Actor David Zayas (Dexter, Body Cam) is the main antagonist in the Puerto Rico set action thriller Force of Nature. John the Baptist (Zayas) is a remoreseless criminal who, along with several other men, descends upon an apartment complex looking for priceless art. A retired detective named Ray (Mel Gibson) who lives in the apartment and two duty bound police officers (Emile Hirsch, Stephanie Cayo) are in John’s way in getting the riches, which in turn leads to an inevitable and bloody showdown.
Directed by Michael Polish (Nona, For Lovers Only), Force of Nature is an engrossing tale has a deceptively rich amount of narrative behind its B-movie trappings. Polish’s wife and frequent collaborator Kate Bosworth stars as Ray’s understandably daughter Troy (Ray refuses to leave the complex even though a Category 5 hurricane is on the horizon).
During our Zoom chat David Zayas talked about what made Force of Nature a unique experience for him and how naturalism is an important element to his acting aesthetic. Last but definitely not least, Zayas waxed poetic about the classic Sidney Lumet feature Dog Day Afternoon. Zayas lived a ton of life before he decided to pursue acting on a full-time basis, and that level of realism and nuance is evident in whatever genre he chooses to tackle.
Force of Nature is a pretty multi-layered narrative. Was that one of the reasons why you took part in the project?
Many, many reasons. First of all, I loved the script. When I read a script, I don’t look at it in a political way. I look at it as – is it a good script? Is it interesting? Is this a character that I can make interesting?
Is this a character where I can try and find layers? When I say yes (to a script), sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I love the (Force of Nature) script. I like action movies and I felt this is an opportunity to be involved in a really good film and it was great to work with Mel Gibson, Kate Bosworth and Emile Hirsch. Also wonderful to work with the entire crew which was from Puerto Rico.
I love that they brought that economy into the island which was hurting so much because of Hurricane Maria.
Was this a claustrophobic thriller and physically grueling for you?
It was grueling and I knew that going in. It was difficult and it was hot in Puerto Rico. There’s a lot of water and there’s a lot of wind and it took an extra focus to try and create the reality of what was happening and also telling the story.
It was grueling, but grueling in a good way in that it’s an experience I’d never had. I always try to explore things that number one scare the hell out of me, number two I’ve never done, and number three maybe test the border of difficulty and it could also be a grey area in the perception of the film.
I think it’s important for an artist to take a risk like that. And then the fact that my family is from Puerto Rico. I’m Puerto Rican. To work on that island, I would be lying if I said that wasn’t a big attraction, because it was. But ultimately it’s one of my best experiences because of the people that I worked with.
What was it like for you growing up in New York and watching films starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and director Sidney Lumet? How did that influence you as an actor?
I was always a movie buff. I would see a movie every week in the ‘70s. There were great films in the seventies. Speaking of Sidney Lumet , the film that kind of gave me a lightning bolt that I wanted to be associated with what I am seeing on the screen was Dog Day Afternoon.
I watched it twice. I was 12 years old and I’m thinking I don’t know what I want to do, I don’t know if I want to be an actor, but I know I want to be part of this art form that makes people feel the way I felt that day watching it.
It was a story that was told so compellingly and acted so well and the story was sensitive in many ways and (it covered) many subjects – homosexuality, violence , the betrayal of someone who felt he was betrayed by his government after he served his country.
So many things as a 12-year-old in the South Bronx when you go to school it’s limited what they teach you. I always relied on films to try and find another aspect of society (and) what I can learn about. That was one of the films that inspired me to . . . I had no artists in my family. I came from a blue collar family so I had no artistic window to go through.
So life took over and everything (including my) passion went to the back burner. I got married young. I had kids young. I joined the military. I became an NYPD cop.
About halfway into that, when I was 29 – I was disheartened with what I was doing. I had to raise my kids so I had to stick with it but I didn’t want to do this the rest of my life. I wanted to do what my heart tells me to do so I start going to acting school and involved with a lot of good people. The one thing I’m good at is knowing how to surround myself with good people and how to get away from bad people.
So I learned that the hard way. It was really instrumental (for) movies and theater to get me to that level.
Heres’ the video version of Zayas’ answer. It’s a Zoom chat so there is a slight lag on the video/audio sync, but just in case you’re interested:
Can you talk about your naturalistic approach to acting? Is that someone that can be taught?
I don’t know. I know I had really good teachers. I studied with Ernie Martin and William Esper. The naturalism I always saw on the screen. I like films from the seventies because it started the whole naturalist way.
You don’t see people act – you just see people live on screen. I studied hard. I worked hard, but I wasn’t consciously saying ‘I need to be natural.’ What I was taught and what I always knew instinctively was whatever I do, I have to find the truth in that moment. In finding the truth of that moment, it’s going to seem natural.
That takes work. I don’t think it’s something that you can . . . I think there’s a part of it that you need to have, you know? I don’t know the answer to that question, it could be different for everybody.