The fifth and final season of the FX series Mayans M.C. feels like a powder keg that’s ready to explode, taking everyone with it in its wake. With Club President EZ Reyes (JD Pardo) leading his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) and the Santo Padre M.C. on the path to a very bloody war against their rival Sons of Anarchy, loyalties shift and priorities change, which could permanently shatter the bonds of the Reyes family.
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During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Cardenas talked about Angel’s journey of fatherhood, bonding with his infant co-star, when he found out how the series would end, what it felt like to shoot the final season of the show, what went through his head on the drive home from the last day, the season’s enemies and allies, and where things are at between EZ and Angel.
Collider: Could you ever have imagined that you would be singing to a baby and changing diapers on Mayans M.C.? How did you get here?
CLAYTON CARDENAS: That is such a great question. No, to answer your question, I never saw that coming. I never saw the baby coming. I didn’t think even a strong love interest was coming for Angel. I just expected him to be this badass bike club member, who was helping his brother try to figure things out. This character has been unexpected, but it’s so cool to be a part of. Working with Maverick was really interesting. It personally taught me a lot about patience because working with a baby on set, there’s no directing a baby. You can’t be like, “Oh, here’s your mark.” No, we had to work around him. That was the most interesting thing to be a part of because we only had a certain allotted amount of time for each scene for each day, before we would get into penalties. Learning to work with him and just feeling him out was so interesting. I really have a deeper understanding of working with people’s energies now and feeling people out and just taking time. It’s something that, in the moment, was very challenging at times, and I didn’t know how to react, and I didn’t know if his mom was supposed to come get him. I was like, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know baby protocol.” So, it was just learning to navigate. That was probably the greatest joy and greatest gift, as well.
That must have been challenging to navigate, especially when it’s not even your baby. It’s one thing if it’s your actual child, but you’re responsible for somebody else’s child, on top of everything.
CARDENAS: We spent so much time together that he actually started calling me Dada. They’re a beautiful family, and the mom told me that Maverick would be at home with the actual father, and then see a photo of me and call me Dad, and the father was like, “What the hell is going on right now? I’m his dad.” Hearing those stories and working with his mother, Chelsea, she’s a phenomenal set mom. She taught me well, with how to sneak snacks to the baby in between scenes and when the camera is off. There were little things like that, that I would have never even fathomed. It was really cool to be a part of.
We see it affecting him, in different ways, throughout the episodes, but how would you say fatherhood has changed Angel?
CARDENAS: The transition started last season, towards the end when Adelita brought Maverick home, but it really forces Angel, even more so, to envision a life outside the club. It really forces him to take a step back and realize what’s really important in life. Is it this brotherhood with these guys that he loves being around and that he chooses to be around, or is it his actual blood, who needs caring and guidance? It forces Angel to look at what’s really important in life and what life is really about. Towards the end of the season, you get to see his decision on where it’s leading to.
Your showrunner, Elgin James, said a while back that he knew exactly how the series would end and that he’s been headed there for a while. Did he tell you how things would end at the start of this season? Did you know before that? Did he tell everybody separately, or did he sit you down and tell you all at once? How did you find out?
CARDENAS: I found out last season. He sat a few of us down and said, “Look, this is where your character is going This is how we’re gonna get there. There might be some twists and turns in between, but this is the final ascension. This is the end of it.” And so, I knew last season. Even with knowing the end, I think some of us hoped that would change. I don’t know if some of us wanted to go at the time that we would be going. So, I knew last season, but getting there was interesting. There were so many things that needed to be navigated around and so many moving pieces that getting there was confusing for me. But for Elgin, that just shows his genius because he knew every twist and turn. He’s literally followed the script in his head, which is amazing. I have no idea how he kept that much information in his head, but he did. He’s phenomenal. I’m so grateful for him. I’m so in awe of his artistry, his writing, his directing, and his leadership. Having to navigate and work with so many different individuals, who had so many different mind sets, alone, is that should be applauded, for sure.
When you shoot the final season of the series, does it feel different? Does it just feel like building on the previous season, like usual, or does the whole vibe just feel different?
CARDENAS: That’s a great question. For me, personally, it was business as usual. It really didn’t hit me until the final scene on the final day. I don’t wanna give spoilers, but the amount of grown men that I saw crying and sobbing like babies, I was like, “Wow, I didn’t even know that was possible.” They were uncontrollably sobbing and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is it. This is the end.” So, for me, it was business as usual. On the day, you’re like, “Okay, this is the end, so I need to give my best.” That was the only thing that changed for me. I was like, “I have to hit home runs, every time. I have to leave everything out on the table. I can’t hold anything back. I can’t regret not giving everything.” That was the only change. I didn’t really think about the end until I saw grown men on the floor, sobbing. That was okay, “Whoa, okay, this is something special.”
