Kurt Sutter thought he was done with Sons of Anarchy. Then fans demanded more. Dominic Corry goes behind the scenes of spin-off show, Mayans M.C.
For seven brutal seasons, Sons of Anarchy thrilled viewers with its unflinching portrayal of life in a motorcycle gang.
Unlike many shows with such a devoted audience, it chose to end long before it outstayed its welcome, in 2014. Since then, nothing has really stepped up to fill the gap it left behind.
But a couple of years ago, enduring demand led creator Kurt Sutter to plan a follow-up, centred around a Mexican-American motorcycle club first introduced in Sons of Anarchy.
Following a torturous development period which saw its pilot partially recast and reshot, Mayans M.C. premieres on New Zealand screens this week.
To create the new series, Sutter teamed up with film-maker Elgin James (Lowriders), a former gang member.
"His only parameters were we couldn't mess with the mythology of Sons of Anarchy, and that it would take place on the border," James tells Weekend during an interview in Los Angeles.
"So that was the jumping-off point and then we just dove in."
Although it has a sprawling cast of characters, Mayans M.C. is driven by story of Ezekiel 'EZ' Reyes (J.D. Pardo), a prospective new member of the Mayans thanks to his older brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas).
"To me, if Sons was Hamlet, then I wanted to do a Horatio Alger story," explains James, "which is basically starting from the bottom and working your way up, and that's where the idea of the prospect came from."
"He was a young man who was going to Stanford, the golden boy in his community, very intelligent, had the world at his fingertips and this tragic event happens, and he goes to prison for it," Pardo says.
"When he's out, we find him as a prospect for the Mayans M.C., and he's trying to put the pieces back together. He's haunted by his photographic memory, he's haunted by his past, and the mistakes that he made."
There's a lot more to EZ's story, but Sutter's notorious desire to preserve the viewing experience means none of it can be revealed here.
Does Pardo think Sons of Anarchy fans will embrace Mayans M.C.?
"I think they will," says the actor, best known for a supporting role in the Twilight saga.
"It's still the Sons of Anarchy world. It's three to four years after Jax Teller's death, so we're in that world, we're living in that time, it's just that the story now has shifted over to the Mayans. The bikes are amazing, the action's great, the drama's great, it's gonna be a great ride."
Enhancing the authenticity of Mayans M.C. is the fact that many cast members have had direct exposure to the criminal world the show portrays, with some, including co-creator Elgin James, having spent time in prison.
"I was the opposite," says Pardo. "My father was an LAPD cop for over 30 years. I knew that I wanted to be an actor as a kid and I knew that if I got in trouble I wasn't gonna be able to do this. I was terrified. So that's what kept me on the straight and narrow. I didn't wanna get in trouble. So it's funny that now I'm on a show where some of these actors have served time."
Taking place as it does on both sides of the Mexican border with an almost entirely Hispanic cast, Mayans M.C. can't help but feel especially loaded in these politically-charged times.
"It is weird, because Kurt and I started on this show before the election," says James. "We didn't think that this would ever blow up how it has. But that's not the story we're gonna tell. We're gonna tell the story of what it's like to live at the border. And it's not about politics, it's about your day-to-day life. All this stuff that is happening, I don't know if it's gonna benefit us or hurt us. All we know is we have to tell this whole story from the inside out.
"People have been telling the story forever where the brown or black person is just a stereotyped caricature - like a bad guy - and so for the first time you have people like me that were in gangs and were cruising and now we get to tell these stories."
• Mayans M.C. premieres on Wednesday at 9.30pm on SoHo.