When Mayans M.C. debuted last year, executive producers Kurt Sutter and Elgin James initially only brought over one actor from Sons of Anarchy to bridge the gap between universe installments. We’re talking about Emilio Rivera, who plays Marcus Alvarez, known to viewers as the Mayans’ Oakland chapter leader and apparent national president. Given that Marcus was the second character to appear onscreen on Sons (after Charlie Hunnam’s Jax), it just felt right for the universe to carry on with his story. He’s also known as El Padrino (“The Godfather”) on the series, which is about to launch a second season, and change has arrived for Marcus. When we last saw him, he did the unthinkable by removing his cut after eight seasons of biker-drama madness. This was an emotional moment for fans and the actor.
Rivera was kind enough to talk with us about what Marcus will be doing in Mayans M.C.‘s second season. We also chatted about his stand-up comedy background, his time on the Con Air set, and how he was absolutely thrilled to recently witness Kurt Sutter speaking out about superhero movie violence. Emilio’s also got some advice for Marcus Alvarez, who will hopefully heed those words.
Hi Emilio. Congratulations on Season 2 of Mayans.
Thank you very much. I’m really proud of the show.
Are you feeling a little less pressure this season to deliver?
You know what? No, I always have pressure, but that’s my own personal thing. I like pressure, so I just wanna be sure that what Kurt [Sutter] and Elgin [James] are writing, I want to put the performance behind the words because the words are very powerful and going all over the place. I’m really proud of the writing, but I’m proud of what the guys are really doing. It’s some badass work, man.
If I were to have spoken with Marcus years ago, I’d have congratulated him for outliving Jax Teller. Were you ever afraid for his future?
Of course! When I was with Sons, and they started killing people, and Opie died, I remember going to Kurt because I knew my time was coming, especially when I was fighting with the Sons. But I told Kurt, “When it’s time for me to get killed, please, you know, don’t do it in a chickenshit way.” I wanted to go down with guns blazing. I wanted to go down hardcore. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Your death will be a good death.” And then I walked away, and I said, “Shit! I’m gonna die!” [Chuckles.] I set myself up for that, but happily, I’m still doing the Mayans M.C., you know.
Marcus ended the first season with a new job for the Galindo cartel leader. I’m a little worried about him after seeing what happened to Devante.
I don’t know. I’m worried, too. I went from being a leader to not really being a follower but a sideman to a frontman. Miguel Galindo is pretty ruthless, as you have seen, but he’s also very book smart, whereas Marcus is street smart, so I think it’s a good combination. But I do miss hanging with the guys already, motorcycles, and that kind of stuff, but it’s been interesting. The part I miss is with being with the guys every day, and now, I’m with Galindo quite a bit, but I’m a big fan of Danny Pino, man. It’s kinda cool, working with him.
I never thought I’d see Alvarez take off his cut.
Nobody ever did, and I didn’t think it would come up, either, but you know, hopefully more starts to unfold this season, and we’ll see what happens.
It’s the same cut as the one you wore in Sons, so obviously, there’s a lot of history there. How did you find out that moment was coming?
You know, Kurt has always been very respectful, man. Whenever there’s something huge like that, when we’re gonna do a different arc, to do a shocker, he’s always good with talking about it beforehand. And you know what? I go by what Kurt does because we didn’t get eight years of this motorcycle show by doing wrong things. Sometimes it seems wrong, but you never know.
You were first cast as a Son. Traveling back to the Sons Of Anarchy pilot, Marcus and the Mayans were obviously SAMCRO rivals. Fast forward to Mayans M.C., and the two clubs get along great. Does all of this feel like a strange journey to you?
I never knew what was going to happen when I was beefing with the Sons, when I was slapping Jax Teller around or something was going wrong. I’d say to myself that next week, I was gonna get it, they’re gonna let me have it. But never knowing what would happen was cool because if I didn’t know, then the audience didn’t know, you know what I’m saying? And it keeps them on the edge of their seats. It’s been a very slow-fast, emotional ride, and I’ve been enjoying it. The show is almost as good as riding a motorcycle.
People really dig one of your stand-up sets from the year 2000. You talked about how there weren’t many roles for Latinos, other than gangbangers and drug dealers, and you said, “I want to do work that has meaning.” Did you find that meaning?