What went through your head, on your drive home? What was it like to leave the set, knowing you wouldn’t be returning?
CARDENAS: On many days, leaving set, I’d always think about the scenes. I can’t not. I would do this whole download of, “Okay, how did I do? What could I have done differently? What can I take from this, going into the next one?” But as I was thinking, I was like, “There is no next one. You’re done.” It really didn’t hit me until maybe a few days later, as my body clock that’s used to waking up at 5am realized there’s none of that anymore. I was like, “Oh, wow, this is done. This past five or six years is over. There’s no getting that back. You better appreciate what you just went through, and who served you, and who helped lead and guide you.” I still don’t know the answer to that question. I see why people want to jump into work on another project so soon. Your body is like, “What do I do now? This is my identity, being a part of these projects and this type of art form. What do I do, when I don’t have this?”
Because this has all been a new experience for you, as far as spending this long on a show and this long as a character, what do you remember about walking on to set your first day of filming? What was going through your head? What your confidence level like then? What did it feel like, to start this role on this show?
CARDENAS: A lot of it was probably false bravado. You’re around all Latino icons, so there were a lot of nerves. I was nervous, but at the same time, I didn’t wanna show the nerves. I wanted to be like, “Okay, I belong here.” But inside, I was shaky. It was my first time as a regular and my first time being around this many people, all the time. I was nervous. There was a lot of set etiquette that I wasn’t aware of. The professionalism wasn’t there yet. Just learning to be a professional was a whole thing for me, these past six years. I’d be lying to you, if I said that I was fully confident and I knew what the outcome would be. I was one of the biggest dudes there, but inside, I was definitely the smallest.
FX recently posted on Twitter about the final season with a tagline for Mayans that said, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Who would you say is the biggest enemy this season, and what allies do they have to, at this point?
CARDENAS: The biggest enemy is that we’re at war with Sons of Anarchy. As menacing as that may sound and what you would expect, sometimes through war, you gain some allyship. It’s a battle the full season. We’re warring from episode one. So, as we start to lose brothers on both sides, the leadership from both parties reevaluates the situation to see if it’s necessary to get what we both want, or maybe team up to go against these other people. There’s this constant change of who your allies are. That’s been a cool thing. I wasn’t expecting that. That didn’t feel normal to me. Seeing the Grim Bastards, from Sons of Anarchy, come back into play was a cool twist and turn that people weren’t expecting. One of our new leads this year is JR Bourne, who plays Isaac of Sons of Anarchy, has been a phenomenal addition to the cast. What he’s bringing to his character this season is so cool. He’s got a major role in the storyline with the Mayans, especially with EZ, that’s really cool to watch. He’s a phenomenal artist, but he’s a phenomenal person, off-screen, as well.
This show is about the Mayans brotherhood, but it’s always also been about the literal brotherhood at its core, with EZ and Angel. How do you feel about how that plays out this season? Where do you leave that and what was it like to see how that all comes together?
CARDENAS: This season, with the Reyes brothers, it’s definitely a fractured relationship. That began at the end of last season, when Angel saw where this was heading, with his greatest fear coming true now. In addition to having his son, he’s watching his brother and how he’s acting with his leadership and the decisions that he’s making and where he’s leading this club. Honestly, he’s afraid. He doesn’t know who his brother is anymore. Angel is like, “All right, man, I don’t know if I wanna be a part of this anymore. This Mayans M.C. was fun when I was younger, when I was single, and when I didn’t have my immediate family. But now, I see where this is heading and the amount of blood that’s being shed, and I don’t think this is worth it. This isn’t what I thought life should be.” So, the brotherhood is definitely fractured. There are moments, throughout the season, where you’ll see them come together. There’s always gonna be that brotherhood. But as far as ride or die, I don’t think that’s a thing anymore with these guys.
Angel seems like he’s more confident now in his own voice, but that can also lead to more issues when you voice that opinion.
CARDENAS: Yeah, you’re right. It does. Hopefully, EZ respects some of the decisions that Angel is making, but some of those decisions could hinder EZ’s plan for the Mayans M.C.
Mayans M.C. airs on Wednesday nights on FX and is available to stream at Hulu.