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Michael Irby exclusive: Mayans M.C. Bishop, Barry’s Cristobal and finding his happy place on the links

Michael Irby balances his work life with badass Bishop from FX series Mayans M.C. and HBO’s noir comedy Barry as Cristobal. Pic credit: FX

Michael Irby plays the leader and club president of the Mayans M.C. on FX. Along with his cousin Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera), who now wears a suit and is more enmeshed with the Galindo cartel, he has a pivotal place in season 2 of the biker yarn.

The series has taken off like its predecessor Sons of Anarchy and has shown a predominately non-white cast in a “1%er world” where their most immediate nemeses are white dudes, namely the unhinged yet crafty Lincoln Potter and his armed and dangerous Merc goons.

Moving pieces in the character arcs net more prominence for Irby as Bishop Losa. As an actor, Irby has shined for years in law enforcement-type roles and of late, made heads turn with his character Cristobal, the twisted Bolivian crime boss joined at Noho Hank’s (Anthony Carrigan) hip on HBO comedy Barry.

Irby (R) here as Cristobal, the unlikely ally of Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan). Pic credit: HBO
Irby (R) here as Cristobal, the unlikely ally of Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan). Pic credit: HBO

Noho Hank and Cristobal Sifuentes (Irby) have united the Chechens and Bolivians who have put all differences behind them and decided to join forces. The chemistry and arc of these two added even more to the left-field comedy that features Bill Hader as a hitman trying to change his life path.

Irby’s television credits are long and include SEAL Team, The Unit, True Detective, Almost Human, Line of Fire and The Haunted. Feature film credits include Pinero, Flightplan and Fast Five.

But coming up for Irby is Mayans M.C. and his tough-guy role as Bishop, President of the Mayans M.C. Santo Padre Charter and cousin (primo) of Founder and National President, Marcus Alvarez.

We spoke to the president of the Mayans M.C. yesterday and got some good intel for fans of the Kurt Sutter and Elgin James 1%er story:

Monsters and Critics: I have seen two episodes so far. The new season is classic Sutter and Elgin James, action-packed. And more Bishop.

Michael Irby: Well, yes…I think what we saw at the end of last season when Marcus Alvarez left his cut the table, I think it was right in that moment as much as we saw how hard it was for Bishop to take losing … not really losing, just watching a family member, someone who brought you into this life, and into this club and into this whole journey, to watch that person step away from the table.

I think there was a little bit of, there were some detachment issues that I think Bishop is going through, knowing that he was going to, kind of, be a lone Wolf in this situation now. But at the end of the day, we also see, as we see in season one and two as you’re saying that there’s more Bishop.

This is now his club. And, you know, rise or fall, the decisions are going to be made on his shoulders and on his back along with the Three Kings. It’s a new element that we’re bringing into the season too. There’s now three people at the head making these decisions.

Although it does appear that Bishop, by all means, is at the top of the spear.

I think what we’re seeing is the way that that Bishop would do things, rather than how he would do things in light of his cousin, and how he would do things in light of the relationship with the Galindo cartel. Because what we’re seeing now is that we’re all equals.

We all have as much stake in the game, and we all need each other. Whereas I think the first season, we saw how much the club needed the cartel. And you saw how Bishop was always just trying to justify his decision-making process with his cousin.

Which can be kind of hard if you’re really trying to have your own team. Like you’re your own club. So I think you’re going to see a lot more of that this year and how we do things, how Bishop does things, how Bishop vents his crew.

And I’m excited for people to see it because whatever happened during the off-season, I felt like we really found Bishop’s heart and his legs. And I think that we’re all in for an amazing ride in season two.

M&C: Yeah, I do too. All right, let’s talk about The mercenaries. The Mercs. These guys are the muscle extension of Potter?

Michael Irby: I believe these guys are part of Potter’s web. Yes. And I don’t believe I’m giving anything away there. We do see … we ask if these are Potter’s men in the car, driving up to the thing when we go and meet Marcus and Hobart there out in the desert.

So yeah, we do know that this is part of Potter’s plan. Potter doesn’t know that we have made an agreement with Los Olvidados. Potter doesn’t know that we have an agreement with the cartel. So everyone’s playing a little cat and mouse game. You have the CIA aspect of it, you’ve got the cartel, you’ve got the MC, and you also have Los Olvidados.

We’re seeing how all these things are intertwined now. But yes, with the mercs and the special forces operators, we’re seeing that these guys are supposed to be Potter’s eyes on the situation, and his muscle. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of him.

