David Zayas on Playing a Ruthless Dictator in 'The Expendables'

This weekend’s box office champ, The Expendables, may have lured in audiences with not one or two, but 10 big-name action stars, but tucked among all the beefcake was a Latino who gives a solid, entertaining and surprising performance: Dexter’s David Zayas.

Zayas, a TV veteran and former New York City cop, has played plenty of authority figures (including his current stint as Sgt. Angel Batista on Dexter) and plenty of bad guys (remember vicious prisoner Enrique Morales on Oz?). In The Expendables, the Puerto Rican actor, 40, plays both rolled up into one: the slimy, corrupt General Garza.

Why did you want to take on this role?

This is a film that has a bunch of stars that you would want to work with in any one of their movies. Now that they’re together in one movie, who wouldn’t want to work on it? So I put myself on tape and sent it to Sylvester Stallone and he really liked it and cast me.

You play a megalomaniacal Latin American dictator whose face is plastered on walls and flags. What was it like for you to see your own image all over the set?

When I arrived in Brazil [where part of the movie was filmed] and entered the set, there’s a mural of my face. I was like, Oh, OK. This must be my country! It was surreal and amusing.

How did you prep for that no-holds barred character?

It was fun. I did a little research on all these over-the-top presidents, like Fidel Castro and [Ugandan] Idi Amin, and found out why people listen, why they’re attracted to these bigger-than-life characters: They’re very charismatic, egotistical, very good at articulating their beliefs. I tried to get as much of that as I could into my character. I tried to get a little of each of that and see what I could come up with

Your character is the worst dad ever. He has a daughter who rebels against his regime and pretty much leaves her to her fate.

It’s true! He got into a situation that was really bad. Greed and power are very addictive and he fell into that.

Speaking of family, Angel, your character on Dexter, just got married to Lt. Laguerta. Do you think it will last?

Does any marriage last? Maybe it will. But how often on television do you see people, especially two Latino characters, showing a working relationship? It’s rare and I think it’s a good thing. Where we’re taking the relationship this season will definitely be worth watching.