After war with the Sons and war amongst themselves, the loss of club members, the fracturing of relationships, shocking revelations, and shifting dynamics, the Season 4 finale of Mayans M.C. left scorched earth in its wake and an uncertain future for Santo Padre. EZ Reyes (JD Pardo) and his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) will have to figure out how to move on and move forward, and decide where their individual paths will ultimately lead them.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, co-creator/showrunner Elgin James talked about this season’s departure of Richard Cabral and his character Coco, the process they go through when deciding which characters will die and when, why no one is truly safe, the decision to bring Tig (Kim Coates) onto the show, earning the moment between Tig and Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera), how the story arc evolved for Manny Montana, the inevitability of EZ’s journey, and what that means for the brother dynamic, moving forward.
ELGIN JAMES: Anyone paying attention would see that Richie was in the writers’ room this season and he was with us, so he was part of that. He gutted all of us. That was really tough. I knew it was gonna fall on an episode that I shot because I wanted it to, just out of respect for the character, and also my collaborator and friend. But that was really hard. It was hard on the crew and it was hard on the cast. That’s how life works. For anyone who’s lost someone that you love, there’s never an opportune time. It always makes you angry. It’s hard to capture that, on TV or in film. When someone dies, who’s not your 95-year-old grandparent, it’s gutting and it feels like not only the rug got swept out from underneath you, but the earth got swept out more underneath you. How the fuck do you move on? How does the world keep spinning? That’s what we really wanted to capture, all of us. For better or worse, we did, but it was painful to shoot. The performance that he gave, and the performance that Vanessa Giselle, who plays Hope, gave in that phone call, was beautiful.
And I think it really says a lot about the character that the funeral has the effect that it does, at the beginning of the episode. It really looms over everything.
What is your process for killing a character off? Are there characters that you’ve ever written a death scene for, and then changed your mind? Have you ever decided to kill off a different character than what you had originally planned? How do those decisions happen?
JAMES: Writers are a blood thirsty bunch. Every writer we’ve had, tries to kill people off, all the time and it always makes me a little crazy. They’re sitting in a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned room, eating free snacks, talking about killing a character off, and I’m like, “Yo, they have a family and a mortgage.” These are friends and collaborators. So, that’s a pet peeve I have with writers. But I really learned from Jason Katims when I got to work with him. The first thing I ever did in television was just a month long mini room and he just loved his characters. He didn’t wanna kill them off. And these were characters where we were just starting on this show and they didn’t even really exist yet. There were no actors. There was nothing. These were just people that we started to spend time with, and just that honor and respect that he had for them, that stayed in my bones. So, it is hard to kill characters off. It has to be for a real reason. It has to be for the purpose of like what happened with Coco, where it’s just gutting, but that’s also what happens. Your friend is finally getting everything together and there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, that’s too often when and how it happens. But with our writers, everyone would be dead on our show. Literally, our show would just be a black screen, if the writers had their way.
JAMES: Everyone. I’m kidding. That’s a great question. I think everyone has had a writer take a go at them. Every character on there, someone has pitched their death, at some point, so every actor should be nice to your writers, when you show up on set, or they’re gonna try to murder you, behind your back. Poor Sarah Bolger, when we talked during the hiatus about what was gonna happen to her character, we had to do it over Zoom. There was a glitch, so when I said, “It seems totally like Emily should die and that we’re gonna Emily off,” she didn’t fully understand what I had said. She thought I was killing her off, but being super glib about it, and I didn’t know if she was frozen or what had happened. What she’s done the last two seasons is take this character that’s so perfect and so well put together, and who always has the right articulate things to say, and then she was so willing and with such a lack of vanity to crack her open, has just been phenomenal to watch. I could geek out about every one of our actors. I could geek out about what [Vincent “Rocco” Vargas] has done this season. Frankie [Loyal] stole a whole episode with one phone call, in our premiere. In the first episode of the season, that one phone call to his mom, he stole the episode and everyone in that room knew it. We have such talented people, I don’t wanna kill anybody off, but in Season 5, they’re gonna start dropping like flies.
