Badass Mayan M.C. president Obispo “Bishop” Losa is played by esteemed actor Michael Irby, whose credits normally see him serving on the other side of the law as an officer or military man.
But this ruthless yet subtle leader of the Mayans M.C. has the chops to reign over and rein in the bad boys of the Southern California chapter that his “primo” [cousin] Marcus Alvarez presides over as El Padrino [Godfather].
Irby’s unique background of being of Mexican American and African American mixed lineage has provided him with an all-American “mutt” look that lends him to many kinds of nationalities and opportunities other actors aren’t fortunate enough to dip into. In our interview and in conversation about that, Irby noted casting agents could see him in a variety of ethnicities, opening up many doors and roles for him to act.
Now in his latest role on FX’s outlaw motorcycle gang drama, Mayans M.C., his acting C.V. of playing tough guys has given him the toolbox for fleshing out a complex character, Bishop.
He is not 100 percent villainous but as the layered story unspools, he appears to have a great heart and a sense of right and wrong amid the weaponry skills and mayhem he and his charter collectively wreak at the behest of the Galindo cartel.
We spoke to the president of the Mayans M.C. and got some good intel for fans of the Kurt Sutter and Elgin James 1%er yarn:
Monsters and Critics: When you were first presented this character Bishop by Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, what did you make of him?
Michael Irby: You know, I just saw that warrior spirit. I saw the lone wolf in him. There’s this thing, you throw a man to the wolves, he’s either gonna be eaten or come back a leader of the pack.
That’s kind of how I perceived Bishop. He was able to overcome some serious trauma and adversity in his life to get where he was at.
I just saw so many connections. He’s loyal, a little dark, but I don’t think anyone’s born dark, I think that something has happened in their life and different life experiences.
I’ve got to say, I just fell in love with Bishop. I just fell in love with what he stood for as far as the loyalty and when you get raised with nothing. I think kind of that is your past life, is trying to find family, trying to find things that you can connect to. And if you’re [Bishop] out there kinda destroying and sabotaging and doing all that, I think Emilio, Marcus Alvarez, my cousin on the show, saw that and he kind of threw out that olive branch.
I was probably headed down a path of destruction and death or jail, and I had already spent my time in jail. And he said “come on out,” we’ve got the opportunity and I took it. I took it.
M&C: The last episode, you had a really interesting exchange with a woman at the death crime scene. Can you give us some insight on that scene and break it down for me a little bit?
Michael Irby: You are talking about the mayor. Mayor Peña. Antonia Peña. You know, I think in these small towns… Well, we [Bishop and the Mayor] grew up together.
My backstory is not anything that’s going be similar to hers, but we used to date a little bit. Her parents always told her I was no good. And later on after we graduated high school, I went into the military, I came back, I still wasn’t good enough. I ended up falling in these different patterns and what not. She went to college and she [eventually] became the mayor of the town while all this had happened.
But we still need each other. I need her politics and she needs my muscle.
So, I think we’re gonna see that kind of play out throughout the season, that the lines in Santo Padre are very gray. There’s really no … I think on some of these border towns and some of these places that are out on the outskirts, I think there’s a lot of agreements that are made under the table, on the table. We all meet each other so that we can kinda keep pushing our community forward.
It’s just like in the old godfather days, some of the people that kept the law were the actual bad guys. The bad guys are what’s actually keeping things straight. And in a world where there’s really no rules-so that thing that we played, she actually needed my help, she called me, she found a dead Mexican there on the border.
And she found out that they also had the prescription drugs, so she knows that that’s kinda something that we deal in, that’s our money. Although, ours is heroin. So, I thought that was a nice little bit between Bishop and Antonia as adults. “That’s why you get me out here? You got me out here because you think this is us?” This is kinda below us, you know?
So, there’s just some real nice f***ing dynamics at play, between the law, and the fact that we keep Frankie [the cop’s secret] from out of the whorehouse, the cop comes out of the whorehouse, it’s all in agreement. We all know what’s going on here. But we’re all choosing to look past it so that we can keep Santo Padre safe.
