David Zayas talks SHINE, Spanish Harlem, hand drumming, and more

Credit: Bailey Carr
Credit: Bailey Carr /

In this exclusive interview, esteemed actor David Zayas discusses the release of SHINE, honoring Spanish Harlem, giving hand drumming a whirl, and much more.

From Dexter to Gotham, David Zayas has been a part of many exciting projects over the course of his illustrious acting career, but none captured his attention quite like SHINE did. The film’s exploration of family, music, dancing and overall culture in Spanish Harlem immediately intrigued him to jump aboard and do its emotional message justice.

With SHINE hitting theaters nationwide this weekend, Zayas has plenty to say about his personal roots in Spanish Harlem, working with an incredible cast, stepping out of his comfort zone, and much more in this exclusive interview.

Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival
Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival /

Hidden Remote: How did SHINE differ from past projects you’ve been a part of?

David Zayas: One great thing about SHINE is it has to do with the culture I grew up in, which is always nice and informative. Also, the care and the commitment that was presented by the director Anthony Nardolillo as well as the producers, the crew, and the other actors. It was a really wonderful, positive experience and a great representation of what I would want to see about a family growing up in Spanish Harlem involved in music and dancing. The whole family structure of it was attractive to me.

HR: What connection did you have to the script upon reading it for the first time?

Zayas: The main connection was that it’s a familiar story that I don’t see on TV often or in film, so it was an opportunity to be part of telling the story of a culture I grew up in and that was filmed with love and positivity. Also, the commitment and dedication of the director, and whenever you see that dedication and commitment, you want to be involved and jump on that train.

HR: How much research do you think went into making a project such as this possible in order to ensure it was authentic as it could be?

Zayas: It felt authentic, and when I read it, it was the most authentic script about that area and that music. That was always something that led me to it.

HR: Did you have any experience with hand drumming prior to SHINE?

Zayas: (laughs) No, I didn’t have any experience. They set me up with an amazing person who very quickly taught me how to not look like not know what I was doing. But you know what? I’ve been playing it ever since and learning more about it, it’s something I took to. It’s great. It was totally exciting [to try], and then I was totally nervous. But that’s why we do what we do here, right? We take risks and do things in the unknown that we’ve never done, and that’s one of the things I love about what we do.

Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival
Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival /

HR: Did you learn anything else new from the filming process for SHINE that was completely foreign to you before?

Zayas: No, just being involved with a bunch of artists that really want to be there and really care about what they’re doing and that’s contagious. That’s something I immediately felt when I went on set and it was a wonderful experience.

HR: What was it like working with Gilbert Salvidar, writer/director Anthony Nardolillo and the rest of the cast?

Zayas: I’ll tell you, immediately it felt like family, and that’s when I knew I was in the right place. The young men who played my sons, Jorge Burgos and Gilbert, they’re just amazing people, amazing young men, fantastic dancers, and just dedicated to what they’re doing. They work hard because you see them day in and day out. I’m a big fan of both of them and Anthony, like I said… very few times do you see a director so committed and so driven to tell this story. That’s something you always want to be a part of.

Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival
Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival /

HR: How big of a role do you think music and the soundtrack for SHINE play in the overall feel of the film?

Zayas: I feel it differs from other movies because there’s such a history of it. A lot of the music you’re going to hear in the movie is historic and it’s music that I heard growing up in the Bronx and in Spanish Harlem. Music is an important part of it, but the other most important part of it is the family structure and representation of the family structure in that neighborhood and that culture and growing up in a Puerto Rican environment and culture. It’s a great showcase for people that don’t know about our culture and don’t know what it’s like to grow up in Spanish Harlem in a musical family. This was just a beautiful story.

HR: Do you feel now is the perfect time for a movie like SHINE to be released with where the world is today or could it have been out even a few years ago?

Zayas: The time is always good for a story like this. It’s always good. When we finished filming, Hurricane Maria hadn’t hit Puerto Rico yet. It’s really important to show people that we’re a part of the American fabric. Everyone has their culture and this is our culture. It’s full of loving family, music, dancing, food and all this other great stuff that makes life so worth living.

Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival
Credit: Urbanworld Film Festival /

HR: What do you think are the biggest takeaways viewers will have from SHINE, especially in regards to New York culture?

Zayas: It touches on a lot of things. It touches on gentrification. It touches on family dynamic with family members going away and coming back. I think Anthony was really smart in touching on a lot of these subjects and how it’s dealt with in the movie. The time is always good to show something like that.

HR: What have you noticed are the biggest differences between filming a television show and filming a movie?

Zayas: Every project is different. Every project you go in there and assess the situation and it’s always a different experience. I’ve been lucky because most of my experiences have been really good, working with great people and great artists. This touched home a little bit for me because it’s kind of how I grew up. It was very familiar to me, so as soon as I got on set, I felt right at home. But I don’t compare it to other projects. They’re all special in their own way and each character is unique in their own way. That’s why I love what I do, because you have the opportunity to create a personality, create a character that’s different every single time. But this one felt particularly like I was at home, so it was great.

Credit: Randy Tepper/Showtime
Credit: Randy Tepper/Showtime /

HR: Do you have any projects coming up in the near future you’re excited to be involved in or see released?

Zayas: Right now I’m in New Orleans filming a movie called Body Cam with Mary J. Blige and it’s kind of an interesting film. We’re in the process of filming that now and it’ll probably come out next year.

SHINE hits theaters nationwide this weekend. For more information on the film, click here.