Mayans M.C. launched four years ago in the shadow of Sons Of Anarchy. It’s now 2022, and everything has not only changed within this world but also within this FX franchise. The spinoff’s now in the thick of Season 4 with Elgin James pulling sole showrunner duties (Kurt Sutter left the building long ago), and Danny Pino, who portrays drug lord Miguel Galindo, now takes the director’s seat for the first time. This move has been a long time coming for him, given that Pino’s done a lot of Hollywood time. That includes a recent return to a beloved role for Law & Order: SVU‘s 500th episode along with more fearsome characters, not only in Mayans but also The Shield.
In Mayans, however, Pino’s character (who is, at times, both unspeakably ruthless and empathetic) has taken quite a turn. No longer is he simply the Ivy League-educated prodigal son of the Santo Padre drug trade. Rather, he’s heavily bearded and hiding out in a convent after leaving his luxurious life (and Michael Corleone-esque ways) behind. He’s on the run from everyone; his wife has also run away after he attempted to poison her out of vengeance for her betrayal and let’s just say that Miguel’s life is messy. Ain’t no drama like biker-related drama is what I always say.
While Miguel’s (relatively) sidelined, Danny Pino has gearing up to direct, and now, he’s doing it on his own for Season 4, Episode 8. It’s a heck of an episode, too, after the death of a fan-favorite biker and as the Mayans and Sons engage in war, this time for real. Danny was kind enough to speak with us (shortly after the devastating Texas school shooting in Uvalde) about his realization of his long-running directorial plan and how he dealt with all of that unfamiliar hair.
Hey Danny, thanks for talking about Mayans with me today. I know that we’ve all got this shadowy cloud hanging over us.
Of course. And thank you for bringing that up, and I agree. Everything else seems trivial.
And we’re all struggling to find words to process this.
Unfortunately, it feels like, you know, it doesn’t seem like words are getting to the right people so that we can fix this epidemic that we have going on. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking, sometimes you can get lulled into thinking that it’s hopeless, but it’s not. We have the power to change it.
And of course, now I have to awkwardly change the subject.
Yeah. [Laughs] Yes, yes.
So, this episode that you directed, whoa, it looks great. I was taken aback at how beautiful the lighting is and striking the shots are. It felt like I was watching Ozark but had no trouble seeing everything without cranking up the brightness.
Thank you very much for that. It gives me an opportunity to quite literally shed light on the first person who makes every frame a piece of art. And that is Vanessa Joy Smith, who started off as a camera operator on Mayans in Season 1, and then moved into the cinematographer position and just flourished. So to be able to create those frames with her and think about what those scenes would look like, I had the advantage of not only being on the show, obviously as an actor, but also Elgin James encouraged me to shadow him and other directors on our show over the course of the last few years. He knew that I had an interest and a passion to tell stories and to direct and to expand my artistic expression and to continue to challenge myself as an artist. And I think that he probably recognized some of himself in that, and opened up many doors to me, to the department heads. And allowed me to ask them questions and one of those people was Vanessa. To tag along and ask her questions about what her taste for film and television and to watch things that she enjoyed watching, a long list of recommended material that Elgin suggested, that he derived some of his inspiration from, whether it was old-school film to some Asian films and Chinese cinema…
That Asian influence really comes through in this episode’s battle scenes.
… and really getting an understanding of that and applying it to the script that I was lucky to inherit when I was assigned Episode 408. Nobody really knew what that meant. We just knew that was the eighth episode in the fourth season because the storylines hadn’t really been broken yet. So we didn’t really know what all was going to land in Episode 408. It turns out that I received a huge gift in the depth and also the action, the kinetic energy in the episode. I got very fortunate with that combination of emotion and action, and it was really up to me and try not to mess it up. [Laughs] And to rely on the incredible ensemble of actors and equally incredibly talented and artistic crew. And editors to collaborate on telling the story.
What an episode to direct, too. The Sons of Anarchy are at war with the Mayans, who are sending a message to Charming. That feels like a lot of pressure for you?
I think fear is a great motivator. But it certainly helps to feel supported in every way from Elgin to the studio to our network, FX, and like I said, this cast and this crew. Having worked with them for the last three seasons and having built friendships and relationships, artistic and otherwise, to be able to collaborate on something that means so much to all of us. We all have skin in this game, and so I knew I wasn’t alone. And so sure, there was some intimidation, but more than that, it was excitement to be able to tell this particular story.
