Early life, family, educational background
Puerto Rican actor David Zayas was born on 15 August 1962 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He was raised in The Bronx, New York City USA, and dreamed of acting since he was 13.
He and his cousins went to the cinema and watched the 1975 Al Pacino film, “Dog Day Afternoon” – he sat in the front row while his cousins sat in the back of the cinema with their girlfriends. In a 2015 interview with Danny Hajek for NPR, David recalled watching the film, ‘I was fascinated. This was the art that was attractive to me.’ He added that it was, however, just a dream to him. He grew up in the Bronx in a blue-collar family; his father was a sanitation man, so he knew his chances of becoming an actor were slim.
David mentioned when he first expressed his desire to his father, ‘He looked at me like I was thinking outside of the reality of where we were at… And I respected my father. He was a good man, and he was a good father…’ He felt discouraged, so he pushed his dreams aside and didn’t work on pursuing them.
Family’s personal life
David’s wife, actress, and playwright Liza Colón-Zayas, was born in 1972 in The Bronx. Her career began as an off-Broadway actress, when she wrote, starred in, and produced a one-woman show, “Sistah Supreme,” which was loosely based on her life as a Latina woman in the 1970s and 1980s living in New York. This play helped her break into mainstream theater. Since 1992, she has been a member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company.
She was the original actress in the off-Broadway production of “Our Lady of 121st Street” as Norca. She appeared in “In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings,” which was directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and co-starred Ana Ortiz, listed as one of the ten best plays of 1999 by Time Out New York.
She has appeared in several television series, including “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” as Detective Maria Baez’s sister Ana Baez in “Stomping Grounds,” in “Sex and the City” in episode 124 of “Blue Bloods”, and in season 5, episodes 7 and 8 of “Dexter,” she guest appeared as a snitch to the detectives who were investigating the Santa Muerte killings.
She played a passenger in the 2006 film, “United 93”; in 2008 as Judge Angel Rodriguez in “Righteous Kill”; and as Dawn in the 2016 horror, “The Purge: Election Year.”
When David was 19, he joined the US Air Force, and then worked at the New York Police Department as a police officer for almost 15 years. His real-life experience helped him portray police officers in most of his subsequent film and television work, as well as occasionally playing criminals.
He joined the world of entertainment after witnessing a Broadway performance of “A Few Good Men”, signing-up for acting classes with Ernie Martin during his off-hours. He didn’t share his extracurricular activities with his colleagues, but his partner knew. In an interview with NPR, he shared, ‘I remember riding in the car with him during the midnight shifts, and he would run lines with me for my audition the next day… he was a pretty good actor, so it was a good time.’
In 1992 he became a member of a New York City-based traveling acting group, the LAByrinth Theater Company, alongside John Ortiz and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. While part of the company, he appeared in numerous productions, including “Jesus Hopped the “A” Train” and “In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings.”
He had appeared in 30 plays when he was cast in the HBO series “Oz”, after being discovered by Tom Fontana. His love for the theater never disappeared, though – in 2003 he appeared in “Anna in the Tropics,” a Broadway production at the Royal Theater, and in “The Little Flower of East Orange,” in April 2008, produced by the studio and directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
In 2000 he began playing his first recurring role as Rei Morales in “The Beat.” The show followed two uniformed police officers as they went through their daily routines, but was short-lived. He was given the role after the creators saw him perform one night and decided he should have a more prominent role in the series than the one he auditioned for. ‘From there, I created a relationship with Tom Fontana, who was writing and producing “Oz” on HBO.’
He played Enrique Morales in the HBO prison drama “Oz,” and considers this role to be his big break. The show aired from 1997, and David joined in 2000 until 2003 when the series ended. Between 2002 and 2003, he often guest-starred in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Guiding Light,” and “Law & Order.”
From 2006 to 2013, he played colleague and friend of Dexter Morgan, Angel Batista, in “Dexter”, which starred Michael C. Hall in the Showtime crime thriller drama about a forensic technician who lives a double life as a serial killer – from 2009 to 2012, David was jointly nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, and personally won the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film. Along with Erik King, Luna Lauren Velez and Scott William Winters, he was one of four cast members who appeared in both “Oz” and “Dexter”, but was the only actor in the show who was a real-life Police Officer.
David played Ryan Hardy’s best friend, Tyson Hernandez, a retired FBI agent in “The Following”, then appeared in the Fox drama series episode, “Guilt”, and from 2014 to 2015, he played Don Salvatore Maroni in the Fox Batman prequel series “Gotham.”
From 2017 to 2019, he played New York Governor Martin Mendez, in “Blue Bloods”, and in 2018 was Charlie in the episode entitled “Hell’s Gate” of the series “Quantico”.
He has made several crime drama appearances throughout his career. In 1996 he played Paco Martinez in the “New York Undercover” episode entitled “The Enforcers”; as Joaquin Enriquez in a 2000 episode of “NYPD Blue” in the episode entitled “These Shoots Are Made for Joaquin”; in 2012 as hotel manager Ernie Trask, in the episode “Super” of “Person of Interest”; and in 2018 he appeared in “Chicago P.D.” as Carlos Mendoza in the episode “Endings.”
In 1997 he played Jorge in “Lena’s Dreams,”; a cop, Osborne in 1998’s “Scar City;” another cop in 1999’s “Bringing Out the Dead;” and again as Billy in 2001’s “Sam the Man.” In 2006, he played a corrupt police officer, Detective Robert Torres in “16 Blocks”, and the following year NYPD Detective Dalberto in “Michael Clayton,” which was a huge commercial success and received numerous awards.
He appeared in three films in 2010 – as Bill in “Shadowboxing,” an independent film which was shown on the film festival circuit; as General Garza in Sylvester Stallone’s feature film, “The Expendables”, which Sylvester directed, and was a huge commercial success, earning more than $270 million on an $80 million budget, despite the reviews being mostly negative. David also played Oliver in The Brother’s Strause’s film, “Skyline.”
He played a sociable bodega owner named Lou in the 2014 remake of the family musical, “Annie ” – his character has a major crush on Miss. Hannigan, played by Cameron Diaz, and helps her learn self-love. The Will Gluck-directed film was a commercial success, despite receiving mostly negative reviews.
In 2016 he played Detective Richards in “Tallulah,” and in 2020, Sgt. Kesper in “Body Cam.”
During his 20s, he married for the first time but divorced in his late 20s – nothing is known of his wife.
He met his second wife, Liza Colón-Zayas, at LAByrinth. They married on 21 November 1998 and have a son, David Zayas Jr.
David has black hair and dark brown eyes. He is 5ft 11ins (1.8m) tall.
Net worth and salary
David’s net worth is estimated at over $4 million, as of mid-2020.