M&C: Dovetailing off what you just said, it’s interesting, Angel is kind of doing side deals, and he and his brother are playing roles with inside the M.C. that if the M.C. knew about it, especially your character, they’d be dead.
Michael Irby: There will be prices to pay. There will absolutely be prices to pay.
They would be dead in one role, but also when you’re dealing with family, they are… as much as I know in the story, we know, that EZ is doing this deal with his cousin to bring down the cartel. It’s very clear that it’s not about the M.C. He’s also made it very clear that he doesn’t want to involve the M.C., although, that we’re kind of on the peripheral of that for him, but they’re really going after the big fish, right?
Michael Irby: And as far as Angel goes, I believe that in his blind faith, and sometimes we do things thinking we’re doing it for the better and it’s actually causing a little bit of damage. Sometimes we cause a little bit of damage to get to the better. You know, sometimes you gotta pick the scab a little bit in order for it to heal.
And there’s an element that I believe Angel thinks he’s doing something good for the club.
He thinks we’re actually going be able to cut out the cartel aspect of it. I think he’s going to be proved wrong. But he’s got his own objective, he’s got his own direction, and his own motivation for doing this thing.
And, yes, if Bishop was to find out, I don’t know if he would treat him like he did Jimmy last week, up in the casino [Bishop shot Jimmy on the orders of the Cartel for the Chinese], but it would definitely be … the mother is not gonna kill her child even if the child f***s up royally. She’s gonna fight him, she’s gonna scold him, she’s gonna teach him a lesson, but she can’t kill him, you know what I mean?
These are my boys right now. These are my brothers. Some of these are my sons. Angel’s character, he was actually my [Bishop] prospect, years ago. I brought him into the club. I vouched for him. I don’t know if I’d be able to put a bullet in his head right now, because of something that I thought he was doing for the betterment of the club, even though he was misdirected and off the line there.
I don’t think I could kill him. I don’t think I’d want to kill him. But I think I’d kind of, you know, maybe he’d be demoted, he may lose some of his club responsibility. He’s always going to have the eye on him. He’s always going to be on probation, he’s on a life probation now as Bishop is starting to find out.
I think it’s fun for the audience that Bishop is not aware of what’s happening.
As much as it’s hard for me, the actor, to sit on that and read it and say, “Ah, Kurt! Please, let me find out so that I can teach these boys the difference between right and wrong!”
But, I think there’s a fun part that Bishop doesn’t really find out in some of these first few episodes that are going on. Because we all know the end game, right?
We know that. And they’re loving Angel, they’re loving EZ, they’re loving all those boys. I mean, even Coco, what he’s doing with his daughter. As far as the background checks on the club, we know who everybody is. We know who everybody’s family is, we know everything. And Bishop is unaware that Coco has this other skeleton in his closet.
But at the end of the day he’s going have to deal with that, right? He’s gonna have to deal with that. We’re all gonna have to deal with that. The boys are gonna have to deal with it, the audience is gonna have to deal with it. The audience might want Bishop to find out, but another person maybe doesn’t want me to find out, because they’re loving the character.
You know, it’s fun. Kurt is doing an amazing job with spinning this web. It’s fantastic.
M&C: I agree. Last week I spoke to Tony Plana at length, and he, of course, plays Devante, and one of the questions I asked him, I said, “your body language changes when you’re with Alvarez, it seems like there’s a genuine friendship there. You’re close. And yet, he stiffens when he’s around you guys. Do you interpret that the same way?
Michael Irby: Tony [Plana] and Danny [Pino], they’re both fantastic actors. I think that that smelling out… I don’t think that will ever go away.
I do know this, the way that he might look at us like we are a little bit below him on the food chain. But, when the pitty [Pit Bull] walks onto the playground with all the other dogs they might have already had their pecking order, but when the pitty shows up, things change.
I believe we’re [Mayans M.C.] kinda the pit bulls of the situation. We’re all trying to get to the same spot, but we’re all gonna get there a little bit different. Whether you’ve gone through these guys [Galindo Cartel] that are a bit more educated, they’ve been doing it bit more of a top-shelf situation, while we’re just dealing on the street.
