes that they can stay ahead of some of the bad personal decisions being made along the way.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer/writer James talked about returning to work during a pandemic, why they didn’t want to let COVID change the story they were telling, setting Season 3 apart from the first two seasons, why viewers should be worried about all of the characters, whether the Reyes brothers will be past redemption by the end of this season, and just how far ahead he’s thought about the story he’s telling.
Collider: How did it feel to be able to return to set and shoot Season 2, during a pandemic?
ELGIN JAMES: It was wild, shooting in this. The best part of it was actually that we have so many health and safety managers on set that it was literally like adding another 10 to 15 people to your family. They were trying to keep you alive, which was really cool, and they were all film fans. It was really nice to have people there when stupidly, Clay [Cardenas] and I would go try to talk to each other and they’d be like, “Remember your face shields.” They kept us alive, which was great.
How did all of that affect the stories that you wanted to tell? Did it change the way you had to do any of the season? Did it create things where you’d have to pair characters together and keep them together?
JAMES: It’s funny, I basically went away after the hiatus, which was only for a couple of weeks, and I worked out what the season was gonna be, brought it to the writers’ room, and we worked out the whole season. And then, all of a sudden, it was March and we were about a week away from starting the show, and we got the call that was we’re shutting down and that it was probably only gonna be for a couple of weeks. We all know what that turned into. So, it was wild. I was like, what do we do? This is a new world now. Do we put that into the show? There was a moment in the summer when Clay Cardenas, Gino Vento, who plays Nestor, Carla Baratta and I were out at the George Floyd protests and the National Guard were everywhere and it felt so much like what we were doing with the show. If there are moments where it seems like we’re making a statement about everything that was happening, this really was always the plan.
As far as physical production went, we did everything in our power to make sure that everyone was safe, but to not change story. I didn’t want to, and I was worried about that. Can people kiss? Can people fight? Those are the staples of our show, at this point. If we can’t kiss or fight, that would be tough for us. That’s where health and safety people and the COVID protocols were so important. I’m sure every show you talk to is like, “Oh, we’re like a family,” with their crew and maybe they are, but this is real. We’ve been through so much together, for three seasons. We all know and love each other. We went home on the weekends, and these 200 people that work to make the show happen were safe, to keep the family safe and to keep us safe. We were really lucky. We didn’t change anything, story wise. There was awhile that we couldn’t do stunts because the emergency rooms were full. Even if someone broke an arm, we didn’t want to have to send them to the emergency room and put them at risk. There were a couple of little things like that, but for the most part, we just went ahead with our story.
When you found out that Kurt Sutter would officially and fully be stepping away from the show and you would be taking the reins, was that exciting, was that nerve-wracking, or was it a bit of both? Personally, what went through your head with that?
JAMES: It was always supposed to be the plan. For Season 3, Kurt and I had discussed that it was gonna be the plan. TV is strange because it really is a showrunner’s vision. Those first two seasons really was his vision. I was so lucky for him to hire me. I wrote a pilot that no one’s ever seen, that was more like this show, and this is the show that I pitched, but then as was his right, to make sure that there was this bridge between the two mythologies, the first two seasons were that. I always felt like an impostor because people really liked the show and when they talked about it, I’d be like, “Yeah, man, my name’s on that show and I’m working every day. I’m so proud of my brothers and sisters who work on the show, in front of the camera and behind the camera.” I was ready. There are things that we talked about, in my first meeting with Kurt in his office. I remember that day perfectly and those are the stories that we’re getting to. He did the work in the first two seasons to build the bridge and now we can take off. Everyone was ready.
With each episode, things just keep getting worse for the M.C. and it’s clearly putting them in some really tough spots. What should fans be most nervous about, when it comes to these characters and what you’re putting them through this season?
JAMES: Everyone should be worried about everyone. It’s for real. That’s what happens. I’ve made so many awful decisions in my life. I make terrible life decisions, and usually out of pain and hurt and emotions. That’s what you see so many of our characters doing. Bishop is in so much pain and he’s making decisions that are going to have catastrophic results for the other characters, but he’s doing it out of his heart. One of the main themes that goes throughout the season is that men are children and women are tough as shit. Women have to grow up so quick and so fast, and we get to stay little boys, our whole lives. That’s the truth. We could stay children our whole lives while women have to hold it down. Especially in this world, men make the mess and women have to clean it up while emotionally cleaning up the man and lifting up the man. I saw that in my own house. My mom was this little woman and my dad, who was 350 pounds and at times felt like a monster, and I thought that was strength, but that was just a child having a tantrum, and often a violent tantrum. It was my mom who was the real strength that kept us fed and did her best to keep us sheltered and safe.
That’s something I’ve always wanted to explore and I’ve been lucky enough to have writers who want to explore those same themes. So, you should be worried for everyone because they’re all making terrible life decisions. You see what’s happening with Coco. Everyone is lucky enough on our show to have special relationships with each other and each one is unique. We’re like a family, in that way. We’re all siblings. Richard Cabral and I, even though we’re from different parts of the country, have grown up experiencing the same things. We know what it’s like to be a little boy and your mom is being attacked and is too small and powerless to do anything about it. We know what it’s like to find a family on the street, in a gang. So, it was a beautiful experience to be able to write for all of these people and for me to dump my own damage out onto the page, and then have this brother that I know has lived through these same things, who can then take it and put himself into and lift it to a whole other level that I never could have thought of. Going in, there were two things that I said to Richie. One was personal and private between the two of us. The other promise I asked him to make was that he would stay alive. He went to places where I honestly didn’t know that would happen. As the season goes on, you should all be very, very, very scared for Coco. You should be scared for everyone. You should be scared for Bishop. You should be scared for EZ. EZ has never been vulnerable like this before. He’s a racehorse, but he’s still a colt trying to find his legs and he’s gonna make some terrible decisions of his own. EZ’s 40 days in the desert is how I pitched this to the studio and the network. It didn’t end up well for Jesus, so with the decisions that EZ makes, we’ll see how it ends for him.
