Danny Pino Tells Us Why His ‘Mayans M.C.’ Character Isn’t The ‘Karaoke Version’ Of ‘The Godfather’

When Mayans M.C. began riding last year, executive producers Kurt Sutter and Elgin James certainly made an interesting choice while casting Danny Pino, who plays drug lord Miguel Galindo. Pino may have seemed like an unlikely pick for those who know him best for long-term stints portraying detectives on Law and Order: SVU and Cold Case. Yet he slipped almost seamlessly into playing Miguel, a complex family man who wields both ruthless and empathetic edges to suit his purposes.

As Pino told us, this role was “everything he wanted” in a character, one who’s shaping up to be one of the most captivating players of this chapter in the Sons of Anarchy universe as it continues. Miguel’s second season is certainly proving to be an unpredictable one with Emilio Rivera‘s Marcus Alvarez by his side. Pino was gracious enough to chat with us about what makes his cartel kingpin tick while reflecting upon The Godfather comparisons and expressing how much he enjoys being a part of this ensemble cast.

I was wondering if a season 3 renewal would arrive in time to talk with you, but this season’s ratings seems like a good enough reason to celebrate.

I’m not aware of the ratings, are they pretty good?

They’re as solid as last season, if not better, so far.

We have some incredible fans, so it doesn’t surprise me, but I am very grateful.

You played a character involved in the drug trade on a few episodes of The Shield, and he was very different from Miguel Galindo. Then you dove into good-guy detectives on procedurals like SVU and Cold Case. Did you have any apprehension in moving back to the other side of the law?

Apprehension, probably, no. It was something I sought, something I welcomed and fought for. Going in to read for Miguel Galindo for Kurt and Elgin for Norberto Barba, who is our directing producer. It was a role that I really wanted to not only convince them that I could play but myself, too. That audition was instrumental not only in me gaining the confidence of playing a character who is so complex and so different from Nick Amaro and Scotty Valens from SVU and Cold Case, respectively, that it was as important for me to audition as it was for them to see me audition. To fill those shoes and convince myself that it was something that I could do, so apprehension is not the right word, maybe more along the lines of gaining confidence in playing the role. Miguel has a certain amount of confidence that is not unlike any multinational CEO that blended with his incredible intellect and strategic mind, along with the cunning that is required to run such an illicit business. All of those things, then put through the filter of a family man, who’s dedicated to his home, to his wife, to his child, to his mother. It makes for a pretty dynamic blend. And then you put that within the prism of Kurt Sutter and Elgin James and the world of Mayans M.C., and you put him into this amazing ensemble, this beautiful, strong, talented, diverse ensemble. It’s everything that I wanted upon leaving SVU.

Miguel is such a layered character with all these opposing dichotomies pulling at him. I know you go episode-by-episode learning what happens to him, but did you know he was Ivy League-educated and polished?

I auditioned with a theme that never actually was in the pilot, so I’m not sure where that theme came from, but from the writing, I got the sense of a lot of that. And then through conversations and notes on who they intended Miguel to be, I gleaned some of that information, but I would say the majority of that was just trusting that Kurt and Elgin were gonna write a very complex character. That trust came from working with Kurt in the past on The Shield and knowing his history with writing antiheroes, people who are incredibly flawed but somehow, you end up empathizing or rooting for them or understanding them somehow, even against your better judgment. I knew that’s the very difficult balance that Kurt was gonna be looking for then. When I met Elgin, I knew he was immediately up to the task as well, so a lot of it was just faith that Miguel will have that duality that I love so much and that fans enjoying seeing that man who is capable of doing the things that [he does] and then having his feet firmly on the ground within his home.


One thing that I’ve enjoyed is how The Godfather references didn’t take long to arrive on Mayans, most explicitly in that confrontation between Miguel and EZ, who suggested that Miguel wants to be Michael Corleone.


How do you think Miguel handled that comparison?

I love that scene, especially EZ’s comment and the way that JD played it. That he doesn’t care as long as he’s not Fredo.

Yeah, that was a perfect response. No one should want to be Fredo.

