It’s only a 13-mile drive from San Fernando Valley’s Panorama City to Hollywood. But for actor JD Pardo, it used to feel like traveling to another world.
Looking back on those days as a 17-year-old nobody growing up in a Los Angeles working-class neighborhood, Pardo vividly remembers his constant treks to auditions and the uncertainty he felt every time he crossed over Mulholland Drive. “It was like the bridge between Panorama City and Hollywood,” explains Pardo, 38. “I just remember constantly going over Mulholland, making the trip a lot of actors make. The anticipation of the audition and then the disappointment of coming back and being like, ‘Man, I blew that one,’ and then just wondering when it was going to happen.”
Video by Kristen Harding
It did — and in so many extraordinary ways. First a model for Tommy Hilfiger and then as a half-vampire in the second half of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Pardo — whose full name is Jorge Daniel Pardo — thrived as a working actor in film and TV. (Maybe coming from Panorama City was not so bad after all; it’s also the hometown of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Terry Gilliam, Candace Cameron Bure, and Megan Good). But when the opportunity came along to headline Mayans M.C. — FX’s much-anticipated sequel to the biker drama Sons of Anarchy featuring Charlie Hunnam — Pardo knew it could be a game changer.
“I just wanted to be a part of it. It was just this monster,” Pardo recalls. “I felt like it could be a great opportunity for me, the first time, really, to be put in a position where I could really show what I can do.”
Interestingly, Pardo wasn’t originally considered for the lead role of EZ Reyes, a college dropout who joins the motorcycle club after a series of life-altering run-ins with the law. The actor, whose father is from Argentina and mother is from El Salvador, admits he didn’t exactly have the swagger of a Harley-straddling outlaw. “I really just had the heart,” he says with a smile. “There was nothing about me that screamed biker. I was probably 150 pounds at the time. I just had on these jeans, boots, and T-shirt. I saw everybody else showing up looking hardcore and of that world. That just wasn’t me. I knew that going in. I just felt like it was an opportunity where I could just…I said to myself, ‘What is it that I can give him?’”
Fortunately, creator Kurt Sutter saw Pardo’s vulnerability and encouraged him to come back another day and read for EZ. “I was like, ‘I can’t do that because it’s going to take me an hour and a half to get there and an hour and a half to get back. How about you just give me the [lines] now, I’ll go outside and for 45 minutes I’ll study them. He said, ‘Let’s see what you got.’ I went outside to the parking lot and memorized those seven pages, came in, spent about 40 minutes with him. It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life, I’ll tell you that. Something said, ‘Stay, do it now. Don’t wait.’ I did it.”
But there still was the issue of his clean-cut appearance, which suited him well in movies like A Cinderella Story in 2004 and the NBC drama Revolution in 2012. With Sutter’s blessing, Pardo spent 10 months gaining 30 pounds of weight and muscle so he’d look more at home in the gritty Mayans clubhouse. “I was eating 7,000 calories a day,” recalls Pardo. “It was painful. It was horrible. I didn’t like it at all but I had fear as a motivator. I felt like if I didn’t do this, they were going to find somebody else to [play EZ].”
And there was an upside — at least for his ogle-eyed fans. “When I booked this job, I had so many people sending me memes of Charlie Hunnam’s butt or him coming out of the shower on Sons of Anarchy,” Pardo recalls, laughing. “I just knew it was a matter of time before I had to do something like that.”
In fact, it happened in the very first episode, when EZ was introduced as the son of a widower (Edward James Olmos) who joins the same border town MC as his brother Angel. (Clayton Cardenas). “We’re reading [the first script] and as we got down to the scene that says, ‘EZ takes the shirt off,’ Kurt just stopped everybody and he said, ‘Your welcome, ladies.’ Everyone just started laughing. I was like, ‘Okay, gear up. Get ready because this is what it’s going to look like.’”