Danny Pino as Miguel Galindo

FX

Mia Maestro as Montserrat Palomo, Danny Pino as Miguel Galindo

FX

Emilio Rivera as Marcus Alvarez, Danny Pino as Miguel Galindo

FX
Fill 1
Fill 1
October 06, 2021
Online Originals

The Good, the Bad, and the Musical

A 20-year career in television comes full circle with a starring role for Danny Pino in another gritty drama β€” with some time out to showcase his singing skills.

Hillary Atkin

One of Danny Pino's first TV roles was on the groundbreaking FX cop drama The Shield playing Armadillo Quintero, a violent gang leader seeking to control the illegal drug business in Los Angeles.

Now, he's prepping to shoot Season 4 of another FX drama, Mayans MC, in which he's moved up in the narcotics trade as Miguel Galindo, a cartel chief who is working hard to legitimize his business dealings, become a respected member of the community and an exemplary family man.

These two roles as characters on the wrong side of the law are somewhat of a departure for Pino, who spent years playing cops on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Chicago PD and Cold Case.

In fact, fans of SVU were thrilled by the recent announcement that he will be coming back as detective Nick Amaro for the landmark 500th episode of the NBC series, slated to air October 21.

Pino is also currently costarring on the big screen in Dear Evan Hansen, adapted from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, in a role that takes the lifelong theater nerd back to his days as a drama student. And yes, he sings β€” live β€” in the movie, alongside Ben Platt, Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever.

It's a talent he doesn't often get to use. The last time Pino sang on screen was in 2003, when he played Desi Arnaz in the CBS telefilm Lucy.

Portraying one of his Latinx role models from childhood was an important moment for Pino, whose grandparents, like Arnaz, immigrated to the United States from Cuba.

The Miami native's lengthy list of credits since the early aughts includes roles on CSI: NY, Burn Notice, Gone, Scandal, BrainDead, One Day at a Time and, more recently, The Good Fight.

But Miguel Galindo in Mayans MC has taken Pino's television career in a new direction.

We spoke with the accomplished actor by phone as he was preparing for the Los Angeles premiere of Dear Evan Hansen.

What have your experiences been like portraying Miguel Galindo on Mayans MC?

I spent seven years playing Scotty Valens in Cold Case and shortly afterwards playing detective Nick Amaro in Law & Order: SVU. I was looking to do something incredibly different that would allow me to develop a character that was perhaps a little darker, with a little more duality. I thought this could be a good fit for me and take me out of my comfort zone.

Miguel does show flashes of violence in what he does, but he's also a family man dedicated to his wife, his mother and his son. Providing a character with that polarity I found interesting.

Our showrunner, Elgin James, brings an authenticity to that violence and that world, being a former member of a gang and understanding the repercussions of violence, the choices people make given systemic pressures and limited options. Elgin really captures that without romanticizing or glorifying the violence.

It was something I was attracted to immediately, the authenticity of the character and not the tired tropes of a cartel boss, not the stereotypical version of that character written by somebody who doesn't understand that world. Elgin infuses that process, along with other Latinx writers, with the sensitivity of not falling into the trap and making it more of a cautionary tale.

During Season 3, Galindo's challenges come to a head and leave him without the two women he loves the most.

Miguel's struggle to legitimize his family and the family name which he promised his parents β€” that is something he was dedicated to, not only to save his town but the family and to get further away from violence and things his father felt he had to do, given the few options economically and socially his father had at the time.

It is similar to the Kennedys being in the bootlegging business, passing on from being criminals to holding the highest office. [Miguel's] father saw that, and that's why Miguel was sent to boarding school, goes to Cornell and achieves a high level of education. That's why he is able to manage an organized crime syndicate as a corporation.

He's as tuned in to economics as he is to violence. He's strategized and plotted a way to legitimize his family. His mother was his north star, his rudder, his last connection to his father. To see Miguel, who seemingly has everything together and in control, all of a sudden lose the person who provides balance, perspective and support is a challenging moment for him.