M&C: Mayor Antonia Pena is brought back in a really strong scene with Emily. In our past interview, you had mentioned that you two grew up together and you know each other, and there’s a connection there. And I’m hoping the Bishop has a love life. Does Bishop have a love life this season?

Michael Irby: We have not seen Bishop’s better half yet, but that just means that there’s more room to be explored. There’s been a lot of stories to tell there. You know, I don’t know if we … listen when it happens, I’ll be here.

When it happens, I believe that the audience will appreciate that story. We haven’t explored it yet. We have EZ. We have Angel. There’s a lot of different stories that have to take place.

I feel like the slower, and the longer things take to come to fruition, the better off I am as an actor. The better off I am as the storyline is of the show. I’ve hoped to be involved until the bitter end, and I think we’ll find out more about Bishop even as the show progresses.

But he’s really married to the club right now. I don’t even know if there’s time or space. He’s got a lot on his plate. [laughs] As much as I appreciate and love the other species, we know that’s gonna create some trauma too. It’s not going to be a beautiful love story, I’m sure.

M&C: I spoke to Danny Trejo not long ago and he was all excited about his character Romeo Parada being brought back to this season. What do you know of that?

Michael Irby: I can’t really specify too much on that. As far as I know, we still have some time left to bring him in. I do read all the scripts with him. There’s some changes in the different things like that sometimes that I’m unaware of, and we’ve already moved on.

He may have come, but I can’t say for sure. But there’s going to be appearances from all over the SOA world past and present. So I think people just have to, kind of, be ready.

But yeah, the Twitter world will definitely blow up as the season progresses.

M&C: I love it. Okay. I’m going to switch gears on you because I really also, it’s interesting that your Barry character’s name was Cristobal, which is the Galindo heir apparent…

Michael Irby: [laughs] I tell you, because when I’m reading the script, and I’ll tell you, cause I was a little schizophrenic there for a while with all these jobs going on.

I’m reading the script, and I see Cristobal. I literally had to flip it all the way back to the front to see which script I was reading. And I said, no, no, no, no, no, no, that’s Galindo’s kid. We’ll go save him somewhere in Mexico later. This is not Barry.

M&C: You had a little comic relief. You have this hard-ass, macho, quiet force of nature. You’ve got Bishop Losa.
And then you get to be on Barry…

Michael Irby: Yeah. Cristobal Sifuentes, that was just a gift. In my world, I like to think there’s a bunch of gods, and the acting gods and they really brought this to me. I haven’t really been scared of anything in a long time. And I gotta say I was shaking in my boots a little bit and I just had to kinda …

When I was growing up and when I went to acting school in New York, I did a lot of comedy, so I was able to exercise and flex that muscle back in school. But then when I got out of school, people saw this face and they thought, Oh, he’s a killer.

And I said, no, no, no, I’m a sweetheart man. And that was just the part of me that I had to put away for 20 years. My friends, and son, and his friend, they got to see that I was the jokester. But when these guys called and ‘Cristobal, we’re having a hard time casting him’…

When I went in there, and I read them, and I said, ‘Oh, he’s just so beautiful though.’ He doesn’t judge himself; he doesn’t judge others. He’s just very present and, and even if he has to kill you, ‘it’s gonna be amazing. And I’m going to send you over to just a beautiful place. Believe me, if this hurts me more than it does you, that I have to send you off into the nether world, but it has to be done because this is the law of man. This is the law of the world.’

There are ways of Cristobal that is Michael. I try not to take life too serious. I do know that there is a law that we are all a part of, that we have all agreed to whether we know it or not and we know what’s right and wrong.

Cristobal is able to operate in this very cool space. And then being able to share the screen with NoHo Hank [Anthony Carrigan], who was just a complete standout. Nominated for an Emmy.

Just being able to play in that world and to be able to ad-lib and be able to make this character my own. And have a genius like Bill [Hader] or Alec [Berg] come in and just whisper in my ear, ‘Hey buddy, maybe try to wrap your leg around him at the end of this and caressed his head.’
And I’m going, “What are you talking about? I’m Bishop man! What are you talking about?” There’s those times where I’m in the trailer, and I’m going, Oh God, Oh God! The Mayan people are gonna see this. What are they going to think? [laughs]

It’s just the beauty of people, you know? Sometimes you have to show them something different so they can think something different. And the response has just been overwhelmingly kind.

