Interview: David Zayas of Force of Nature

Disc Dish had the pleasure of chatting with actor David Zayas, one of the hardest working talents in the biz, who was enthusiastic in talking about his new film Force of Nature, an action-thriller that explodes during a violent Category 5 hurricane in Puerto Rico. Zayas plays the film’s heavy, a murderous thief who leads an equally lethal gang into an apartment complex to rob a wealthy tenant of his art collection. Upon arrival, they battle with a disgraced cop (Emile Hirsch, Killer Joe) who is racing to evacuate the building’s tenants, which include a doctor (Kate Bosworth, Straw Dogs) and her retired detective father (Mel Gibson, Braveheart).

With nearly 100 credits on his resume, including featured roles in TV’s Dexter, Oz, Gotham and the films The Expendables and Michael Clayton, Zayas discussed what excited him about his latest character, his tendency to play the tough guy, and the next type of role he’d like to tackle.

Disc Dish: Before your prolific film and television career, you were a New York City police officer and that experience helped shape how you portray law enforcement officers as well as criminals, most notably as a detective in Dexter and a prison kingpin in Oz. In Force of Nature you are back on the wrong side of the law. What drew you to the character of John the Baptist?

David Zayas: I’ve always been fascinated by the motives of people, whether they doing something really good or something really bad. It’s always interesting to get into the mindset of certain characters and in this one, when I read it, I thought this guy’s really a bad guy and he’s really a psychopath. I always wanted to explore that and the challenge is, ‘How can I humanize it?’ Sometimes it’s difficult in the script, a character is just so bad you don’t get any redeeming qualities. I always try to take roles that challenge me and scare the hell out of me. Sometimes I do well with it, sometimes I fall on my face. That’s just the way it goes. But I always try to take that risk. I don’t like playing it safe and I don’t really think about the consequence of how I’m going to be judged. My only job is to try and find some realities, some truth in the moments that they give me in the role.

DD: And this character is smooth, he has some charming aspects to him and is very intelligent. He knows a lot about the art world. How much of that was in the script and how much your interpretation?

Zayas: It was in the script, but I did my own research, especially on art. I had to find out why I am going to risk my own life in this hurricane. Number one, it’s too easy to say, ‘Well, he’s just a psychopath.’ You never know what makes a person like that tick. Sometimes it’s what you don’t expect. Anyone normally watching this movie might say, ‘Well, I didn’t expect he would have the knowledge of art like this character did.’ So did research on some famous paintings and artists during that time period just so I could have that to fall back on.

Emile Hirsch (l.) and David Zayas in Force of Nature

And as for being smooth and charming, well, I’ve dealt with some people on the wrong side of the law. They get away with it for a long time because they are smooth and intelligent and very good in justification. Of course, the root of all evil—money—really brings out the true colors of people sometimes. So I try to use that.

DD: When the film’s trailer was released a few weeks ago there was some criticism about its possible racial bias—the heroes are mainly white and the bad guys are local Puerto Ricans. As a native of Puerto Rico, did you have any concerns over those optics when you took the role?

Zayas: I don’t pick roles based on political correctness. I pick roles that I can find truth in, are interesting and can help move the story along. I just did a film where I played a corrupt cop and it’s really pregnant these days. It’s called Body Cam with Mary J. Blige. It had to do with racial relations between police and citizens. When I read it, I didn’t know if I should but then I thought, let me see what I can do with it because that’s my job as an actor. My job is not to pick something that is going to make me look good; my job is to tell the story as was written and try to bring some humanity and truth to it.

As to Force of Nature, I thought about the hurricane aspect of it, but lots of stories could have happened during Hurricane Maria. Maybe some stories worse than this one. So when I look at art I don’t really judge it. I tried to find something to try to understand it—if it’s so over-the-top where there’s absolutely no redeeming qualities and the story is just outrageous, then I wouldn’t do it. I found the story interesting as it was set in the middle of a hurricane. I did not really think it would affect certain people in a negative way. I thought we were going to bring economy the Puerto Rico because the entire crew was Puerto Rican and they were one of the best crews I ever worked with. I would be lying if I said that it being filmed in Puerto Rico wasn’t a contributing factor in my decision to do it, because it was. I love the island and would love to continue to go work there.

The only thing I could say about the criticism is that, yes, it’s legit, I understand it, but it shouldn’t be the driving force in the selection of a part that I want to explore unless it’s so over-the-top. I just don’t think I really thought about it because I was looking at this role as an artist.

DD: So much of the production is shot in pouring rain. What type of provisions did they make for the actors and crew on set when filming under those conditions?

Zayas: Well, it’s 90° there every day. You can do a scene that is full of wind and rain then in a few minutes you’re dry because of the heat and humidity that’s on that island. I will say that the safety aspect of this film was the best I’ve ever seen. Everybody was careful, everybody cared. There was a great weapons specialist, safety specialist and medical specialist on the set. I don’t recall anybody really getting hurt with all the action that was taking place. I knew that going in it was going to be a difficult and grueling shoot, but that’s part of the attraction that I wanted to explore.

DD: You have played a lot of tough guys. What type of role do you long to play that you haven’t yet?

Zayas: I would love to play a priest. In real life, I don’t feel like I’m a tough guy. I take things in a very sensitive way. I’m not close to as tough as some of the characters I play. Sometimes the script gives you enough to show the tough side and I don’t have to bring it, I just need to find a humanity and truth in the moment that I’m doing. So yes, I think maybe a priest or even politician because these are characters that are conflicted. I guess I’d like to find more characters that are conflicted. That’s where you explore and you go inside yourself.

Directed by Michael Polish, Force of Nature will premiere on VOD, Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate on June 30, 2020.

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at