I know you can’t tell me any spoilers, but hey, is Miguel okay after this episode?
C’mon, could you give me any reassurance here?
You know, Kimberly, I respect you too much to… tip my hand in any way, but I will say that our writers, specifically Elgin James, has a way of writing himself into a corner, only to kick through the wall.
That’s very cryptic. You’ve got me really wondering here.
Let’s talk about your transformation. It’s a very new look for Miguel. With the facial hair and the new hair, how much of that was makeup?
Oh none of it, none of it was makeup.
Because you recently showed up on Law and Order: SVU‘s 500th episode looking, well, not like you do in Mayans right now, so that’s impressive.
No, I mean, all the hair was mine. The sunburn and the sunspots and the beating down of what Miguel has been doing at the convent, that was makeup. But the hair, the facial hair and the locks were all mine, which my wife protested vociferously about it, and nobody was happier when I cut it all off and shaved than she was. But I had to give her one last flavor of rebellion. I told her I would shave, but she came home to a handlebar mustache.
You know, you gotta keep things interesting in a marriage.
Well, now I’m very distracted by that.
Are you going to post a picture of the mustache on Twitter?
I’ll keep the anticipation… buoyant.
Speaking of social media, this show’s fans are enthused and very vocal. How much attention do you pay to that?
I really enjoy our fandom. They’re smart, they’re sarcastic. The anticipation they have for every episode, they’re prognosticating as to what will eventually befall certain characters. It’s amusing and sometimes very accurate. I don’t ever give that up, I don’t like to put spoilers out there, but oftentimes on shows, there’s a feeling that you are performing in a vacuum. Unlike live theater, where you get immediate feedback, and the experience of shooting something months before and having it edited/sculpted and finally having people see it. And to get on social media and to hear that people are enjoying it. There’s something very gratifying about that, and to be able to have a dialogue with people who appreciate all the work and time and effort and the emotion that goes into it. The ownership of the material that goes into it.
Almost ironically, Miguel is almost on an island to himself, so to speak, this season. I talked to you before Season 2, and you mentioned how everybody asked if you were gonna ride, and you said that you only rode in a Maybach, and Miguel is very far from that Maybach now. I imagine you’re still seeing the usual suspects, even though you’re not in scenes with them?
It’s a strange dichotomy to be honest because while Miguel is isolated and certainly the faces of the actors who I was working with this season were new to me and to Miguel. I’ve never spent more time on set with this cast and this crew as I did this season. From prepping Episode 1 of Season 4 with Elgin and being there right alongside him, shadowing him. Spending time on set and asking questions and observing to having out with the cast. Miguel didn’t make an appearance until Episode 4 this season, but I was on set throughout every episode leading up to that. Every day, all day, which is very rare for any actor. In general, an actor shows up when he or she is called. They get in makeup and hair and they shoot however many scenes they have, and then they go home. The crew continues to shoot, but as a shadowing director, I was there from dark to dark. Even then, the crew is generally there an hour before call time, and an hour after wrap, putting things away. It was very eye-opening for me. I mean, I knew this, and I’ve spent enough time in the industry to know that intellectually, The hours involved, but to feel it physically, viscerally, along with the crew and to observe that. The irony is that Miguel isn’t seen for the majority of this season, but I certainly felt much more present as a member of this ensemble and this crew.
We’re running short on time, but I wanted to say that I just realized you and Emilio Rivera were in an SVU episode together. And it feels like everyone has guest-starred on that show.
Yeah, and Emilio and I actually go back to The Shield.
The timelines are all kinds-of crossed right now! You were a baddie on The Shield.
Emilio and I played brothers, and that was one of the first things I did in Los Angeles and in front of the camera. I was in a conservatory theater program and done mostly stage work, and one of the first things I did in Los Angeles was to work with Emilio, and then one of the next things we did together was to work on SVU. But we’ve always had this kind-of shorthand because we came up together, so the relevance of us being on Mayans and working so closely together, especially when Alvarez and Galindo were quite literally working together , there were a lot of layers in that experience. He’s one of those guys, when Emilio calls, I’m there.
He’s a class act. And hey, I’m looking forward to seeing the social media reaction to your episode next week.
Thank you, Kimberly. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the episode. We certainly spent a lot of time on it. There was a lot of love and effort put into it.
FX’s ‘Mayans M.C.’ airs on 10:00pm EST on Tuesdays (and next day on Hulu).