I really thank Bill Hader, and Alec Berg, and HBO and everybody over there for allowing me to come in. Dust that hat off and flex that comedic muscle again, which I think is going to buy me another five, ten years in the future.

In this career when I’m, when I’m not the guy that’s kicking in the door anymore. I want to take it that DeNiro route and just go and have a little bit fun in my later years. I mean I’m still quite a ways away from that. But the comedy thing, I got to tell you, it was so, so much fun to be able to do that.

And rumor has it between you and I, I might be back for season three. I did escape the big gun shoot out in the monastery there, and you saw me running out the door.

Bill came in. He says, “Hey, do you have a funny run?” And I said, “Uh…I don’t know if I have a funny run.” It’s literally between that and then eight seconds and “Action!” And all of a sudden I just burst out with this high knee run. I was jumping over bodies. And Bill’s laughing and everybody’s laughing. And I said, “Well, I guess I have a funny run.” But it was just over and over and over. That experience was just is so refreshing.

When I leave the Mayans, as amazing as a gig as this is, and it is my series regular. It is my true day job. They’re allowing me to moonlight over there. I’m very, which I’m totally respectful and gracious for.

But you know, when I leave the Mayans, I’m on the freeway, and I’m driving home, and I’ve just murdered some people, and I’m feeding people drugs and I’ve just … the whole world is come down around me and I gotta admit it’s hard to let that go.

I’m kind of heavy in this process. In that space. And I mean, literally, when I’m leaving Barry, I’m like bouncing home. I’m letting people cross in front of me. I’m saying ‘hi’ to absolute strangers. It’s like I just kind of totally enveloped and embrace Cristobal for all that he is, and he just loves everyone. Everyone.

So, and that is an aspect of Michael Irby that I don’t really get to share with everybody that much. Again, they asked me to slug it out, and I’m okay doing that because that’s another side of Michael Irby that I know there’s a lot of wrong in the world and sometimes I gotta do a lot of wrong things to make things, and I believe it’s going to be right. And I’m okay with that struggle on either side. I really am.

M&C: That’s really cool. I hear on good word that you are quite the golfer. Do you golf with any of the Mayans?

Michael Irby: [laughs] Heyyyy! You know, it’s just right now it’s El Padrino and I. Marcus Alvarez. But I was at a tournament that Eddie James Olmos showed up. Danny Pino was there…

The boys haven’t quite accepted the golf game yet. And I gotta be honest with you; I don’t know if I would have either. I never golfed the day of my life until I became a president of a motorcycle club. But all I saw was now I’m the president, so I guess I should be golfing. I hear that’s what presidents do.

So I’ll tell you. Yes…I’ve been golfing with Emilio. My true golf partner though is the other president from 24 over here, Mr. Dennis Haysbert. We’re out hitting once a week. And I really love the game.

As a soccer player, I need competition in my life, whether it’s against myself or it’s against the ball, or if against the course, or if it get somebody, I rarely compete with the guy I’m playing against. I’m just out there having fun.

I’m my own worst enemy when I get out on the golf course. As an athlete, I found a nice, natural swing. I took a few lessons. The guy said, “You have some ability. All you could do now is just get out there and practice.”

I became addicted. My wife doesn’t mind — nobody minds. I sneak out during the day while my kid’s at school. I don’t really golf on the weekends. That’s more my family time. I really get all my golfing and on my days off during the week.

As an actor, I get to show up on a Wednesday at 11:00. There’s nobody there. It’s absolutely perfect. I’m not fighting for a tee time or anything like that. And I just love the game. And again, it’s like this comedic thing. I signed up late in my life, but I believe I can have this my whole life.

I see the old-timers out there, and they’re so beautiful. They only get about 150 yards, but they’re still hitting for par, and they’re 80 years old, and they got their cart, and a little red flag so they can drive right into the hole.  I can only HOPE to be one of those gentleman in the next 40 years that I’m able to still go out there and have a good nights round of golf.

But yeah, I love it. In California, you can golf year-round. We have beautiful courses here. I’ve been playing in some celebrity tournaments. I don’t know why I’m invited, but they obviously pick up somebody. It’s just an absolute great pastime, and I found that later in life, but I love it.

M&C: Well, amen Bishop…we look forward to the September 3 when the show’s back on the air.

Michael Irby: Yeah, it’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait for people to see it.

Mayans are back September 3, Tuesdays at 10/9 PM on FX

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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