This show grew out of the audience love for Alvarez, and yet he also seems very vulnerable this season, in a way that he hasn’t been previously. Is that something you also wanted to do, to really put some of that on him and to put him in danger, in a way that we haven’t seen with him?
JAMES: It comes out of love for the character. We always say that none of us would be here, if ti wasn’t for that character, but more importantly, none of us would be here if it wasn’t for Emilio [Rivera]. Nevermind kicking open the doors for many of us. He’s a guy who’s come from situations that even those of us who’ve been through tough situations can’t even imagine. He kicked open the door for himself, and he’s just been holding it open and picking up his brothers and sisters, and getting all of the rest of us in too. I know what that man can do. That man is an incredible actor and he has a deep well of pain. That’s what this was really selfishly about. He’s an icon on our show and I wanna know what happens when he goes home. I wanna know what’s happening inside his head and inside his heart, and I wanna see Emilio show that to all of us. That’s what you’re gonna get this season.
Do you see parallels in the dynamic between Bishop and EZ, and the dynamic that existed between Clay and Jax?
JAMES: We are so our own show that I don’t know. They’re probably in there because I think that’s the seed that was planted with Kurt, in those first two seasons and the mythology. But in the most respectful way, we don’t think about that. We really don’t. It’s different this year. We’re so honored to be a part of this mythology. We’re so grateful, and we’re so grateful to Kurt because he’s the reason we’re all here. Sons fans love the rebelliousness and the middle finger that was that show, which is great, but it was weird that, for two seasons, we had to kneel down at the altar of that show. If there was anything that seemed outside of that, then we were attacked with, “How dare you?” We spent two seasons, every time these brown guys would get in trouble, hopping on a phone and calling the white guys to come save them and call the cavalry. They would come in and drop a racist joke, and then save the day and with a bunch of bro hugs. We’re not under that shadow anymore. I love those guys. I love Tommy Flanagan. I’m so grateful. You know who I’m grateful to? I’m grateful to Star Fields, who’s in construction, and Gena Bravos, who’s our script supervisor. They’re the mythology that I really care about. They’re the ones that worked on Sons and that still work with us. They’re the people that I’m so proud of. That’s the blood and the DNA that I’m proud of. This is our shot. We don’t ever think about that stuff anymore. There are parallels to make because it’s the universe that Kurt created and we’re honoring it. But at this point, this is our show, this is our time, this is our shot.
I love how, even in a dark season, you can still work in a bit of humor, especially when it comes to the new Prospect and how he’s a bit clumsy. What were you looking to do with that character? Did you want someone who could bring in a bit of comic relief?
JAMES: There’s a story that’s really close to me that I really wanted to get to tell, and that’s who that’s based on. We knew there’s this man named Momo Rodriguez, who’s a brilliant stand-up comedian, who had made some videos in our first season about Mayans M.C., that are hilarious. And then, we started thinking about this character and Emilio was like, “What about Momo?,” because Emilio is his mentor. We basically crafted it around this person, and we also crafted it for Momo. Just wait to see what this man does. It’s great. It wasn’t particularly that we wanted some comic relief, but we just knew who this character was and we knew we needed something that could pull off all of it – the humor, the love, and heart – and Momo does just that.
I recently asked JD Pardo and Clayton Cardenas a question that I’m curious to hear your answer about. Because things do get darker every season, by the end of this season, would you say that these brothers will be past redemption for what they’ve done or do you feel like there is always a chance for change?
JAMES: This season is about everyone trying to find their souls, and they either find them or lose them. I think it’s surprising, who finds their souls and who doesn’t. The journey that they’re gonna go on, you’ll see what JD Pardo can do. That dude is a monster, and he’s just getting the chains off. EZ has had to spend two seasons under the shadow of Jax Teller, and that shadow has exploded from the ray of light that JD Pardo is doing and the adventure and journey that EZ Reyes is going to go on. Clayton Cardenas has always been the soul of this show. He’s the soul of the two brothers. As they go on their journey from light to dark, I think maybe one of them could find redemption, if they both stay alive. I’m not sure. It’s a crazy world. All I know is that Clayton and JD are gonna to take us on such a beautiful ride, as we go.
How far ahead have you thought about where you’d like to take things with the story and the characters? Do you have a sense of what Season 4 would be?
JAMES: Yeah. We know, if we’re lucky enough to go to Season 7. I got lucky enough to have lunch with John Landgraf, and every time I come away from that man, my IQ points raise because he’s just so smart about the world, about story, and about everything. I told him where I see everything ending and he was like, “Does it have to?” I know where it ends. There are repercussions, and that’s what this season is about. I’ve done awful things in my life. That’s why I have an incapacity for joy. That’s why, no matter what, it’s like carrying around a body bag of shame, everywhere you go. That’s what we’re dealing with. My brothers and sisters on the show, the actors, have their own experiences with that and their own shame that they carry around. That’s why you make it, to exorcize it and get it out of your body and into the world. Whether it will feel better at the end, I don’t know. I know Richard Cabral is alive. He kept that promise to me. As you’ll see, he exorcizing his demons, just barely.
Mayans M.C. airs on Tuesday nights on FX, and is available to stream at FX on Hulu.
Jamie Dornan literally falls to the floor with laughter.
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