All of my work, whether it’s a stereotype or a negative model, will always bring meaning because I always bring some part of my life into my character. You can’t damn the people who are gang-related because I remember when I was, we had codes, and sometimes it’s your only family. I come from a big family, but that was my strong family that you go to when shit is not going right. I lost most of my guys over the years because of the streets, but those guys were definitely there when no one else was. So the thing is, in the comedy, I exaggerated the women I dated and other things, but in the roles that I’ve taken, I’ve maybe played about 40 normal guys and 140 bad guys. And I remember all the bad guys, but I don’t remember the good guys too much. You know what I’m saying? I put a part of myself into the bad guys, trying to find the good in them because they don’t know they’re bad.
Do you ever think about making a return to stand-up?
Well, I do two shows a year. One is a charity show, a Christmas show, for ToysForTots. And then I do another one for whoever wants to put me up. I’m not cheap, so that’s the thing. And stand-up takes you all over the place, and I’m older now. I like to be at home with my wife, boy, and dogs, that’s my thing. I like to go to work, and it’s cool because I’m at home, and with the Mayans, I’m with my other family, so I’m always with family, which is a beautiful thing. To go out again and do the comedy, I don’t think I have the energy for that anymore.
Well, you’ve been in over 70 movies, including one of my favorite ridiculous action flicks, Con Air.
Yeahhh. That was one of the best experiences of my career. With that job, I made enough money to buy two homes, and I was able to quit my day job in 1995 because of that movie. It was one of the best experiences for me with the biggest stars, and I learned a lot from them, just being able to watch them.
Do you have any favorite moments from the set?
Too many. A lot of practical jokes that I can’t talk about. It was like 22 crazy guys, just having the time of their lives. It was a lot of fun, I remember one time … [dissolves into laughter] … no, I can’t say that either. But there were a lot of great times! A lot of stuff just popped into my head. You know, the one thing is that isn’t that bad is that I was a big John Malkovich fan. So I remember sitting in the makeup trailer, and I was just cast, so I didn’t know the extent of all the actors, but I look at the cast sheet, and I see John Malkovich. I’m sitting down, and you know who comes in and sits next to me? Fuckin’ John Malkovich. I’ve never been star-struck, but I was star-struck that day, and I remember he said, “Good morning,” and I didn’t even answer him. There were like 14 hours in that day, and then I was just an actor like him, and we talked a lot during Con Air.
What’s great is that Con Air would go on to become one of the least crazy Nic Cage movies of all time.
I know, right? He had just come out from winning the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, and I didn’t know what to think with him coming to this movie, but he was cool as well.
You’ve also been in two movies with Venom (Spider-Man 3, Venom), which gives me a chance to bring up something relevant to Mayans. At Comic-Con, Kurt Sutter called out superhero movies for being “more irresponsible” than Mayans with onscreen violence. What do you have to say to people who will still argue the issue?
You know, that was the best comment and the best way to explain it that I have ever heard of, and I was there that day. When one of our bad guys does something bad, there’s always retribution. Maybe not on the next episode, maybe not until the next season, but the bad guy always loses, you get what I’m saying? And if you watch Sons all those years, I mean, as much as I love Jax, in the end, Jax was going off the deep end, and he took himself out, so everybody gets theirs. Whereas when you see these movies, these guys have M-60s built into their hands, they take out whole cities before they get to the actual culprit, so I think it’s right on point what Kurt has said. When he said that, I was like, “Drop the mic, man!”
Yeah, and some of the Avengers movies are stuffed full of civilian casualties that are sometimes addressed but often ignored.
Yeah, it was so badass when Kurt said that, after all the years that I’ve been hearing shit about all the shows I’ve been on, I said, “You can’t top that.” That’s gonna be my new explanation. I’m gonna steal that from Kurt Sutter. I mean, what else can you say about it? It’s fucking true. Think about that. In our shows, we only go after the people who need it when they come after us. Any time you wear a different cut or flag or color, there’s always gonna be conflict, but between the two different colors. Not against the whole town or the whole world. So yeah, when Kurt said that, it was beautiful, man.
I wish Marcus luck in his new, second-season role. If you had any advice for him, what would it be?
I would tell Marcus Alvarez this: “Watch your back, brother.”
‘Mayans M.C.’ returns for a second season on Tuesday, September 3 on FX.