From showrunner Elgin Jamesthe fourth season of the FX drama series Mayans MC has brought the war directly to the doorstep of Santo Padre, forcing them to not only face retaliation from other chapters out for blood after an attempt to align under one King blew up in their faces, but also deal with the Sons of Anarchy seizing on every opportunity to take them out. EZ Reyes (JD Pardo) and his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) are fracturing under the weight of it all, as the Club tries to figure out its next steps.
During this interview with Collider, Edward James Olmos (who plays Felipe Reyes, the father of EZ and Angel) and his real-life son Michael D. Olmos (who directed Episode 404, “A Crow Flew By”) talked about what they enjoy about working together, bringing the authenticity of the show’s storytelling to life, finding the emotional and psychological truth of each moment, the shifts in father-son dynamics, and Michael’s desire to hopefully direct another episode of the series in the future.
Collider: Michael, what’s it like to direct your father? He’s a veteran who’s worked at his craft for a long time, and he’s also something of an acting icon, but then he’s also family. How do you approach that and balance that out, on set?
MICHAEL OLMOS: It’s a blessing to be able to have the opportunity to do it. When we’re at video village just kicking back, it’s just my dad, and we’re talking. And then, we’ll switch gears when the scene is up, and get into the work, and that’s a lot of fun. I love watching him work. I get excited when I’m on set directing. Watching him work is magic. There’s not much I have to do except just make sure the camera is in the right place, and then watch it come alive and watch the other actors feed off of it. It’s a lot of fun.
Do you direct him and collaborate with him any differently than you do the other actors? Do you approach things the same way with everybody, or is everybody different?
MICHAEL: The process is the same with everybody, but every actor works a little differently and has a different process. Even on Mayans, each actor has a very specific way of working, so I was just trying to understand it to be helpful and do my job with them. With [my dad], it’s always about story and finding the emotional truth, from moment to moment. When he’s doing the scene, I always notice that it’s about his movement and finding the truth in what he’s doing, so I just like to be there and watch him. I’ll know how I wanna shoot it, just to have a backup, but then watching him block it, he always comes up with really surprising things when he works. Each actor does that, but he especially surprises me with what he does on set.
Edward, what’s it like for you to be directed by your son? Do you handle things differently when your director is also family, or do you find yourself working with every director on the show in a similar way?
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: Everybody’s different. Everybody has their own thumbprint. Michael’s thumbprint is extraordinary. He’s a really good director, and that’s because he’s a great writer. When you’re a really good writer, you make a great director. When you can direct real well, but you do not write, you would’ve been a lot better director, had you been able to write. It’s all about storytelling. Directing it, you’re using your sense of understanding and compassion, and your understanding of life, and you’re documenting the behavior that is in front of you. To me, that’s the beauty of it, and Mikey does that really well. I’m very proud of him. You can bring the horse to water, but you can not make him drink. I got him in the door because I’m in the door, but he had to do everything to stay there. There’s no way to stay, if you can not do the work because it’s really very difficult. Directing is not easy. It’s meant to look very easy, how you hold the camera, or the lighting, or the sound, or where you put the microphone, but it’s only easy after you’ve had a lot of experience. He had a lot of experience. He had decades of experience, and it took him a long time to be able to move into television. He is an independent filmmaker. Now, he’s gotten into doing his first television show, and I think he had a really good time.
Michael, what did you find most challenging about specifically doing Mayans MC, and even more specifically, doing Episode 404? What did you learn from this experience that, even having directed, was new for you?
MICHAEL: This was my first TV gig, but what was cool was that I spent a lot of time with (show co-creator) Elgin [James], for three weeks on set, just sitting with him before I actually started my prep. I got to really absorb the show and absorb what he was trying to do this season. What I liked about Elgin was that he was like, “Bring me new ideas. If they work, they’ll become part of the language of the show. If they do not, they will not be in the cut. ” He gave me a safety. The challenge was trying to find something, without being stylistic for being stylistic, that enhanced the storytelling. The writing is all about depth and truth, and emotional truth and psychological truth, so how do you do something interesting within that space without it being forced? That was the challenge. All of the directors we were trying to do that this season. That’s very hard.
Edward, after all the craziness of the first few episodes, what’s it like to do a scene where you’re sitting at a kitchen table and eating a cake? Does that feel like a very different change of pace?
EDWARD: It was brought to my attention, and it’s so true, that when I started off the show in the first season, EZ and I would be at the table, eating whatever. Now in the fourth season, EZ is not to be found anymore, and Angel has become much closer to his father than EZ. They’ve done great work. The complexity of life is incredible, and when you can capture that, this is fiction, and we’re dramatizing, but when you can really make it real, then you’re documenting human behavior. That’s what Michael’s very good at. I appreciate that because then you’re doing work that will stand the test of time, which is really all you wanna do, so that a hundred years from today, someone can look at it and say, “Wow, this is really good. ”
I love that this is a show where there’s a ton of action and high stakes, but you can still show that emotional vulnerability.
EDWARD: It’s such an awkward scene. It’s perfect. It became truth, which is interesting because it’s fiction. We’re dramatizing it with different takes and different angles, but all of a sudden, it’s so honest.
How hard do you think it is for Felipe to have this tension with EZ?
EDWARD: The whole understanding of the show is karma and how the things that we do have an impact. It’s a really sad, very tragic story that’s very Shakespearean. Everything you do not want to happen, happens. People keep killing each other, and they know each other, which is very difficult. The reason behind it is almost simplistic, but you realize how deep the wound is, to trigger something like that. I tell people, “Do not watch this show, unless you really understand what darkness is and you wanna go there. If you liked Sons of Anarchy, then you will love this. But if you never saw Sons of Anarchydo not watch this because it’s gonna get you and spin your head around. “
Family brings out the best and the worst in people.
Michael, are you hoping to direct another episode of the show, in the future?
MICHAEL: I’d love to, if they’ll have me back. I’d do five episodes. This show is amazing. The cast and the crew are like one big family over there. It’s a great energy. Everyone’s really passionate about the show and the crew is just great. It was one of my best experiences on set, so I’d love to do more. I’d love to continue to do TV. Bring me back, Elgin. I’m ready to do Season 5 of Mayans.
Mayans MC airs on Tuesday nights on FX.