Spoiler alert: In the Oct. 14 episode of Sons of Anarchy, “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em,” Alvarez (Emilio Rivera) declines Juice’s offer of intel on SAMCRO in exchange for getting him into Mexico. Instead, Alvarez strikes a deal with Jax (Charlie Hunnam) to hand Juice over…in exchange for inheriting the Irish gun trade once they take down August Marks and splitting Lin’s territory with the Niners (which will make up for the Mayans letting the Aryan Brotherhood distribute heroin in Stockton). Rivera, who’s recurred on the show since the pilot, talked to EW about Alvarez’s play, how he’ll remember the show, and that time he promised Emilio Jr. he’d never let someone kill him as a peace offering.
EW: What was your reaction when you read that Alvarez would team up with Jax to take down Marks? As a fan, it’s exciting to see him really enter the fray. But it’s also really dangerous.
Rivera: Of course it is. I’m glad that we’re teaming up because Marks has just been a thorn. “Black,” like the characters talk, they’ve always done me wrong. In season 1, they ambushed us and tried to kill all of us—that didn’t happen, but I still got shot in the process.
The series began with the Mayans torching SAMCRO’s warehouse and stealing guns meant for the Niners. It’s coming full circle in a way.
In the beginning, it all started out with the Sons and Mayans, and you had to incorporate other gangs and MCs as well to make it more interesting for seven seasons. I was surprised by everything that happened and always proud to be a part of it….Somebody’s always double-crossing somebody. If you look at my character, he’s been a straight shooter from the beginning, and he always gets screwed, man. So I think there’s time for me to go crazy now, you know, and see what happens. I’m tired of it, man. (Laughs)
How do you view Marcus’ mindset at the moment?
Jax is a strong president with a strong following, as am I, so it’s good when you have those powers together—just as long as something doesn’t go wrong. Because if it goes wrong, it’s gonna be ugly wrong, you know what I mean? Marks, of course, you’ve seen what he’s done over the years. You need these two strong characters to come together to take him down. Let’s see if ultimately we do, because otherwise, we all lose, and Charming will be run by somebody else.
Fans do appreciate Alvarez being levelheaded. Even in that scene with Nero at Diosa in this episode, he was calm when he was essentially threatening him. I love Alvarez, but I was like, if he hurts Nero, I will turn on him.
Nero has turned out to be one of my favorite characters now because he was just a guy from the hood who did good for himself, he was trying to get away, and then Gemma brought him back in. He’s following his heart, but his heart is taking him down the wrong track—it’s taking him back to where he came from, and that’s not good. I feel for him. In that one episode, he told Gemma, “Come on, baby, let’s go,” and she said, “I can’t,” and you can see in his eyes it just broke his heart. He’s getting up there in age, like all of us are, and he just wants to settle down on a ranch.
I forget: Was this the first time we see Alvarez’s “office”?
Actually, no. It’s a different place now, but it was the same set-up as in the episode before my son was killed in season 1. I was sitting down doing some paperwork with my boots up and he’s working on a bike in the scene. They didn’t show it as much as they do now.
Talking with episode director Guy Ferland, he said he lit the scene when Juice comes in and asks Marcus for help with a light from above so that the audience would feel the weight of the club on Juice, like it was an interrogation. Did you feel that in the moment?
I didn’t realize that until I saw photos and the promo. (Laughs) It looks kinda angelic, like he’s gonna help him. But then it’s also demonic, too. It can go either way: He’s either a devil or an angel. I remember that day, [Ferland] goes, “There’s something cool right here. Mark him where he’s at. I want this lighting.” I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. I was just doing my job, you know. Now that I see it, it was pretty smart.
And the scene with Alvarez and Jax making their deal—that’s just the two of you guys sitting there. How did you and Charlie keep that interesting?
Charlie brings so much, I just got to react towards him. I was wondering how that was going to turn out because it was a long scene—and like you said, two men sitting down—but the way we’re playing off each other, I felt pretty good about it. I was amazed how fast we shot it. He’s always prepared, so I gotta be prepared. It’s always fun working with Charlie because we’re gonna knock it out of the park every single time. He’s that good that he makes you better.
When you look back over your run on the show, do you have a favorite scene?
My favorite scene is when I had my son killed in my arms. If you remember, Happy stabbed him in the back. It was so emotional for me to do that. I have a son the same age, so when I did that scene I called my son, and I said, “I’m gonna do something today, man, that would never happen.” He’s like, “Dad, I know that.” (Laughs) But it got me so bad. It’s like, wow, I’m killing my son. Before we did that, Kurt came up to me and said, “Listen, we wrote this scene. If you do not want to do it, we understand, we can write it a different way.” I said, “You know what, I’ve never seen it done. Let’s roll with it.” And I got a lot of hate, of course it’s hate of the character: “How can he do this? It’s not us. We don’t do this kind of thing.” Which is kinda fun. It was such an emotional day that day. I really broke down really hard on that scene, and it was all cut out. When I saw Kurt, I said, “Kurt, I did some stuff there. What happened?” He goes, “It’s too early in the season. We can’t show that side of Alvarez.” Now over the years, I understand what Kurt was writing about. If I were to start crying like a little baby like I did that day, you wouldn’t have respect for Alvarez. (Laughs) He’d just be a big cry baby. I understand what he’s writing now.
What’s the lasting memory you’ll take away from your experience working on Sons?
Seven years with these guys, what stands out the most is the things that people will never see. When we have table reads and a character is dying and they give their last speech, or when Opie died, and Charlie spoke at the table, it was so heart-wrenching. We get to see you before you die. Stuff like that, it’s forever in my brain. Everybody’s crying. There’s tissues going around the table before we start filming and it’s just everybody saying their last goodbyes. That stuff I’ll take with me the rest of my life—that stuff that’s just very private that we saw as a cast and as a crew. It’s beautiful, man. And I want to say thank you to all the people who have supported me. I’ve gotten so much mail, and on the streets, everywhere I go, they’ve given Alvarez so much love. I’m gonna really miss playing that guy. Much love back to everybody, because I really appreciate it.