You see his psychology, emotions and how he conducts business and his relationship with his wife β€” and people around start noticing. On a more existential level, it could be life-threatening to show any kind of weakness. But Elgin and our writers wrote Miguel's emotional tailspin in such a visceral way. Many times, that duality shifted from being a family man to running organized crime.

It shifted in Season 3 to a man trying to hold himself together. That five-year-old boy who misses his mom, the vulnerability of showing the emotions and trying to keep them at bay. He's getting to see a pattern that his mother didn't commit suicide, that there was foul play and perhaps his wife had something to do with it.

That's a Shakespearean level of storytelling they wrote it in such an artistic and poetic way. There was melodrama, providing me with a beautiful challenge to experience that through Miguel.

Your character in Dear Evan Hansen, is a different kind of family man. In the Broadway musical, the character is called Larry Murphy, but the film's creators tailored the role for you and renamed him Larry Mora.

That comes from the brains of director Stephen Chbosky and Steven Levenson, the writer. They wanted to highlight a blended family with a stepfather, and I certainly welcomed the challenge of bringing Larry to life, especially singing "Requiem." Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's lyrics are fantastic, and they blend in so many characters and it folds in so seamlessly with Steve Levenson's script that we're halfway through the song before you realize the character is singing.

That helped me prepare for singing in this movie, as it was very grounded and conversational. Especially for Larry, it wasn't belt-y or showy, it was connected to his grief and anger [at the time]. It was very much connected to the character's arc and journey.

Having Larry Mora be seen as somebody not often represented in a major studio film or in a movie musical is something I don't take lightly and I'm very proud of.

Representation matters, and I think we need to be seeing more of it. Not only that, but American families look all kinds of different ways. The more we pay homage and respect that, the more we encourage it. I hope there are Latinx artists who gain some kind of encouragement and momentum from it. But there's so much that needs to happen to encourage Latinx people, especially writers, to have a seat at the table and that is one of ultimate goals.

You recently posted on social media about how much you relished the work and the camaraderie on The Good Fight.

Having the great good fortune to have a relationship with [showrunners] Robert and Michelle King from working with them on the political farce BrainDead, where I played Sen. Luke Healy with a tremendous cast, was kind of an embarrassment of riches.

On The Good Fight, I enjoyed playing a character [Ricardo Diaz] so unabashedly an asshole, who thought he was the smartest guy in the room β€” and maybe he was β€” but was confident enough to express it outwardly.

To go from Miguel Galindo to a lawyer who is basically a peacock, and struts into the room wearing cowboy boots, showing off his intellect because he has a lack of self-esteem but larger-than-life confidence and chews on the scenery was a true pleasure with a cast of that caliber.

You've had years of screen time in procedurals, playing including Scotty Valens in Cold Case and Nick Amaro in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Break down some of the qualities of these characters and the challenges in portraying them.

What I love about Scotty is he carries himself with a lot of confidence, but he has a lot of weight on him. He carries the emotional baggage of what he does as a police officer but also of his upbringing and what happened with his older brother and his inability to prevent it. NΓ©stor Carbonell [who played Scotty's brother, Mike Valens] is a good friend and a fantastic actor, and we had a great time developing the brotherly relationship.

Being given the opportunity to co-write two episodes was an incredibly generous move by the showrunners. I co-wrote the first with Elwood Reid and the second with Adam Glass. On several fronts, Cold Case artistically and creatively was a very fertile soil for me.

And then came Nick, also a cop.

I wanted him to be as different from Scotty as possible. Warren Leight, the showrunner of SVU, talked about how we could leave Scotty in Philadelphia so we could bring Nick to New York. Part of that was creating a familial background with his daughter and wife and this other polarity in his life in addition to his police work. That was key to making Nick different from Scotty.

When we first meet him, he's undercover. He might be more of an adrenaline junkie than Scotty, whereas Nick always wanted to be on the streets, looked forward to chasing people and getting his hands dirty. On certain episodes that did not work in his favor.