But at the end of the day, I think it’s much he might look down on it. I don’t think he [Devante] can ever underestimate us putting a bullet in his head.
If that’s what some of that physicality is coming from, I’ve noticed something I’ve kind of done, too, working with the cartels and with them, I have different body language that I have between the club, when I’m in the M.C., when we’re in our own clubhouse, and I have different body language when we have to go out into the world and deal with getting what we want.
I think that happens as an actor. It is conscious. It’s a conscious choice to take your body into that space and we all walk a little bit different when we go to our job, and then we go home, and then we have to deal with friends on the peripheral, you know outside, or when we’re dealing with our own family.
We have all these different masks that we wear, and all these different things that we put on to kinda protect ourselves in the world that we’re in. And I think it’s great for everybody. You watch everybody, their hair kinda stands up on their arms when the club shows up, and I think it’s justified. I think they should be a little bit nervous when the club rolls into town.
M&C: Absolutely. Who is the character that we haven’t seen their full potential yet? Or that really strikes Bishop as the one to watch, in a dangerous way or a portentous way… who is the Mayan that Bishop has his eye on?
Michael Irby: Well, I think already it’s Angel. Yeah, it’s Angel. The wheels are spinning. But, he can’t really let anybody know, even when I told Frankie, Tranq, last night. “Why don’t you go and supervise?”
Now I’m starting to see that the young guys in the crew, that being Angel, EZ, Coco, and Gilly, they’re up to something. I mean I think you can look at them almost as one character. You’ve got the youth, they’re very motivated, I can see that they’re trying to get their own game.
And, hey, to each his own. I respect the game. And you got the old timers over here like myself, and Taza, and Riz, and you do see a club divided, but I think I got my eye on all those youngsters over there that look a little hungry and a little lean in the tooth, so I kinda know that, hey, when you’re the president, we know that that’s the end for everybody.
They want my cut. I know that. And someday they’re gonna get that cut. I don’t think anybody denies that fact. But, it’s gonna be awhile and I’m going to take it and I’m going to go down swinging. And it definitely is not going to happen easily within the club.
M&C: One of the criticisms about Mayans that I’ve read is that there isn’t a Gemma-esque character yet, in the sea of testosterone. But I feel that Dita is going to surprise us. What is your opinion about Emily and Dita and Adelita and the other female characters?
Michael Irby: I think it’s a motorcycle club, right? It’s a fictitious motorcycle club. It’s a lot of men, doing a lot of men things. Maybe there isn’t a Gemma, but I also think that people have to be patient and let Gemma present herself.
Kurt is very focused and very clear on what he wanted Gemma to be, and that being his wife he knew the voice, he knew the thing, and right now … it’s a new world. And not to be sexist in any way, but I don’t know if we need a Gemma in this world.
It’s a motorcycle club. I think maybe, you know, maybe Felipe is the Gemma if we can see that side of that world, and he’s the one there that’s trying to hold all that down.
But I think they’re all very strong characters, and throughout the season we’re gonna see the sacrifices that women have to make to be in this testosterone-driven world. Whether that be life or death, there’s so much at stake here.
Like, I don’t really see the Gemma character yet, I’m okay with that. I love what she [Katey Sagal] did there on Sons, but I think people just need to be patient and let things happen organically, rather than to say, “this is Clay, and this is Jax, and this is Opie, and this is Gemma,” right?
Yes, are they all in the same world? Yes. It’s the Sutter-verse. It is that beautiful world of Kurt Sutter’s mind. But we’re not doing tit-for-tat, we’re not doing that. These are the Mayans, we stand alone, the Sons are also part of that same world because we’re still in California.
Although they were in Northern California, now we’re in Southern California.
We saw Robert Patrick there in the first episode, we see Chucky, we see Gemma. It’s all in the same world, you know? I say just embrace the story, right? We all have our opinion, they’re all valid but just embrace it. Embrace the story.
Mayans M.C. airs Tuesdays at 10 pm on FX.