Exclusive Interview: Danny Pino on cartel boss Miguel Galindo and unpredictable scripts for Mayans M.C.

On FX hit series Mayans M.C., it’s a tale of two cities with two classes of people, the 1%-er outlaw bikers in the U.S. and highly educated elite who run businesses in Mexico.

The leader of the Galindo Cartel is Miguel Galindo, played by Miami-born actor Danny Pino. Fans of Pino may remember his role as Detective Scotty Valens in the CBS series Cold Case or his NYPD Detective Nick Amaro in NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But it is his turn as the calculating and lethal Galindo which is garnering a lot of notice.

Kurt Sutter and Elgin James have penned a gruesome and gritty follow-up to the wildly popular series Sons of Anarchy, where Mexican-American bad boys on bikes enforce and mule the illegal items (for Mayans it is drugs) for the financial benefit of the Galindo Cartel.

Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo) is the compromised new prospect in the Mayans M.C. charter who happens to have some romantic history with Galindo’s wife Emily (Sarah Bolger), further complicating a very messy current situation.

During this exclusive interview with M&C, actor Danny Pino praises the writing of Sutter and James and shares what he feels is the real gist of his character’s arc on Mayans M.C., and his enjoyment in playing such a multilayered character that is equal parts family man and villainous cartel boss who has no problem torturing poor souls on his infamous “pew.”

Monsters and Critics: Your Miguel is part of the global elite. He’s gone to the best schools. He’s strategic. There’s a complexity to Miguel. How do you creatively dance between these warring dualities of villain versus family man and Ivy League privileged sort?

Danny Pino: I dance through both highly and heavily supported with a great script. I think the writers do a fantastic job of having him ride that line between his business and his family.

Episode five, he’s currently getting crushed between the two. Between his cool, strategic, very clean and deliberate demeanor when it comes to business, and his love for his family. And the writers do a fantastic job of tightening the screws and having him affected by both, and effectively blurring the line between the two.

M&C: The way you play Miguel…his business decisions are seemingly very linear, easy. Whereas, when you go home, and these family problems and Galindo family life pulls you out of alignment. You physically show that the way you play Miguel.  The stresses of the unspoken history that your mother carries and things that Devante knows. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Danny Pino: Sure. I think a lot of the way that Miguel carries himself as a businessman is taken from his father. His father who started this cartel. And Miguel finds himself the beneficiary of a lifestyle that maybe he wouldn’t have chosen for himself but that he needs to maintain to protect his family.

That demeanor that you’re talking about, how he carries himself, I think is largely drawn and inspired from his father.
The way that he cares for his family and the love that he has, and maybe his vulnerability at home, I think is largely akin to and attributed to his mother.

Dita says in one of the episodes that she made a decision to not be involved in the business so that Miguel would have somebody to go to for love.

I think that he’s made up of both of those characteristics, his mother and his father, like we all are. What I think is easy for him, or maybe not easy, but certainly less difficult for him to predict is the strategy and the chess moves that deal with intellect and with predicting how another person will behave in a business setting.

That, to him, is much more clear than how to feel and how to respond once his child is kidnapped, and how his wife is reacting to that, and how he can appease the situation. That’s much more ephemeral, much more emotional, which makes it so challenging but ultimately so fun to act. To mine the depth of what that is, and the duality of who Galindo is, is a gift.

M&C: When I watch the show, your Miguel seems more enamored of appearances than a depth of feelings when it comes to Emily. She looks the part of this perfect wife created in your mind. And relationships rarely survive contempt.  There’s a contemptuous undercurrent going on. Can you talk about that?

Still image from Mayans M.C. – Miguel (Danny Pino) consoles Emily (Sarah Bolger). Pic credit FX

Danny Pino: Well, I think there’s a lot of finger-pointing in terms of who’s responsible for our son being kidnapped. I think that in that world to have … I think he values and loves Emily deeply.

There aren’t very many men in his position who would take recommendations from anybody outside of his corporate circle. And she certainly is outside of that corporate circle at the beginning of our story.

He values her and respects her so much that we’ve already seen him take her advice over his own consigliere’s advice, to the point where Devante might start feeling threatened by Emily being so involved. I think that his vulnerability is his love for his family.

And had he not loved Emily to the point that he loves her, I think his knowing that she is lying to him about her meeting with EZ would not have been as emotional. It would’ve been easy to cut her off.

It would’ve been maybe even a death sentence to cut her off, because him looking weak to anybody could be a death sentence for him.
He protects her. He trusts her to a certain extent. And I think that all of that is true because there is such deep love for her, which makes Galindo human. That’s his vulnerability.

