A former New York City police officer-turned-actor, David Zayas developed into a fine character performer in films, on television and on stage. While usually typecast as one form of police officer or another, Zayas did spread his wings on occasion, usually on stage and in low-budget features. He did over 30 plays off-Broadway for a local theater group, while at the same time, building his resume by guest starring on prominent television shows. Eventually, he landed his first regular role on the ill-fated procedural "The Beat" (UPN, 1999-2000), then made viewers take notice with his portrayal of a cold, calculating gang leader in the acclaimed prison series "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003). But it was his turn as a good-hearted, but ultimately too-trusting homicide detective on "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006-13) that truly propelled his career, turning Zayas from typecast beat cop to strong supporting player.
Zayas was born in Puerto Rico and raised in The Bronx, NY by his dad, a sanitation worker. Though he had always dreamed of becoming an actor, Zayas was compelled by his father to take all the tests for city jobs upon graduating from high school. But instead, he joined the Air Force and was stationed in both Oklahoma and London. He returned home when he was 21, married and had two children, then got the call in 1986 to join the NYPD. It was a particularly dangerous time in the city, particularly Washington Heights, where Zayas was stationed at the peak of the crack cocaine epidemic. He was later transferred to other high-crime areas in the city, but was fortunate enough to never have had to use his weapon. Meanwhile, after divorcing his first wife, Zayas decided to pursue acting and joined the Ernie Martin Studio, where he trained for two years.
Zayas built his career performing on stage with the LAByrinth Theater Company, a multicultural collective that produced the plays of emerging voices from the surrounding New York community. Zayas was a member from the company's beginnings in 1992, performing ably in "Rough House," the story of six brothers and sisters confronting their past at a family wedding, and "Hot and Lusty," a comedy about the differences between the sexes. During the company's fourth season, Zayas starred alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Divine Horsemen," a crime-drama about three criminals struggling to decide their fate after a robbery gone bad. Following in the footsteps of many up-and-coming New York actors, Zayas landed guest spots on the perennial procedural "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010), then made his feature debut in "Lena's Dreams" (1996), playing the agent of a struggling Cuban-American actress (Marlene Forte) on the verge of giving up her dreams of performing on Broadway.
After breaking into television and film, Zayas' onscreen career took off, though he was usually typecast as either a cop or bad guy. Nonetheless, he was more than happy to get the work. He made brief appearances in "Stepmom" (1998) and "Rounders" (1998), while continuing more significant guest-starring work on episodes of "Feds" (CBS, 1996-97), "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005) and "NYPD Blue" (NBC, 1993-2005). Zayas landed his first regular series role with "The Beat" (UPN, 1999-2000), a short-lived police procedural about two young patrol officers (Derek Cecil and Mark Ruffalo) working the Lower East Side. Despite his short run on the show, Zayas managed to attract the attention of Martin Scorsese, who cast him as a cop in "Bringing Out the Dead" (1999). After being cast as yet another officer in "The Yards" (2000), Zayas branched out in the ironically titled "Washington Heights" (2001), playing the boss of an aspiring comic book artist (Manny Perez) forced to re-examine his life after his father (Tomas Milian) is shot in his grocery store by a would-be robber.
In 2001, Zayas became a well-known commodity when he joined the cast of "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003) during the fourth season of the stark and violent series about prison life. He played Enrique Morales, a ruthless murderer who arrives at the experimental ward, Em City, and quickly takes over the Latino gang, El Norte, as well as the prison's thriving drug trade. Zayas received wide critical acclaim and earned many fans for his portrayal of a calculating businessman who rules the prison until he suffers from a vicious assault by a rival gang. After his run on "Oz," Zayas returned to his previous guest star status with appearances in episodes of "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002-09), "Numb3rs" (CBS, 2005-10) and "Shark" (CBS, 2006-08). He also had supporting roles in several low-budget films, like "Jailbait" (2004) and "Brooklyn Bound" (2004) - neither of which made it very far past the festival circuit.
Zayas hit pay dirt with his next role, playing Angel Batista on "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006-13), a darkly comic procedural about Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a bloody spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department who also happens to be a serial killer - though one who lives by a code to only kill others who have escaped justice. One of the few decent cops on the force, Batista remained unwitting about his best friend's extracurricular activities. Thanks to his success on "Dexter," Zayas was able land meatier roles in bigger projects. In "Angel Rodriguez" (HBO, 2006), he played the father of a troubled inner-city kid (Jonan Everett) who is kicked out of his home and forced to grow up with the help of a pregnant school counselor (Rachel Griffiths). Meanwhile, he had small parts in big films, including "16 Blocks" (2006), "The Savages" (2007) and "Michael Clayton" (2006).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
First appearance on NBC's "Law and Order"
Made his feature debut in "Lena's Dreams"
Had small roles in the films, "Stepmom" and "Rounders"
Played a cop in Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead"
Landed his first regular series role in UPN's short-lived cop series, "The Beat"
Breakout role as a ruthless murderer-turned-prison gang leader on the HBO series, "Oz"
Played the boss of an aspiring comic book artist in "Washington Heights"
Played the father of a troubled inner-city kid in "Angel Rodriguez" (HBO)
Portrays Sgt. Angel Batista on the Showtime series, "Dexter"
Co-starred with Sylvester Stallone in the film, "The Expendables"
Featured in the indie hit, "Shadowboxing"