Meet Saved by the Bell's Haskiri Velazquez, Bayside High's new Zack Morris
Haskiri Velazquez is taking over Zack's power to freeze time and break the fourth wall as the character Daisy Jimenez on Peacock's Saved by the Bell revival (out Wednesday). And although Velazquez says she and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack in the original series, didn't spend much time together, she's elated about what the character will mean to young Latinas.
"I grew up in New York's Washington Heights, where my community was very diverse. But when I turned on the TV, the only person I saw that I could relate to was Jennifer Lopez," Velazquez tells EW. "I really clung to her for inspiration, to the point that my family called me Baby JLo. And even though there wasn't a lot of diversity on TV, my parents taught me that anything is possible. When I went to my first audition for Saved by the Bell and I broke the fourth wall, I almost cried! The fact that they created a role for a Latina to take Zack's powers was overwhelming. When Latinas watch this show and meet Daisy and her best friend Aisha [Alycia Pascual-Pena], they'll dream even bigger because we're living proof that anything is possible."
But there's so much more to Daisy than all that. While working hard to succeed at a new school, Daisy's single mom (played by Orange Is the New Black star Selenis Leyva) depends on her to help with the care of her younger brother. This puts pressure and limitations on Daisy, who like her counselor, Dr. Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley Lauren), is an overachiever.
"Daisy is passionate and caring," the budding actress, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, explains. "I really connected with her story because I have experienced a lot of what she has. I grew up in a low income household, and while I did grow up with both of my parents, I have two brothers who needed me to shift my priorities to take responsibility for them. When you grow-up in households like mine and Daisy's, you sometimes have to step-up and do what needs to be done. There's an episode where we talk about Daisy's quinceañera on the show and she says she doesn't want one, knowing deep down inside she does. But she saw her mom was drowning in bills and she didn't want to add to that. Something similar happened to me when it was time for my Sweet 16 and my parents put happy faces on display knowing they were counting quarters. I think a lot of viewers will be able to connect to Daisy on different levels and hopefully feel more confident to talk about their feelings. The writers bring it up in a light and fun way, which I hope helps make these tough conversations more approachable."
Although Velazquez had very few scenes with Gosselaar, she's hopeful that could expand if the show gets another season. When asked if she'd like to see them both call a time out simultaneously and see what it does the universe's axis, she was all in.
"You know, I might have to pitch that scenario to [showrunner] Tracy [Wigfield]," she exclaimed. "How cool would that be for fans of the original and all the new fans to see happen?! Maybe we do a side-by-side timeout then everyone but us freezes and we see what happens? I need everyone to support the show so we can come back and hopefully make something like this happen."
When the original NBC series ran from 1989-1993, one of the few examples of Latino representation on TV was Mario Lopez, who brings back his character A.C. Slater in the revival. Velazquez explains how his support on set meant so much to her as a rising BIPOC actress.
"The moment I first met Mario, I felt I had known him all my life," she says. "I feel like that's a very Latino thing because I remember growing up and going to my friend's homes and their families taking me in like one of their own. That's what meeting Mario felt like, he's like a tio to me now. [Laughs] From the beginning he was very welcoming and let us know if we needed anything that he was there to guide us. He's also very funny and loud! What I really appreciated from him is that he never made us feel like we had to live up to anything, he encouraged us create our own narratives. All of the original cast members were like that really. They encouraged us to just have fun with it all and they cheered for us along the way. Wow, now I feel like singing "Friends Forever." [Laughs] I haven't been able to get that song out of my head!"
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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