Interview: Skyline’s David Zayas


On his new role and Dexter‘s Batista

Like most fellow Shock readers out there, I myself am a huge fan of Showtime’s original series Dexter. So, while visiting the set of the Strause brothers new alien sci-fi thriller Skyline, this writer couldn’t help but be excited to suddenly be sharing balcony space with actor David Zayas, who portrays Angel Batista on the hit cable series. The view we’re sharing overlooks all of Marina Del Ray and provides for the perfect backdrop to our conversation, which covers his entire career including his humble beginnings as a stage actor in New York where he also served as a New York City cop (!) for 15 years. While the majority of our chat revolved around his role in Skyline, we couldn’t help but eventually steer the talk towards Dexter, which enters its fifth season this fall.

Robg.: Several months back, I had interviewed Keith Gordon about Dexter, and one of the interesting things that came up was that since he’s a director on only select episodes, he doesn’t always know where a season is going. That allows for him to watch the show as a fan and still get surprised. Are you yourself a fan of Dexter, even though you appear in every episode?

David Zayas: Well, I’ll tell you, as an actor sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to see your own work objectively. For example, I was in Oz and that was my all time favorite show… until I got cast in it! And then it was still a great show, but it was hard for me to watch and still look at from the point of view of a fan, but I still loved it. Dexter, I’m in every episode, I read the scripts ahead of time, so watching it, I’m looking at things like how well it’s done, how great the script is, how wonderful the other performances are. When you see yourself, you kind of have to tune out otherwise you’ll just look at yourself and see yourself act. When you watch a show, you don’t want to see actor’s act, you want to see characters live and be. But since it’s you, it’s hard! To answer your question. Yes, I am a big fan of Dexter, I think it’s a great, great show. It’s similar to the atmosphere I’ve had on this movie Skyline where you go to work and everybody really cares about what they’re doing and are really 100 percent backing up everything that’s going on. Working with a crew like that is really great. For example, the season finale of Season Four, there were so many changes that when it aired, there were scenes I didn’t know about, so I was really watching it from the outside in. I was fascinated, and I can imagine what it’s like for a fan that’s been following it. It’s really an addictive show and it’s done with such quality.

Robg.: Top notch acting, writing and directing, all across the board…

David Zayas: And it’s an interesting concept, it’s not black and white.

Robg.: So did the season four finale surprise you, or did you know it was coming?

David Zayas: Well, I sort of knew what was coming but I didn’t know how it was going to happen. I didn’t know what the ending was. I was shocked just like everyone else, but in a good way. There’s no formula here. The show is willing to take risks and go that extra mile to create good television. That kind of show is always good to be involved with.

Robg.: As an actor, it’s been pretty cool to get to play a character like Angel Batista. In the first season, he was going through a divorce, then in the second season he had the whole thing with Lila. Now he’s with Laguerta’s (Lauren Velez) character. You’ve had quite an arc through out the seasons. How’s that been for you as an actor and do you have any influence on what happens with the character?

David Zayas: Well, when I first got Dexter, I read the first book “Darkly Dreaming Dexter.” And the character of Angel Batista is barely in the book. So it was open season as to where my character was going if he was going anywhere. And I think the writers to their credit in watching the first few episodes and watching what I was trying to do with the character, my individual qualities I tried to inject into him, they observed that, saw that and ran with it and kept my character true to the way I was trying to create him during the first season. And in doing that, they’ve sent me on a very interesting roller coaster of dilemma’s and situations which shows how flawed yet honest he is. He’s sincere and genuine, yet he’s not a perfect person. He’s an average Joe, but with a lot of integrity. And with that integrity comes a lot of problems. I think they’ve maintained that in the four seasons. It’s really led to some interesting storylines that have given me good stuff to play with as an actor. The writers have done a great job and I appreciate that.

Robg.: What’s your favorite episode, both that you worked on and maybe one as a fan?