JAMES: That was from the beginning. When I first started working with Kurt [Sutter], and then once you got a whole writers’ room together, we had a list of people we wanted. Most people were dead, so it wasn’t a long list. Ray McKinnon was always first for me because I think he’s one of the greatest living actors, writers, and directors. He’s an incredible mentor to me. He’s who I go to. He’s my true north. I get most of my advice from him. I get everything from Ray. So, that was really important. Kim [Coates] is such a talent. We always wanted Kim, from the very beginning. We wanted Kim in the pilot. It was actually Kurt who was just like, “Slow down. We need to establish this as its own thing first. We need to establish Mayans as its own show. We need to earn it.” That was really important. In some ways, maybe we hadn’t fully earned it, but with this one, I felt like we’d taken our time. It was inevitable that we were gonna end up with this war. People wanted it right away, but it took until Season 4 to earn it, with all the repercussions of what happened in previous seasons. And then, we get to that last episode with Kim and Emilio [Rivera], and hopefully we earned that moment. Tig was the easiest one to write for. I wrote that script with Sean Varela, who’s a phenomenal writer that’s been with us from the beginning. He started off as a writer’s PA, and now is a staff writer. This season, it was like fan fiction for us to write for Tig. It was so embedded in our bones and our DNA that, when we gave it to him, we almost apologized. We were like, “This is probably bad,” but Kim loved it. He took out a couple words, and there was one other thing that he did, but everything else, he went with. He took these words on a piece of paper into this whole other area that only Kim can traverse because he’s such a phenomenal talent.
The scene between Tig and Marcus Alvarez is not only the best scene in that episode, but it’s the best scene of the season and really one of the best moments in the history of Sons and Mayans. There was just so much there, especially with the whole old man versus good man aspect of it and all of the history between them.
JAMES: Yeah. Emilio and I talk all the time about being dudes that maybe people would see getting older and losing their edge. Emilio has not lost that edge, and I wanna set shit on fire, all the time. I wanna punch everybody in the face, all the time. But what you learn is the consequences of what you’ve done, all the other times you have set rooms on fire, and you live with that, especially once you become a father, which we’ve explored a lot with Marcus. We’re able to explore stuff with Marcus Alvarez that he did in the first season of Sons with his son, and have those repercussions and consequences. Emilio and I talk about that because a lot of people don’t understand. A lot of people chalk it up to age or even wisdom, but it’s not even that. It’s just trying to cause the least amount of damage in the world as you can because you look in your rearview mirror and you see all the horrific damage you’ve caused, to strangers and to the people that you love. That’s what that conversation was about. That was really a conversation very similar to what Emilio and I have had, as friends.
I also loved the scene with Tig strangling the guy in the hospital bed, and then joking to the nurse about it. It’s the perfect encapsulation of who Tig has always been, with his inappropriate humor. How did that scene come about, and what was that like to shoot?
JAMES: That was so fun. That was on the page, but then he added a couple things that we never could have thought of. It’s only Kim Coates, and that crazy, brilliant, terribly disturbed mind that could ever have thought of it. That was a blast. The only hard part about having Kim on set was the line of crew and cast that took selfies with him. He had a hero’s welcome. I can’t tell you what it was like to have that guy on set, for everyone. Everyone was so excited. As soon as they found out, people were talking about it nonstop. It was a king’s welcome for him. He’s just so electric, so alive, and so present. It was really exciting to have Greg [Vrotsos], who plays Terry, with him, and throwing them together. Hopefully, we’ll give some more Tig. We have some people we wanna throw into scenes with him, that we think are pretty electric and wild, and we can’t wait to have them share space with Tig.
When you brought Manny Montana onto the show, did you always know that his run would be done by the end of the season? Did you always know what would happen to his character, or did that evolve?