I really enjoyed reading that and then being in the scene with JD. It was just fun to watch him play that and then to be, you know, hit with that in the scene. You know, I think comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable when you’re dealing with organized crime. Because it is such a sweeping work of art, The Godfather I, II, and III. They provide such an insight on how difficult it is, and the human story behind organized crime and the toll that it takes on everyone. And even the Godfather can’t avoid how violence comes back and affects the thing that he loves the most, and that’s his family. And Miguel is not immune to that. In addition, I think Miguel would have watched The Godfather, so he’s also been affected by the influence of that world, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has it in his DVD collection or saved online somewhere. But that being said, it’s certainly not a karaoke version of Michael Corleone. He’s very current. The Godfather was set after WWII, and we’re really entrenched in the border in 2019 with all the elements that we’re currently dealing with on the border in real life and politics on both sides of the border. That makes it so that we’re having to tell our story, and I think it’s difficult not to see it through the lens of The Godfather, because it’s so influential, but there are some drastic differences between Miguel and Michael, between the Corleones and the Galindos. I love how they sometimes intersect, how it’s sometimes such a divergence from what we all expect from an organized crime family.

Miguel has shown his vulnerability more than Michael, also. I think it took three movies for Michael to really feel the weight of his remorse. Do you think that Miguel had it inside him already, and circumstances pushed it out of him faster or did he develop more quickly?

Well, we’re also dealing with two different mediums. We have the luxury of telling a longer story, in TV versus film. Perhaps The Godfather, certainly in the novel, but even in the cinematic experience, I certainly would be interested to see what Francis Ford Coppola would do with The Godfather as a series, where he’s able to really take his time and dig into the characters the way that Kurt and Elgin and our writing staff are doing with our characters. I think that allows us more latitude, so we can see the range in Miguel and what he’s capable of, both extremes. His ability to emphathize not only with his family but with the people that he does business with. And I think that makes it more interesting when he decides to ignore that empathy and do what he had to do.

With season two, the goalposts have shifted for Miguel. It’s no longer “all business.” He formed a more intricate relationship with the Mayans and rebels. Are you concerned about how he’s gonna handle any double-crossing fallout?

Sure, I’m worried that the way that Miguel is worried. That’s my job, to try to get into his brain as much as I can. I think Miguel’s spent a lot of time plotting out his move on a chess board and even more time trying to figure out what his opponent’s move is gonna be, maybe two or three moves in. And that’s why he’s successful. But he’s also … the killer whale doesn’t think about what the seal thinks. He’s also the top predator. So I don’t think he spends too much time in terms of losing sleep over that.

He certainly, and this sounds trivial, spends a lot of time riding in cars and mulling over his plans. And now a lot of time with Marcus in cars. Do those scenes give you a chance to breathe a little?

I love playing this character, and to me, it’s about the range he has as opposed to any specific scene. But I always love working with Emilio Rivera. We worked together and played brothers on The Shield, and he came over and worked on SVU when I was there, and I’ve always held him in the highest regard, and as close as family as can be. To ride in a car with El Padrino and for us to have this underlying shorthand and confidence and trust, I think that just reads onscreen.

Emilio told us that he enjoyed working with you this season, but he also admitted that the air conditioning in the cars is really nice.

Yeah, a lot of people ask me whether I ride a motorcycle, and I say, “No, I just ride in the back of a Maybach.”

I won’t get into spoiler territory with Miguel’s developments this week, so let’s end with some daydreaming — if he could create a different life for his family, what would he choose?

I think you’re seeing it. I think you’re actively seeing what he is choosing. I feel that much of the promise that he made to Emily when they were married and the promise he made to his father was that he was going to legitimize the family. He’s trying to actualize that every day, and so the question isn’t whether he knows what he wants to do, the question is whether he will achieve it. And as we all know, it’s not as easy to leave an illicit business, it’s not as easy to leave organized crime, as you might think. And so the different polarities, his desires, his promises to his family, and the reality of what it would take to do what he wants to do are an existential conflict for him.

Well, hopefully his story will continue for a while, including a season three renewal.

You know, we’re all looking forward to that too, frankly. This is such a special show, so you asking questions about what we’re doing means so very much to us. Not only because I think we have amazing writing, the kind of top-level writing that FX, Kurt Sutter, and Elgin James are known for and are proud of. But we also have a super strong ensemble with inspired actors, and it is not inconsequential we’re mostly Latino.

‘Mayans M.C.’ airs Tuesday nights at 10 pm EST on FX.