If you were a fan of the original Saved By the Bell TV show from the ‘90s, you know that although it was a comedy teen sitcom, the students from Bayside High School would occasionally have to confront social issues like women’s rights and deal with things like underage drinking and drug use.
The reboot of Saved By the Bell, which debuted last month, also tackles timely subjects like racial profiling, economic inequality and white privilege. While most of the original characters, like Jessie, A.C. and Zach, return in some form, the main cast is led by actress Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy Jiménez, an underprivileged sophomore who transfers to Bayside when her low-income school is shut down. While at Bayside, Daisy experiences many ups and downs—she becomes class president but struggles to fit in with the rich, white kids at school.
I want to share and create stories about people who don’t have a voice.
“Playing Daisy means the world to me, Velazquez tells Remezcla. During our interview, the Dominican-Puerto Rican actress, who can also be seen in the new thriller What Lies Below, tells us about the types of characters she hopes to play in the future and explains the meaning of her first name—sort of.
You’re fairly new to this industry. What are you looking for when a script comes across your desk? Are you still at that point in your career where you want to say yes to most opportunities?
When I first started acting, I really didn’t feel like I always had to say yes to roles. What I look for when roles come across my table is for things that can challenge me and things that are opposite of me as a person. A lot of the work I have been booking doesn’t have a lot of similarities within the characters. I kind of love that because I learn from my characters. They teach me about myself outside of this career I have chosen. As an actor, I want to share and create stories about people who don’t have a voice. I want to bring these things to life.
How does your ethnicity speak to your work as an actress? Do you hope to play more than Latina-centric roles, or do you worry that you might be pigeonholed like so many Latina actresses have been before you?
I think the roles that I have been cast in so far are different. In [the 2020 film] TheForty-Year-Old Version, I play a butch Latina, but she could’ve been any butch female. I hope that does not happen in my career. I think stories that break the mold and can be for everyone don’t have to just reflect the Latina community. I think those are some of the stories that I definitely want to take on. I want to play characters where if you take my ethnicity out of it, any young woman would be able to relate to it.
Do you think about the others who paved the way for you?
It’s something I always think about. When I come across a role, I want to say, ‘OK, this is not just a Latina role. This is not just a maid or a sexy mistress.’ We can be powerhouses. Those are the stories I want to continue to tell. I’m so happy for the people who came before me, so that I can have a platform. I love America Ferrera. We work on the same lot and I saw her in person, but because of COVID, I didn’t approach her. But I wanted to express my gratitude to her and what she has done in her career. I know Gina Rodriguez and she is creating so many opportunities, too, for Latinx. That’s what I want to do. I want to be able to get to a point in my career where I can create more stories and pave the way for those who come after me.
You know, 30 years ago, Daisy probably wouldn’t be played by a Latina on TV. What’s changed?
I think we just never gave up. I think we said, ‘You know what? We’re going to take these roles you’re giving us right now, but as soon as our foot is in the door, we’re not going back out.’ We’re starting to create these opportunities for ourselves whether you like it or not. It’s all about persistence and passion. It’s a beautiful thing to see how that’s grown. It’s just the beginning. A lot more people are going to start taking notice of us. Our stories are important and interesting.
When you were in high school, what are some of the excuses you gave your teachers if you didn’t do your homework? In the 21st century, I don’t think “the dog ate all my homework last night” from the show’s original theme song is going to cut it anymore.
(Laughs) Oh, my gosh! I think I’ve used, ‘I was finishing it up in the morning and left it on the kitchen table.’ The worst one was when I told my teacher that I left it in my locker and he goes, ‘OK, go get it. I’ll give you five minutes’ and I’m like, ‘Oh. This is not good.’
Your character is so interesting in the way she maneuvers her way through Bayside as one of the only Latina students and the way she confronts white privilege. How do you plan to do the same in Hollywood?
I’m going to figure out what I need to do to get through those doors. What do I need to do within myself to show people that I’m capable? We can also create those opportunities for ourselves. The Latinx community supports each other so much. We are voices for one another. The same way you give that energy out is how it’s going to be returned back to you. I always want to be open-minded and spread love.
We are voices for one another.
You have such a unique first name. What does it mean?
OK, so the story is that I have a Dominican grandmother who named me after a goddess in a soap opera. But when you Google it, nothing comes up except me now. So, I don’t know if she made that story up, but I’m going to ride with that. I’ve asked her the name of the soap opera and she doesn’t know! She was drunk when I was born, so I don’t know if she was just way too drunk and she created the [story] in her mind.
The reboot of Saved By the Bell can be seen on Peacock, NBC Universal’s streaming service. What Lies Below is now available on VOD and digital platforms.