Kurt Sutter was more than revved up for the premiere screening of his new FX outlaw crime drama, “Mayans M.C.”
The creator of ”Sons Of Anarchy,” the epic seven-season motorcycle gang show from which “Mayans” is a spinoff, was introduced to a packed house Tuesday night at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood by FX Network CEO John Landgraf.
“SOA,” which premiered in 2008 and remains the highest-rated series in FX history, was Sutter’s first solo creator and showrunning gig after spending the previous six years on another landmark FX drama, “The Shield.”
Through the years, he’s honed a reputation as a proud individualist in the industry, freely speaking his mind about issues that bother him without much concern about how he’s perceived. A huge streak of dark humor permeates his work, sometimes tempering the graphic and over-the-top on-screen violence. As an actor who played the imprisoned Otto on “Sons,” some of that violence was inflicted upon himself.
So it was no surprise that Sutter began his remarks at the premiere with a profane reference to his relationship with Landgraf, something he called “a coital CEO joke.”
“I’ve spent more time fucking John Landgraf than anyone but my wife [Katey Sagal],” Sutter said, referring to his long and successful history at the cable net. Oh, with one exception.
“I’ve spent a couple years in the Dark Ages,” he said, referring to his post-“Sons” experience with “The Bastard Executioner,” a Middle Ages tale that didn’t fly with viewers.
Back now in familiar biker territory, Sutter credited co-creator and executive producer Elgin James with getting him “excited about TV again” and complimented the actors, whom he said bring what’s written on the page as a 6 to a 10.
“Man, we’re everywhere,” he said about the promotion for “Mayans,” which includes countless billboards, bus placards, on-air promos and appearances at this summer’s most heavily covered confabs including San Diego Comic Con, ATX Fest in Austin and the TCA summer press tour in Beverly Hills.
“Mayans M.C.” is set in the fictional Southern California border town of Santo Padre — a stone’s throw and an underground tunnel away from Tijuana. A powerful drug cartel dominates the commerce on both sides of the border and the motorcycle club is deep into distribution.
It takes place three years after the denouement of “Sons of Anarchy,” a universe in which the Mayans were always a part, mainly as bitter rivals, but at the end, as allies.
The story focuses on the Reyes family, with Edward James Olmos playing the patriarch Felipe, who runs a butcher shop, and his two sons, Angel (Clayton Cardenas) and Ezekiel (JD Pardo), known as EZ, who are members of the motorcycle club.
EZ is what’s known as a prospect, the bottom of the ladder guy trying to make the cut to wear the cut of the charter. It’s a big fall from grace for him, as he was the “golden boy” of the family, smart and college-educated — at Stanford — before he committed a serious crime that landed him in prison.
At the outset, there is at least one solid throughline from “Sons” to “Mayans,” in the personage of Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera), the padrino of the Oakland Mayans charter who comes down to the border area to assist his brethren when things start spinning out of control, as they inevitably do in this outlaw biker/drug-smuggling/gun-running world.
Other cast members include Sarah Bolger, Michael Irby, Carla Baratta, Antonio Jaramillo, Raoul Max Trujillo, Richard Cabral, Danny Pino, Frankie Loyal, Joseph Lucero and Vincent “Rocco” Vargas.
In a phone call last week, Sutter talked about the weight of the legacy left by “SOA” and what some might perceive as the gravity of delivering with the new show.
“There’s not really pressure,” he said. “I’ve learned I can’t go into a project with any exterior expectations or worries or mandates because it fucks with my storytelling process. I’ve learned to free myself of this. I know this will be compared and contrasted [with ‘Sons’]. Some will be disappointed and some will be engaged and excited. That’s the nature of it. People show up for different reasons. My hope is I’m able to navigate this transition and stay in the background.”
Sutter also discussed the cultural differences between the Sons and the Mayans. “With Latin-based clubs, it’s regionally influenced, especially in Southern California, which is really influenced by lowrider culture going back to the pachucos and how that influenced gang culture and the MCs. My linchpin is Alvarez, who comes out of gang and lowrider culture. He was instrumental in educating me on the cultural impacts,” Sutter said. “White clubs are under the radar. For them, it’s not about being flashy, but simple and fast, whereas Latino/lowrider culture is more presentational and ceremonial. The bikes are flashier and they go slower. It’s about being seen, a different navigation through their own worlds.”
James, a filmmaker who is half Latin and half Irish, brings his multicultural viewpoint and real-world prison experience to the terrain of the Mayans.
“There’s already been a universe set in ‘SOA,’” he said. “You have to honor the world but you have to find your own way. Violence has always been the language, but there are always repercussions down the road.”
Everything about motorcycle gang life is new to Pardo, including riding a tricked-out bike with its high handlebars. Known for his work on “Revolution,” ”East Los High” and “The Messengers” and in one of the “Twilight” films, he’s enjoying the complexity of playing his character.
“What I love about EZ is he was never supposed to be part of MC life. He had no desire for it,” Pardo said. “Now he’s out trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild his life, and with limited opportunities he finds himself as a prospect in the Mayans. When we first meet him, he’s locked up mentally and emotionally. Prison changed him completely. It was really traumatic, and now that he’s out, he’s sort of revisiting the place where he was the hope of the community — and now there’s shame.”
Without giving anything away, there’s an incident in the first episode of “Mayans” that harkens back to some of the shocking bloodshed in “Sons,” violence that was leavened with comical elements.
“Nothing ever happens in a vacuum,” Sutter said. “No humor or absurdity comes out of nowhere. Whether it’s violence that ultimately doesn’t languish, it will result in ramifications.”
So put on your helmets. It promises to be a wild ride.
(The first mile marker appears when “Mayans M. C.” premieres on FX September 4 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)