Danny Pino on Mayans M.C. and Latinx Representation in Hollywood
“It’s important that more Latinos specifically and more minorities in general are protagonists, so that we see different points of view," says Pino. "It’s not good enough to have the Latino best friend."
Danny Pino is known for his work on gritty TV shows like Mayans M.C. and Law & Order: SVU, but he got his start in something a little less intense. “It really started in sixth grade if I'm being real — The Case of the Missing Parts of Speech,” he tells People CHICA, referencing a grammar-based play for children. “My choir teacher was like, ‘Hey, why don't you take part in this musical?' I was like ‘Alright, I'll do it, but I have baseball practice, so can we fit it in?'”
Pino is currently starring in the FX drama Mayans M.C., which just started its second season. Created by Kurt Sutter, the show is a spin-off of Sons of Anarchy, and Pino plays Miguel Galindo, the son of the founder of the cartel. “It is a story about family,” he says. “It is a story about brotherhood, about loyalty. But really it's about power and who has it, who doesn't, and how to retain it if you have it. How do you get it if you don't?”
Preparing for the role of Miguel involved a lot of reading and watching documentaries in order to understand the character. As a Cuban American, Pino had to learn how to speak like Miguel, who is Mexican. “What was more important to me wasn't that Miguel sounded overly Mexican — I didn't want him to sound like a stereotype,” Pino explains. “I was going for something more neutral because he wasn't raised in Mexico. He was raised in the United States.”
A recent study found that only 3 percent of the top-grossing Hollywood movies of the past 10 years featured Latinx actors in leading roles. “It's important that more Latinos specifically and more minorities in general are protagonists, so that we see different points of view,” says Pino. “It's not good enough to have the Latino best friend or the Latino partner. You need the Latino lead so that you see that story coming from that point of view.” He believes that having more Latino showrunners, creators, directors, producers and writers would help bring about this change (the study also found that Latinxs are vastly underrepresented behind the camera as well).
Asked if he's ever turned down a role because it was too stereotypical of Latinxs, Pino answered with no hesitation: “All the time.” Though Miguel on Mayans is the head of a cartel, Pino finds the “transitional character” complex enough to take it out of the realm of offensive cliché. “The tagline would be correct: head of a cartel, Latino, on the border,” says Pino. “It checks a lot of boxes as to being a stereotype, but what makes it not a stereotype is how it's written.”