Body Cam’s director, Malik Vittal is known for telling horror stories with a socially conscious bite, by addressing racial discrimination, and manipulation of evidence in camera footage head-on in this unflinching thriller.
When watching Body Cam, it’s clear Vitthal approached this movie with sensitivity, emotional drive and honesty all in the context of a horror film.
Then there’s triple-threat actor David Zayas who helped bring Vitthal’s unique vision to the screen as Sergeant Kesper; Officer Renee’s compassionate watch commander. Combining his 15-years of experience as an actual former officer of the NYPD, Zayas experience helped to make his role authentic and a must-see performance.
The Koalition spoke to Zayas about bringing his role to life, his background as an NYPD officer and more.
“I read the script and I thought about do I want to play this character and then I spoke to the director Malik and I realized that his vision was so interesting in how he wanted to shoot this movie and what he wanted to say about this movie that I just wanted to be a part of it. Along with the opportunity to work [with] Mary J. Blige and all these other great actors and crew members of this movie. It wasn’t an easy — cause you never want to play certain characters but then, when I’m scared of a character is when I try actually try to do it because I always try to run towards fear. My mother used to say that’s “courageous but it’s also stupid.” You know what? I still do that til this day. If I read something that makes me uncomfortable or makes me scared I want to do it.”
“You never want to look bad about something but then I realize as an actor you just have to find the humanity and the reality of the role regardless of what that role is.”
“I always find when a character regardless if he’s a cop or a doctor or just a construction worker, if he’s faced with a situation where doing the right thing might not be good at that moment for him and everyone around it, what does that character do? That’s what I found in Sergent Kesper and this is what I like: He’s put in a position. Which road is he going to take? Is he going to take the road that might be right but then again ruin everything that’s he’s built or is he going to take the road to maintain the social injustice that might have happened for the sake of the other police officer? I don’t judge the character.”
“I learn so much in every role I do. Sometimes my choices work and sometimes my choices don’t. That’s not for me to judge, that’s for the audience to see and figure out but I always try to go that route.”
Set in a broken America we’ve unfortunately come to know, there is an undercurrent of rage felt throughout the entire movie. Filmed almost entirely at night, there are sequences of locals watching in all too familiar horror as another police officer avoids conviction after killing an unarmed black. The necessity to rise up and strike hangs in the air as something unseen and possibly supernatural lurks in the unsettling darkness. These moments were important for the movie’s storytelling but also unpleasant to shoot.
“It was very difficult and long but I understood that right away. The director had a great ability to articulate kind of what he wanted to do. We work nights mostly and we shot it in New Orléans and if you’ve ever been to New Orléans at night it could get a little eerie. Even though I love the city and it’s a great place to go, but filming this kind of movie you always felt underneath that awareness of what you were filming. But the way [Vitthal] articulated it, it was difficult but I understood why he needed to shoot it in a certain way and after watching the movie now, I see why he did it. It was really tough but satisfying.”
“Anything around you, your environment around you, you can take whatever you can and use it for your character that’s what you try to do. The one thing great about shooting at three in the morning, two in the morning in New Orléans was that kind of heaviness, that sense of something supernatural can happen; that’s always there. I used it. It helped me a lot through the night.”
“It was all fun to shoot. Just because it’s difficult and hard doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘t fun. I love what I do. I love being an actor. I love that I can perform in situations that in real life it would be extremely traumatic so you have to try to translate that as you’re acting how traumatic it could be but I love every moment of it. I want to do everything. I would like to play different characters whether it would be a doctor or a priest. Somebody in a position I don’t know much about so that I could actually try to do some research in it. So every time I find something that is kind of outside of my comfort level, I try to do that cause it’s gonna be something I’m gonna be able to work on to see figure out that character.”
While Zayas plays a complicated and morally questionable cop onscreen, after leaving the service in 1985, he joined the NYPD, stationed in Washington Heights at the height of the crack wars and transferred to Task Force, where worked in all the hot spots in Crown Heights, Tompkins Square Park and back to Washington Heights.
A firm believer of “if you want respect, you have to give it to the citizen first.” Just like life, being a cop, it’s about choices. If Zayas were to converse with Sergent Kesper, “I would tell him that in our business because I used to be a real New York City cop for fifteen years, what I would tell Sergent Kasper is that sometimes you have to make certain choices that might not go with the popularity of what you should do within that department. But we all do that, everyone sometimes makes decisions for the sake of the awareness of what’s happening at the moment and even knowing what the consequences down ahead might bring. Sometimes you have to make a choice that is uncomfortable that is the opposite of what cops should do. There was a lot of questions that I had for myself.”
“The one advantage I have, I think being a cop, a real cop for fifteen years is that the whole procedural part of that character comes kind of natural to me because I’ve lived it for such a long time. So now that gives me the opportunity to work on the character and the person but the procedural part of it does come more natural than someone who hasn’t been a police officer in the past.”
“Sometimes your worst quality could be your best quality which is loyalty. It’s good to be loyal but ‘what are you being loyal to’ is the question. Loyalty has a big thing in almost everything I do. What is the right thing to do and what is the loyal thing to do under the circumstances. I would just say you need to think about your choices and figure out what’s more important: the loyalty for the reasons you’re doing this or the actual results, the consequences that come if you go the other route.”
Body Cam is now available to rent digitally in the US and UK.
To learn more about Body Cam and Zayas check out our full interview below.