JAMES: It evolved. We always knew it was gonna be for a little while. Manny is just such a rad dude. He’s a great actor, who’s just alive and really present. We knew he and JD [Pardo] would be fun to watch together. And with Clay [Cardenas], they turned in this great triangle. We always knew we wanted it to seem like that was gonna be like the new wave of the show, but we always knew it wasn’t gonna last. Every day we had with Manny was just really special. Originally, it was maybe gonna happen in the middle of the season, and then we were like, “We’ve gotta keep this going. We’ve gotta find a way to push this to the end.” And then, it comes down to the characters and the actors. I wanted to see Manny and JR Bourne, who plays Isaac, together. Even with Tig, everything is a heavyweight battle. Last season, we had Agent Linares and Adelita. When you have Efrat [Dor] and Carla [Baratta], that’s a heavyweight bout with those two coming out of their corners and just going at it. And a love scene is a heavyweight bout with this talent. It was really fun to bring on this heavyweight in Manny Montana, and then throw him against certain people. He and JD are such polar opposites when it comes to their characters, which is so much fun. And then, as a goodbye, we wanted to throw him in with JR and see what happens, and I think that turned into a pretty electric scene.
JAMES: From the beginning, when Kurt and I first talked about EZ, as we were creating all the characters, we always knew there was an inevitability of where he was gonna go. He thought he was gonna go to Stanford, but that was always gonna spit him out and send him back. Even last season, we had to suspend our own disbelief. Is the main character of your show gonna drive off into the sunset? Probably, rationally, no, but we had to really believe that he would and try to earn that moment, so it feels awful when he doesn’t and he’s betrayed by his father. So, we always did know where EZ was gonna go. Did we step on the gas a little bit in Season 4? For sure, because we wanna get to where we’re going. And JD Pardo, talk about brave actors. That guy could get away with his looks and his smile and his natural charm, as an actor, forever, and he was the one who was like, “Let’s go. Let’s do this. Let’s take off the handcuffs.” And it won’t just be an exploration of the darkness. We had go there in Season 4, but there has to be a limit to the things that you’ll do. We’ll find out for EZ, in Season 5, just how far he’ll go. He’s definitely going dark. He’s making unjustifiable decisions to try make some sort of justice in the world. He’s doing what his brother couldn’t, what his father couldn’t, and what no one could. His father is a monster, but he was too selfish to use being a monster to protect his family. Angel wanted to help save the club, but Angel fell in love with Adelita and everything became compromised. With Bishop, his ego got involved because of the trauma that he’d experienced with Alvarez. I don’t mean ego in a negative way, but it’s still an egocentric thing, or out of ego, to try to make peace for the damage that he’s done in the past, even if he’s trying to make the club right. Even if it’s the right decision, morally, it may not be the best thing for the machine. The Mayans machine is this hungry monster that wants to eat bodies and wants to do terrible things, by its nature. It’s EZ who’s selfless enough. Even though it seems like it’s out of power, it’s really not. He doesn’t trust anybody else in the room to be at the head of that monster.
JAMES: East of Eden, which is tattooed on my arm and is one of my favorite books, probably influenced me more than anything. From the outside, when we first met these two, they seemed like there were something else, but their two nature has always been a certain way. Angel was born sweet. Angel is his mom, for better or worse, and EZ is a reflection of his father. It started one way, and then it was gonna shift and go and turn, before it ends up somewhere else, where hopefully it feels inevitable. It was always gonna be this way. Hopefully, if you go back to the very beginning, you’ll see there was only one way that this was gonna end. It’s hard because we don’t wanna break apart that chemistry between the brothers. That’s our show. We are an ensemble and we treat it as an ensemble, but a lot of that comes from the generosity and the selflessness of JD Pardo and Clayton Cardenas. They embrace it being treated like an ensemble, but really, the core of the show is the relationship between those two brothers. It’s hard to break them apart, but it’ll be interesting to find that balance between the two. You may be frustrated. You may be terrified. You may be brokenhearted. But you’re still connected and you still love each other, so what does that look like?
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.