Q & A: Emilio Rivera talks ‘Sons of Anarchy’: “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life”

Emilio on his character: "When it comes to work, when I’m on set, I just become him"

Emilio Rivera
stars as Marcus Alvarez, the Founder of the Mayan Motorcycle Club on the FX drama, Sons of Anarchy. This season, as the Mayans and Sons team-up to run drugs for a Mexican cartel, Emilio’s part has grown even though he doesn’t know how the season is going to end, “I’m just hoping I stay alive,” he said.

Emilio has been acting for years. His first credit was on an episode of the Lorenzo Lamas show, Renegade, in 1992 and since then, he’s notched an impressive list of work in film, TV and theater.

I talked to Emilio during a conference call about the surprise direction his character is taking on the show, if he always wanted to be an actor and if he still gets nervous before the director shouts ‘Action!”

Follow Emilio on Twitter!

Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on FX

For more Sons of Anarchy, check out our interviews with Rockmond Dunbar, Theo Rossi, Winter Ave Zoli and Kristen Renton and Christopher Douglas Reed.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

You’re a big tough guy and you’ve been acting for years but do you still get nervous when you’re walking onto a new set or before the director say, “Action”?

Emilio Rivera: I get nervous still on Sons, bro.  I hope I never lose that.  That’s the whole fun part of it.  I did stage for many years before I did the TV and film thing and to me that’s my high.  Before when they say the camera’s rolling and the camera speed and my stomach is going and I turn my head and I get into it and then now I’m not nervous no more.  But, yeah, man, like the first second before I go on I’m always nervous, bro, and I hope I never lose that.  That’s my high, bro.  I really dig it, man. 

What do you think you’re key is to working so much? There are a ton of actors who have been around for a bit and they just disappear but you’ve been around for a while.

Emilio Rivera: You know what I think it’s I always try to go in prepared and one thing that people always say is be prepared and be nice to everybody, bro, because you’ve got to hang out with these people 12-14 hours and if you’re an … nobody’s going to want be you around.  I think a lot of times work just brings you more work especially in a small circle, man.  I mean, I worked with Kurt before on The Shield and I’ve been off for a long time but if I look back on my resume a lot of work has been with people like Spike Lee, Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh.  It’s all been with the same people over and over again or people that they know so it’s kind of cool, man.  But just be prepared, man, and be nice to everybody, just be nice, man.  It goes a long way, man.

Did you always want to be an actor?

Emilio Rivera: Yes, since I was a kid but then I got side tracked with the gangs and the drugs for a long time and so that really put a big hold on me but the stuff I learned from the streets I carry on to what I do now days, you know what I mean.  So what you see up there is really real stuff that I draw from, you know what I mean, that I can draw from that couldn’t be taught in school but I learned it in my upbringing, which I don’t approve of.  I don’t say, “Go do this and that to do what I do.”  It’s stupid but that was the way it worked out for me, you know what I mean?  I get to put it up on the screen now.

Were you surprised at the direction the character is taking and might take in the future?

Emilio Rivera: Kurt keeps kind of what’s going on in real life and Kurt’s a really smart man so he kind follows what’s going on in the outside world and incorporates it to the Sons of Anarchy world so he keeps it pretty tight, man.  It wasn’t really a farfetched thing.  I was hoping it would happen that way I could probably stay alive longer because I hate when I get in trouble with Sons of Anarchy because I don’t know if they’re going to put a bullet in my head or what, but right now as long as we’re friends I think I’ll be alive so I’ll see what happens.  But I’m happy we’re friends though.  We’re sure stronger as a team like that.

What’s it been like to stay with a character and stay with one show for four years now?

Emilio Rivera: I love it, man.  It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.  It’s really great.  The fans are great.  I mean I ride motorcycles so I do a lot of events and the fans give us a lot of love, man.  I’m having a great time.  I really am.

Have you learned anything playing this character or is there any part of it you’ll take with you through the rest of your career?

Emilio Rivera: No, he’s a tough guy, and I’ve played tough guys pretty much all my career.  He’s a different guy though.  What I like about him is he’s always in control.  You have not seen “Alvarez” lose control once if you think about it.  I mean sometimes he wants to but he holds it in.  I love “Alvarez,” man.  I’m going to stay—he’ll be with me for the rest of my life.  As long as I ride motorcycles, which God willing is another 50 years; I’ll always have “Alvarez” in my heart.  I’m hoping for ten seasons of Sons of Anarchy.

Is this different than any other role you’ve played?  I know you’ve played tough guy a lot but—

Emilio Rivera: You know what I do, man, is really weird.  It’s like I go into this little mode.  It’s my … I do with anything I do and once I’m in I stay there until they say, “Cut.”  I mean, I’m a sociable guy but when it comes to work, when I’m on set, I just become him.  I feel I’m him and so he’s not really much of a joker and I am.  Emilio likes to joke around.  I do that.  I like to kid around and “Alvarez”  is more like a serious business type guy and I just get into that mode and I dig it, man.  And then when they say, “Cut” I know it’s time to go home.  I don’t have to say much then I can have fun again like I usually like to do.

What are some of the things that you had to change about yourself to make your dreams come true?

Emilio Rivera: You know, man, for me I have 21 years clean and sober, and I know if I was still doing what I did before I would never do what I’m doing now because I wouldn’t really listen to anybody.  I thought nobody could tell me what to do.  I was just a hardheaded guy.  I got clean and sober 21 years.  That for me was a big plus for me to do what I do right now.

Are you happy with the way the character of “Alvarez” has progressed over the season?  Has anything in particular been challenging for you?

Emilio Rivera: No.  I appreciate the work.  I eat it up.  Give me whatever you want to give me because it just gives me more stuff to do.  Do you dig what I’m saying?  I get to go to different places in my memory bank, and no I dig it, man.  I love it.  I’m glad Kurt gave me the opportunity to do some things this year and we’ll see what happens.  I don’t know how the seasons going to end and I’m just hoping I stay alive.  I don’t know if I got picked up in the fifth season so I’m hoping I’m around for the fifth season.

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