Star-turned-director Danny Pino takes EW inside this week's episode of Mayans M.C., which featured the club's bloody assault on the San Bernardino Sons charter.
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for the May 31 episode of Mayans M.C., "The Righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man."

"We'll bring death to your doorstep."

Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera) and the Mayans delivered on that promise this week, when the club launched an all-out assault on the San Bernardino charter of Sons of Anarchy. The violent blitz — which Marcus ordered as retaliation for the SOA attack that killed Coco (Richard Cabral) in episode 5 — saw EZ (J.D. Pardo), Angel (Clayton Cardenas), Bishop (Michael Irby), Gilly (Vincent "Rocco" Vargas), Taza (Raoul Trujillo) and a host of other Mayans ambushing the Sons at their clubhouse, and spilling a lot of blood in the process.

Even in its quiet moments, "Righteous Wrath" packed a gut-punch: A bitter EZ made a heartbreaking confession to his father, Felipe (Edward James Olmos). And in the final moments of the episode, former cartel leader-turned-bearded fugitive Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino) found himself in the hands of a powerful rival.

Behind the camera for it all? Pino himself, who talked to EW about executing the Mayans massive mission, how The Godfather influenced the assassination sequence, and what his wife really thought about his bushy Miguel beard.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is a very pivotal episode, with Santo Padre's attack on the Sons in San Bernardino and that big reveal about Miguel's whereabouts at the end — how did you come to direct this episode?

DANNY PINO: Very circuitously, but with a certain deliberateness that was necessary in order to make it happen. When I brought up the possibility to Elgin James — who is our incredible showrunner, executive producer, and lead writer — he was excited about the opportunity, but he set up multiple thresholds for me to reach [before giving me an episode to direct]. That the form of shadowing, over the course of two seasons, multiple directors who were gracious enough to allow me to stick around and ask questions.

Elgin is an auteur — he really is a student of directing, of writing, and of acting. So there were multiple assignments — multiple books, multiple television shows and films from all over the world. [He had me watch] films from Chinese directors, and some, some classic films, some very modern, Avant-garde films. It's all in the service of making Mayans as poetic as possible.

When script 408 was assigned [to me], it was just a number, it was the eighth episode of the fourth season. It was kind of an arbitrary assignment because Elgin thought it would be beneficial for me to continue to shadow [directors] early in the season. So I got a late season assignment, and it just so happened to be the episode where, you know, a lot of meaningful, impactful things occur.

Before we even get to the massacre, there's this very powerful scene in the butcher shop where EZ confesses to Felipe about killing his ex-girlfriend, Gaby — but his tone is almost one of reproach, he's trying to hurt his dad with this confession. How did you approach filming that scene?

There was a scene between EZ and Felipe in season three, where EZ walks in and Felipe's chopping a piece of meat, and he sees EZ in the mirror and he walks over to EZ from around the cooler, and they play a scene in the middle of the carnicería.

I wanted our scene in 408 to be an answer to that scene. So I essentially took all of this, the camera set-ups from that scene in season three and applied it to this scene — so that anybody who's an avid Mayans fan will recognize, or at least feel that one scene feels like the other. In the scene from season three, EZ says that he feels like Gaby was his lifeline, that leaving with Gaby and leaving Santo Padre could potentially save him. And ultimately it was Felipe who drove Gaby away. So my interpretation [of this scene], and having conversations with J.D. and Edward James Olmos and Elgin, we all pieced it together that EZ feels like it could have been different — but for [Felipe] driving her away.

In season three, they also play a scene in the carnicería where EZ comes to meet Gaby, and Gaby's gone. And EZ asks Felipe, "What did she say?" And then he asks Felipe, "What did you say?" He is blaming his father for it. That nerve that runs through both scenes is Felipe's responsibility for driving Gaby away.

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EZ and Felipe face off in season 3 (top) and once again in season 4, episode 8.
| Credit: FX

The massacre begins with this sequence of Sons getting picked off one by one in broad daylight — in a motel room, at a coffee cart, at a stoplight. It's all intercut with shots of Marcus in this pastoral scene, watching his daughter ride a horse. It immediately reminded me of the famous baptism massacre in The Godfather. Was that an influence on this sequence in Mayans?

First of all, it makes me incredibly happy to hear you reference that sequence with our sequence. Something Elgin always talks about is how we are infusing poetry into our television series. When we started unwrapping what this sequence could be, we were starting from that place of poetry — not making it so on the nose but trying to find a poetic way of telling a brutal and savage story. And one of the references was, in fact, that baptism scene from The Godfather. I watched it multiple times.

