Originally Published December 13, 2006
If you read "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," you know that the character of Angel Batista only has a minor role. Yet the writers for the Showtime show Dexter, as well as David Zayas, the actor who plays him, have done an outstanding job bringing Batista to life.
Batista has grown from merely being Dexter's "friend" to becoming an integral part of the show. We got to know him as an honest cop as he told the truth in the Sergeant Doakes debacle. He started to crack the Ice Truck Killer case, got too close, and was stabbed, which was what led Dexter to realizing the identity of the Ice Truck Killer. And as the show comes to a close, Batista will be the tie that links the police to the Ice Truck Killer as well.
"I read the first "Dexter" book while I was auditioning, which really didn't help me much because Angel Batista isn't really prominent in any of the books. I've been really lucky to have a group of good writers... They didn't have much to work with from the book, so a lot of Angel's storyline was probably confined to them and their imagination," Zayas told me during a phone conversation.
In Dexter, it's easy to take some issue with Sergeant Doakes and Lieutenant LaGuerta. They aren't always characters you'd want to be friends with. That definitely isn't so for Angel Batista. "They show a lot of human qualities in Angel, and what I like about it is he's not the tough cop they'd usually give me," Zayas said.
The tough cop they'd usually give him? That's right, Zayas, who was formerly in the NYPD, has played a cop or a detective in at least ten different roles. Does that bother Zayas? Not at all. "Are you kidding me? Any time someone wants to hire me I'm happy," Zayas said. He continued, "I'm either a cop, a detective, or some bad guy, but every once in awhile I'll play another part. I guess I have the personality or the look of a cop or some kind of a law enforcement official, which gets me that kind of work."
"As long as the part is interesting, which I've been lucky enough to have, it really doesn't matter what I play as long as it's interesting. So I could play 45 different cops and if they're all different and interesting, it's okay by me," Zayas said. To me, the role of Batista is more like Zayas' own personality - throughout our conversation, Zayas was beyond amiable, genuine and generous with his time. And as Zayas previously mentioned, the role of Batista is different than his prior roles. "He's just a guy with problems and he expresses is problems in very human ways... I'm extremely happy with the nuances of my character and the choices that he's made and the decision to make him an honest cop. And those are the qualities in a character I haven't played before, whether I've played a cop or not, those are qualities I like."
The character of Dexter Morgan has done an exceptional job at hiding his true self from those around him. With the exception of Sergeant Doakes, no one has even so much as suspected Dexter of being different... in a serial killer kind of way. David Zayas explained, "What's interesting about the Sergeant Doakes character is there's certain things that people have a sixth sense to. In my opinion, Angel Batista's character is a lot more open and a lot more trusting than a lot of people in this line of business. I think Angel has a very bohemian kind of quality that most cops do not have. I think Sergeant Doakes comes from that kind of life. He has that kind of violent instinct that comes from his background."
And, as we've learned from Dexter, usually people with that violent instinct, or that Dark Passenger, can recognize each other. So, if Sergeant Doakes has his own form of a Dark Passenger, perhaps he will be Dexter's nemesis in season two. Zayas, however, is in the dark about this. "I think the writers didn't really have a whole set plan of twelve episodes way ahead. I think they've really been writing on their feet as we shot it." As for season two he said, "Whatever it is I'll welcome it with an open mind and try and make it as interesting as possible and help move the story along."
Zayas added, "I do the role. I do the script. I don't judge it. I do it and I try to bring out the best of what they write... Angel Batista is a character in a story of what's happening to Dexter. All I try to do is do the best I can to help the story - the story of the Ice Truck Killer and Dexter."
In the beginning of the season, we saw that Batista and Dexter were "friends" (Batista most likely considers them friends, while Dexter thinks of it as a fake relationship to help keep up his disguise as a normal guy). With each new episode it seems as though Batista has spent more time with Vince Masuka than with Dexter. "I think as the season progressed they've expanded the characters. I think since Masuka, which is a great character and C.S. Lee is fantastic, since his character is the same job as Dexter, it only makes sense... Every character except his sister Deb goes in and out of his relationship with Dexter... I think they're expanding his [Batista's] character, opening up angles. They're able to show his life in different aspects."
The friendships on the show Dexter, whether real or fake, are all real behind the scenes. "I'll tell you this," Zayas said. "I love Lauren Velez [Lieutenant LaGuerta]. I've known her for fifteen years and we're in the same theater company and we were in Oz together. Erik King [Sergeant Doakes] was on Oz as well. And, a lot of the guest stars [on Dexter] I've worked with in the past. I love to work with Julie Benz [Rita] and Jennifer Carpenter [Deb], and Michael C. Hall [Dexter] is the coolest."
Zayas said, "It's always fun. Everybody's ready to do their job. Everyone comes prepared... Everyone is supportive of each other and everyone helps each other. We're there to do something really good, really special. The fun we have on the set really shows in how well the show is doing."
As for the type of fun they're having, Zayas said, "It's always interesting when you have body parts on the set. At first you're shocked and then after the sixth or seventh take it becomes like, 'What are people going to think about this?'"
Zayas also said he's always entertained when he has scenes with Masuka. "He's hard to keep a straight face with. He's very funny all the time.... Michael [C. Hall] is very serious... We always try to break a smile out of him."
And that's just on the set. Off the set, the Dexter actors continue their friendships. "It's definitely an ensemble, and you can tell when we go to Miami to shoot. Everyone has dinner together, everyone hangs out together. It's not enough that we spend 12 hours together on the set... We've joined each other's lives. I think it shows. We have a really good bond within the cast."
"I'm having so much fun doing it and having so much fun watching it and even though I read the script and know what's happening, I'm really surprised by some of the things I see myself. I'm shocked. That just shows how interesting it is... And with the music and with everything it's a really compelling show even with someone who knows all the scenes that are going to take place," Zayas said.
Knowing how much fun I personally have watching the show, and how much fun the actors have making the show, my fingers are crossed that when the Golden Globe nominations come out on Thursday, Dexter will be honored. If not, the Hollywood Foreign Press is going to have hell to pay!
Until the production of Dexter resumes in the spring of 2007, if you're in New York City, you can check out Zayas in the Barn Series Festival at The Public Theater.