We all have our Achilles’ heel. Some people hide it more than others and I think Galindo has done a pretty good job thus far of hiding it, but he is being absolutely exposed right now. And that’s why he’s off-kilter. That’s why he’s having such a difficult time figuring out where true north is for him.

M&C: Your character, Miguel, seems to give EZ enough rope to hang himself with regarding Emily. Discuss that a bit. 

EZ is warned to stay clear of Emily by Miguel, or else. Pic credit: FX
EZ is warned to stay clear of Emily by Miguel, or else. Pic credit: FX

Danny Pino: Well, it’s a complicated relationship, right? There are a lot of pieces on Galindo’s chessboard, one of the bigger one being the Mayans. Right?

Maybe being impulsive and following through what a married man would want to do to an ex-boyfriend, given the situation is not as easy for him given the relationships that he has businesswise.

Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, they have made it very difficult for Miguel to make a decision. I think that Galindo has a threshold of what he’ll endure. I think he’s making it very clear to EZ by taking him out to a very desolate location where he is not only letting EZ know, “I own all of this. I have the power.”

He’s also suggesting that this might be where EZ will ultimately end up if he continues down the road he’s going. Out here in the desert, buried under this new city he’s going to build.

The undercurrent, it seems like he’s being generous with the amount of rope he’s given. But Galindo knows that EZ is smart enough to interpret what is going on.

M&C: I spoke to Tony Plana at length about Devante. And to me, there is classism in Mayans M.C.. Both of you are in scene with the Mayans. There’s a change in your body language and your posture when you’re having to deal with Bishop and the guys. Can you talk about that and how you delineate your character from the world of the Mayans and their dirty business that they do?

Still image from Mayans M.C. Escorpión/Dzec. President Bishop (Michael Irby) stands up to Miguel Galindo's brutality (Danny Pino). Pic credit: FX
President Bishop (Michael Irby) stands up to Miguel Galindo’s brutality (Danny Pino). Pic credit: FX

Danny Pino: Yeah. It’s a fascinating dichotomy because it’s a symbiotic relationship, right? The Galindos need the Mayans as much as the Mayans need the Galindos. I think it goes back to the script, ultimately. The words that we are given to say are different than the vernacular that the Mayans respond with.

It goes to the wardrobe. We’re in bespoke suits and they’re in leather and denim. One of the things that I like to point out is myself and Roland [Sanchez] who’s our wardrobe designer, our costume designer, chose to put Miguel oftentimes in a three-piece suit wearing the vest, that wool vest comes with a three-piece suit.

That’s kind of a tip of the hat to that Mayans wearing their leather vests, their cuts, and a subtle representation, metaphor, that Galindo’s also an outlaw. He just wears a suit.

As much as there is a difference, a class difference, maybe an educational difference, certainly there’s a financial difference between the two groups. They’re involved in the same business.

Read our interview with the “Bishop” aka Michael Irby from Mayans M.C. here

M&C: Knowing how volatile Kurt Sutter’s character arcs that are in the Sutterverse, how far ahead in the Mayans story of what befalls Miguel are you in the know, and will we keep your character, Miguel, past season one?

Danny Pino: [Laughs] Very good question. We wrapped about a month and a half ago. We shot ten episodes. The fifth episode just aired.
So I know what happens to the end of season one.

While we were shooting, though? We did not know, meaning the cast did not know from episode to episode what was coming. There was never a meeting saying, “Okay, Danny. In episode one, this is where Galindo begins. And this is where Galindo finds himself in episode ten.”

There was never a conversation of that sort. It was always, “This is where Galindo finds himself in episode one.”

Kurt Sutter is incredibly thorough in giving kind of a play-by-play where a character is coming from and what they’ve been through. He also gives actors the ability to fill in a lot of backstory for themselves, which I certainly did.

But he’s also explicit in saying, “I watch every episode.” And given how you are interpreting a character, how a character is playing with other characters in a scene, that inspires a different storyline. A different trajectory.

It’s also organic and spontaneous, not only for the actors but for Kurt and the writers themselves. There’s no real way to predict episode to episode what is going to happen to any given character.

In a lot of ways, we’re in the same position as an audience member watching week to week. We’re waiting for the next script to drop so that we know what happens in our storyline.

It’s excruciating sometimes, but it’s also a gift because you can’t project. You can’t think ahead. You can’t plan. You have no choice but to be in the moment.

And as for Miguel this season? All I can say is you’re going to have to watch. The only thing I can say is that it’s going to get much worse before and if it gets better.

Mayans M.C. airs Tuesdays on FX.

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