Perhaps one of my favorite episodes that was most revelatory was "Padre Sandunguero," in which Armand Assante plays Nick's father.

To see his desire to be accepted and loved by his father made the eternal connection between father and son. Even though he may not have been the best father, the son still needs acceptance. That revealed a lot of who Nick Amaro is internally. I'll always remember it fondly not only for the writing but for the opportunity that comes rarely on procedurals to delve into the psychology of a character so completely. It was a beautifully written show.

What is the landscape like currently for Hispanic talent in the industry in the wake of the racial reckoning brought on by George Floyd's murder?

I think there's a greater awareness of where our community is within the industry. All you have to do is read the Annenberg report on representation of Latinx actors, directors, writers and producers to realize we're severely underrepresented.

Although there is a greater awareness, as Elgin James put it in a very poetic way: it's almost as if the box containing the underrepresented has been taken off a lower shelf, kind of dusted off, and put on a higher shelf. While there are people trying to change it, the reality is we're still in that box. The idea is to break out and tell whatever story we want.

I think Hollywood is mostly run by well-intentioned people, and the more we continue to shed light on underrepresented groups then perhaps tectonic plates can shift to where those stories can be told.

How does your background influence your career and social activism?

Having Cuban parents, I'm incredible proud of my heritage, and the legacy of exiles who felt they had to leave Cuba for the benefit of their families.

My grandparents left with very little. They showed up in Miami with a dime in their pocket, but the family was mostly together and were also very fortunate that they were given the opportunity to become citizens. I feel incredibly indebted to my grandparents and parents, but we have a long way to go to provide for people from other countries who want a better future.

When we talk about modern-day Cuba, the struggle continues β€” to call for the release of political prisoners, to continue to call for plurality of ideas, free elections, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of the press and artistic freedom. When you see Cubans protesting on the island, it is an uncommon sight given how the Cuban government/regime tends to crack down on any kind of dissent.

As Cuban Americans, we certainly embrace the side of American, but the Cuban side is important to us, to support our brothers and sisters fighting for their own freedom and liberty. I will always stand up for them.

Who are some of your role models, mentors and people who inspire you?

With my heritage, it's as much about honoring the trailblazers that came before.

I had the honor of playing Desi Arnaz in a biopic on CBS.

Andy Garcia is not only a mentor but kicks doors open for other Latinx talent. It's about how to multiply opportunities for others.

Rita Moreno: I had the absolute privilege of playing her son in One Day at a Time.

Celia Cruz: her music and spontaneity, it's the way I want to act. Even if tragic, she finds the hope in how she interprets that song. I glean a lot of from her musicality in how I interpret a role.

[Former Pittsburgh Pirates baseball star] Roberto Clemente: his sense of pride as an Afro Puerto Rican and what he had to deal with, along with the language barrier.

Now you're seeing a lot of acclaim for him, but it was less so during his time. His death [in a December 1972 plane crash] in trying to deliver supplies to Nicaragua after the earthquake β€” he was someone who saw past themselves and was trying to help others. It's inspirational for me and even after his death, the resonance of his life serves as a vibrant mentorship for me.

In a very immediate way, Edward James Olmos. He spoke at my undergrad university all about artistry and being an active citizen. To call him a friend and colleague is incredibly meaningful.

They say don't meet your heroes, but I'm going to call out Jimmy Smits. Watching him on L.A. Law, I was already acting at the time in junior high, and to see someone with that amount of mastery of his work, of this art form, was inspiring for me. With In the Heights, to see him challenge himself with a musical is an example of someone who continues to evolve artistically, someone I hope to emulate.

It goes back to creating opportunities, either self-created or having the awareness be so acute that the industry makes more space to have underrepresented stories be told. When that happens artists can take more risks, rather than falling into the same roles they've played in the past or being limited by them.


For more stories celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, click HERE

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