You actually never see the violence, the carnage that happens. You only see the after effect, right? We were trying to find the tail end of the violence — so you'd see the setup and then you'd see the effect of it. We were trying to find the humanity of that victim of the violence. We're telling a very violent story, but you see the effect of that violence. Our goal is not to glamorize it, but to try and humanize it. When you see the Crow Eater holding on to [the body of] her lover in the motel, that is the effect of the violence.

The most devastating of those images might have been the shot of one victim's phone with a photo of his granddaughter on the screen — and then the phone screen just goes black.

That was one of those things. We set up the phone with the picture of the child, and we did last looks and makeup, and we set the camera and started rolling with no plans for that picture to go to black. But in that one take, the image disappeared. It was totally coincidental, but I knew as soon as it happened that that's the touch of poetry that this scene needed. We could have never planned that and executed it as perfectly as it happened.  

Of course, this leads to a huge firefight at the Sons clubhouse — it's a very intense sequence with cameras zipping everywhere to follow all the action. What was your biggest technical challenge shooting that scene?

That we had one day to shoot everything that was exterior in the SOA clubhouse in San Bernardino — all of that was one day of shooting. [It would have been impossible] without Vanessa Joy Smith, our DP, and without our stalwart, hardworking, artistic crew.

This motorcycle club was functioning as a tactical unit, who worked together, who'd planned this attack. It needed to look like they knew what they were doing and that they had done this before multiple times. The patience and generosity that the actors showed when we showed up as the sun was cresting in the East and said, "Guys, I'm really sorry, but here's what we have to do [in one day]." Every actor to a person saw what we all set up in terms of the choreography and just filled it with their own characteristics for the person that they're playing.

We don't see much of Miguel this episode for understandable reasons, but we get that great reveal at the end that he's in the custody of El Banquero's sister, Soledad. She tells him, "We have some things to discuss." Sounds ominous! What can you tease about what's ahead for Miguel?

Oh man, it makes for a very interesting plot line for Miguel. He has transformed — physically and otherwise. And him looking for sanctuary in that convent, it's a way to escape, but I think it's also a way for him to grow.

When we [first] find Miguel in the convent, he's building a wall around the cemetery. He's largely responsible, directly and indirectly for so much loss, so much death. That, to me, is indicative of Miguel's journey. Without giving away too much, his now being in the hands of somebody potentially more powerful, [we'll see] his desperation to survive.

The link that he had with Tomas — the young boy in the convent — speaks to his sense of fatherhood, of being paternal, of missing his son. Now finally being out of the convent, I think the questions are appropriate: Is Soledad going to be a lifeline, or is she going to make his life more miserable? Or is she going to end his life because of her tie with El Banquero?  

Those two actors, Selena Luna and Guillermo Garcia, they're fantastic. To work with both of them on those scenes, it was just so rich to see that sibling relationship, but with such high stakes. It just got so dark and dirty between the two characters. And to see that Sirena, Christiane Vera's character, is actually working with Soledad even though it looks like she's Banquero's right hand — those reveals are going to be important going into the rest of the season. Miguel is absolutely at rock bottom, and I think you see that in the final scene — that desperation, that confusion, that need for somebody to help him. I don't think that he's ever actually felt that before.

Is it possible that Soledad might have use for Miguel, now that her brother wants to push her out of the family business?

I think you're right to ask that question. I think that is a very valuable avenue to explore. [laughs]

Mayans MC
Danny Pino in 'Mayans M.C.'
| Credit: FX

Finally, we've got to discuss Miguel's incredible fugitive look — specifically the shaggy beard and long hair. Was this wig work or the hard work of your actual hair follicles?

This was the hard work of my wife's tolerance of allowing me to grow such a long beard and the long hair. The double takes as I walk around the, our neighborhood walking the dog [laughs] — it was definitely a transformation. I was surprised every morning, to be honest, when I would wake up and go brush my teeth. I'd look in the mirror and be like, "Oh, that's right. That's who I am today."

How long did it take to grow it out like that?

I grew it over the course of like six months, maybe seven months. So yeah, that was all me. Obviously, the sunburn and the sun spotting, that was our fabulous makeup team — but the hair was indeed mine.

What was the biggest challenge of having such, um, robust facial hair?

I'd never really grown my beard that long. I knew that my wife would not tolerate a dirty beard, so I kept it impeccable. Now there are so many products — there's, like, oils, there's beard pomade, you can make it smell nice.  When I would get bored, I'd twist the ends of the mustache and they would actually twist up like an old-time banker or something.

When I promised my wife I would shave it, I didn't tell her how. So when she got home, I had a handlebar mustache — which she did not appreciate. She did not appreciate that at all. But because I'm a husband who wants to keep our marriage interesting, I kept it for 12 hours and dropped her off at work and waved at her boss. We have fun.

Wow, you took your life in your hands there, Danny.

I did. But you know what? So did Miguel, so I just wanted to feel what he felt.

Mayans M.C. airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX

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