Four years ago, the Sons of Anarchy finale left behind a huge swath of fans who yearned for even more tales about the motorcycle culture. Their prayers have been answered in the form of Mayans MC, a spinoff that focuses on a young prospect named EZ (JD Pardo) who, through a series of unfortunate events, has decided to become an outlaw biker. In anticipation of tonight’s premiere on FX, EW talked to co-creator Kurt Sutter about the show’s origin and whether we have truly seen and heard the last of SOA character John Teller.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you remember the first time you even uttered the idea of a Mayans spinoff?
KURT SUTTER: FX Distribution was trying to work out a deal with some Spanish language affiliate or network. They asked me if I had any content or ideas that might live in the Spanish language world. The only thing that came to mind was how we had this outlaw club, the Mayans, which is steeped in the Latino culture. It never came to fruition or at least not to the point where they would pursue those ideas. Then as Sons of Anarchy was wrapping, they were trying to find ways to keep it going. We had talked about the idea of a prequel, which I still want to do.
How would you execute that?
It would be a one-off called First Nine. It’ll begin in Vietnam with John and Piney (played in SOA by William Lucking). There will be one episode for each guy who joins the first nine. That’s what I want to do. As far as a new series, the Mayans made the most sense. We started talking about it more seriously, but FX CEO John Landgraf and I both knew that we didn’t want to do it right on the heels of SOA. We wanted to let it breathe for a couple of years. As I finished doing post [production] on the last season of Sons, I began the writers room for The Bastard Executioner. That only lasted a season. When I came back and my deal was still in play, that’s when we started pursuing it more seriously.
What were your initial thoughts about fleshing out the script?
I knew I wanted it to be on the border. I knew I wanted a prospect to be our protagonist who was not of the life. There was no Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam of SOA), there was no lineage. He would be an outsider.
How did you explain to Emilio Rivera, the primary Mayans character from SOA, that the show wasn’t about him?
I knew I would never have to worry about Emilio. I love that guy. I know that’s a word that gets thrown around a lot but I sincerely have deep respect and love for Emilio. I always tell this story. In the pilot of SOA, he was a member of the club. His name was Hawk. People’s understanding of the outlaw biker culture is so two-dimensional, so trying to explain that a white club could have Latin and Asian guys but not black guys … to try to explain that in the context of the pilot would have been difficult. So we decided not to have Hawk. I had to call Emilio and say, ‘Dude look, you’re not a series regular anymore but I’m going to make this antagonist club part of the series and I’d like you to be the guy who runs that club. It’s not a series regular. It’ll be a guest-starring role.’ His response was, ‘Oh my God, thank you so much. Thank you for keeping me part of this.’ It wasn’t like, ‘Oh f—, I lost the better gig for the lesser gig.’ He just went straight to gratitude. I was like, f—, I want this guy around me. That energy and that gratitude is so palpable. When I met with him about Mayans and said, ‘You’re going to be a linchpin, you’ll be in about five or six episodes,’ He was so happy and excited to be a part of it.”
So will he lord over the Mayans MC? Does he remain the Mayans founder?
There are different structures within motorcycle clubs. Sons was the structure that was much more independent and each charter ran itself like a state. There were parameters that they had to fulfill to call themselves Sons of Anarchy. There were dues. Some of those dues went to the mother club but it wasn’t about kicking up percentages. Then there are MCs like gangs that are run by shot callers who make decisions that trickle down to every club, to every gang, to every crew. That’s the case for the Mayans. Alvarez is essentially the shot caller. I changed his title because he’s been at it for so long. He’s El Padrino, the godfather. The idea is not that he’s getting older and trying to separate himself. Clubs become a little more independent and the [shot callers] hand off the responsibilities to other people.
The development of this sequel took some time. Did you have a full course correction midway through?
It always changes for the good. The truth is, the notes I got from the networks in terms of clarity were needed because I had been living in that world and working on it for so long. My introduction of things was much more subtle, as if people would know what was going on. I had to introduce the world before I could turn it upside down. When I started Sons, there was never a mandate to have strong female characters. It was a show about bikers. It was action driven. But because of the nature of the world, the women played a bigger role. When we did the pilot for Mayans, we made the mistake of asking, ‘Who are our strong female characters?’ It was like, ‘Oh we have to have a mother, then we have this love interest.’ We had a mother in the pilot, but I spent so much time making her not be like Gemma that she became two-dimensional. I took that mandate away. I realized this is a show about two brothers and a father with clunky, sparse emotional skills. How do those men navigate in their ham-fisted way around all the high stakes emotional problems?
Some of your Mayans, as you have said, are ex-cons. What does that say about the Hollywood acting pool? Are they just not good at playing tough dudes?
The reality is, there’s a smaller pool of actors in the Latino community. What happens is when there is a glitch, socially or politically, there’s this mandate to suddenly wedge in some color into your show. I feel like the pool became smaller because a lot of these actors, roles that were written for white guys or white women, suddenly became, ‘let’s make the role a Latino or a Latina.’ They are being wedged in as the politically-correct shade. As a result of that, the pool of actors has become much smaller. In this world, casting is everything. I have to have all the details of the world really authentic. A lot of the actors I auditioned were pretty brown people trying to act like badasses. It didn’t work. Even JD Pardo, there was something unique about him. He was tough but naive tough. He was the perfect balance against guys like Clayton Cardenas [who plays EZ’s brother Angel] and Richard Cabral [Mayans member Coco] and Emilio who lived the life and served time. To drop a guy like Pardo’s EZ in that world is perfect because that is who EZ is.
Mayans MC premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on FX.