David Zayas: Well, I love the episode in the first season where I’m trying to find a gift for my wife so she can forgive me. It was such an interesting way of showing what kind of person Angel is. As an actor that was a fun episode to work on. As far as a favorite as a fan? I would have to say in the second season when Dexter gets called in and he thinks he’s caught because they’ve got his blood slides. The way they built that all up, that tension and to have him sit in front of Lundy (Keith Carradine), we’re expecting him to say we know these are yours, and instead they say these are Doakes (Erik King). They put a great twist there and shifted gears around for the entire season. I gotta say that’s my favorite episode.

Robg.: You yourself are a big horror fan, right? I mean, I’ve seen you at every horror movie premiere! You were on the red carpet for Halloween 2 and The Final Destination…

David Zayas: I am a big horror movie fan! I loved Zombieland. You know, it’s something that you go and watch these movies and something happens to your body. You put yourselves in these situations and go for the ride. I’ve been a huge fan every since I saw The Exorcist in the movies at 11 years old. Seeing all the George Romero movies in the theaters and even more recently, stuff like 28 Days Later. These aren’t just great horror movies, these have elements of sci-fi in them because there are a lot of aspects that could be true and scientifically correct. I was raised Catholic, so watching The Exorcist at 11 or 12, you think everything is for real. You take your own beliefs and experiences and combine it with what you’re watching. And even though you know it’s only a movie, there’s something in you that makes you think “what would I do if this happens?” I love Rob Zombie’s stuff, he brings a great different take to his movies. I see a lot of horror and science-fiction movies. Even when I was younger, I loved things like Blade Runner and Aliens – it’s a genre that I love.

Robg.: When did acting start for you? When did you become aware of how movies were made and how’d that lead you to pursue this career?

David Zayas: I became aware of movies very early on. My dad used to take me and my brother to the drive-in movie theater in the Bronx in Whitestone. Every Friday without fail. 52 Fridays a year. We’d go out and that was our night to see movies. I was always fascinated. Particularly by a lot of movies of the 70’s. Right from the get-go I thought wow, it’d be really cool to express yourself in this way by telling a story and throwing a slice of life that you can actually involve yourself and do. I’d always been interested in acting, I didn’t get involved in it until late because I come from a very blue-collar background. I got married early, I had kids, I went into the military and then I was a cop in New York City for 15 years. And about in 1990 to 1991, I said I have to give this a shot, because acting had always been a desire of mine in life. I had to take this opportunity and really go for it. I started to go to school and hooking up with a lot of good people and getting involved in theater. One thing led to another and I started working a lot. I knew this was something that I loved. I made the sacrifice and hustled but it was worth it to me. I knew this is what I wanted to do. With no expectations. I was just doing it because I loved to do it. That led to me being involved in a number of projects and plays with a lot of people that went on to do well in this business. Sometimes, I think back and I don’t really realize how it all happened, but it all makes sense. I was able to identify good people that really care about the arts.

Robg.: Did you do a lot of theater in New York? It seems to be that New York is more theater oriented whereas LA has more film productions…

David Zayas: Well, it’s funny, because I didn’t come to L.A. until I started Dexter. I did a lot of films and television while in New York. I got involved early with this theater company called Labyrinth, around 1992 and we had a lot of great actors that are very well known now that came from that theater company. We had Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Sam Rockwell. John Ortiz. I met my wife there Liza-Colon. We all got together and started doing a lot of plays. When you’re working with people that are so talented and so passionate, it feeds that passion in you and it’s contagious. My experience in this business has always been good. I did a lot of plays and all the local shows in New York, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, Undercover. I got this great part on Oz, and since then I’ve been working pretty steadily.

Robg.: Considering the nature of Skyline, do you have any personal favorite films that fall in the genre?

David Zayas: One of my favorite movies is Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. In that movie, he really shows the desperation for survival and I think that holds true in our movie too. The desperation to survive, what you’re able to do and how your personality traits just come out in moments of extreme stress and how that either collides or meshes with the other personalities in the same situation. I’ve never been in war, but I can imagine something similar in a war time situation.

Source: Rob G.