The blissful feeling of nostalgia can be as liberating as it can be endearing. There is a certain comfort that comes with uniting our senses with familiarities only we fully understand. The same can be said for revisiting our favorite cinematic masterpieces, or, to be more specific, experiencing the revival versions of them. Now, with the help of budding actress Haskiri Velazquez, fans can revive their flame for Bayside High through the rebooted series of Saved by the Bell. Through talent, resilience, and a contagious sense of humor, Haskiri can also be seen in Netflix’s latest feature film, The 40-Year-Old Version, along with her breakout role in Peacocks’ rebooted Saved by the Bell. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Haskiri to discuss her newest role as Daisy in Saved by the Bell, an inside look into her budding career thus far, and how she overcame pre-existing prejudices within the industry.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to enter the entertainment industry?
Haskiri Velazquez: When I was much younger, Jennifer Lopez was my idol. I listened to her music and shopped her clothing line. When I was younger, my family gave me the nickname of ‘baby JLo,’ and I would rock it. As I got older, it became Gina Rodriguez. She has taken on so many amazing roles and I want to follow in her footsteps. She's so different when it comes to the characters that she portrays on screen. When she did Miss Bala, she was this badass woman and those are the kind of roles I want to go out for as well.
MM: Can you give an overview of your background in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
HV: I started by doing theater. The theater company that I went to was a nonprofit called Urban Arts Partnership, and they never had any specificness on roles. When kids were given certain roles, it wasn't stereotyped, meaning that we didn’t have to look a specific way. So when I first entered the industry, that's what I always envisioned. The idea that you can get any role you wanted, as long as you went in and did your best, worked hard, and you would get it. But, it wasn't until I eventually transitioned into TV and film when I saw that wasn't true. you would have to fit this specific look and you have to be this specific height. It was hard for me to transition into that because I was so accustomed to just becoming a character and not having something so specific to hold me back or mold myself into. It's ironic that once I began to see this occur, I expressed to my agent at the time that I didn't want to go out for roles that were just Latina-based. I wanted to go out for roles that didn't limit me, that told stories of multiple people. My agent agreed to give that a shot and in the last two years, all of the roles that I've been booking haven't been Latina-based. The roles may have had an age limit, but I knew I can tell these stories, I have friends who can tell the story. We're all different, but we all can relate to this and I really love to see that, to be able to tell stories that relate to so many people on so many different levels.
MM: You have some very exciting upcoming projects; can you give some insight into Peacocks’ new reboot of, Saved by the Bell, launching November 25th?
HV: I'm really excited that they decided to launch it around the holidays because I get to visit my family and I get to watch it with my parents. They used to watch the original show, so they're going to be able to have nostalgia while also being able to see their daughter on this show, it's a full-circle moment. The show is coming out during such a perfect time. This year has been so crazy, as we all know, and the show is so heartfelt. There's comedy, there's a bunch of emotions that are portrayed on the show that speak volumes, but it's put in a way where you can relate, you can laugh, and it's a breath of fresh air when you watch the show.
MM: What can we expect to see from your character, Daisy, in this rebooted series?
HV: She's very ambitious, driven, and she loves school. She has a bunch of plans for herself. She grew up in a low-income household, and she has a mindset that nothing is going to stop her. When she comes to Bayside, she's really excited about all of these opportunities that the school has to offer. By the end of the first day, she realizes that she doesn't have access to a lot of the resources, because of how they run the school. Nothing is going to get in her way and she makes it her mission to join the student council. What I love about her character is that whenever she does feel down, she uses her classmates and uses whatever is inside her to find that motivation to keep pushing to keep up, and eventually creating a space where her fellow Douglas peers can feel welcome and can access these resources and be treated fairly. She comes across these obstacles that get in her way, and it's like the ‘underdog story’ where she constantly has to prove her worth. Every time she proves herself, she finds more strength within herself and the fact that she can do anything she puts her mind to. She inspires me, to be honest.
MM: Now, what about Netflix’s new feature film, The 40-Year-Old Version. What was your experience like filming this project and working with the cast?
HV: I'm originally from New York. I was born and raised there, and I don't really know anything outside it. So, it was really great to be able to do what I love there. As a little girl, I would always see these movie trailers on the streets, and I would always say, “...A dream of mine would be to film something in my city.” That was my dream as a little girl. So when I first got the audition, I was like, oh my god. This is my dream come true, we’re going to film in Harlem, like the epicenter of New York, Washington Heights Harlem. That's where the culture is, where there are so many people from so many different backgrounds. It's like a melting pot. Being able to be a part of a film like that was just so fun. The film was also written, directed, produced, and starred by a Black woman, Radha Blank, she’s phenomenal. During our table reads, when we were going through all of our lines and it was her time to sing her wrap, the page was blank. It had her name and there was nothing there. So, off the top of her head, she freestyled it. I was like, “...This is New York.” You can walk anywhere and you can hear somebody just freestyling, playing Dominos’ or rolling dice in the street, so to be a part of something that brought the culture together was amazing and a lot of fun.
MM: Where do you tend to draw your inspiration from when preparing for each role?
HV: I like to find roles that challenge me in a sense, that make me have to do research, like going on YouTube and searching something up and looking at interviews on how this person talks. What did they say? Why do they do this? Looking at my brother's, I asked the kids on set, Antonio and TJ, “...What are the characteristics that you know everybody does?” And they’ll be like, “...I know a lot of girls who do this and a lot of Latina’s who do this.” And I truly take that advice to heart. I like to take on roles that challenge me because I don't want anything to come easily for me because nothing ever has. Once I feel like I've done my part to become this character, being able to see it come to life is amazing, I'm even more proud of myself. It's like wow, I think I pulled it off. Then when you get feedback from people and they tell you that you did a really good job, I'm like, this is what I wanted to hear. This is why I put in that overtime, why I did all of this research for my character to make this person believable on screen.
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
HV: When I was younger, and I think this is why I relate to Daisy's character so much, is because I didn't feel like I was enough. I felt like I had to overdo everything all of the time. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be an actress, but there were moments where I've thought, “...Maybe I'm not going to be as big as I’d hope, or maybe I'm not going to get the lead role in this project.” But, over time I’ve learned that that's okay. I would tell myself to not change who you are, continue to work on my passions, break the mold, and to be happy with the choices you make. Ultimately just to be yourself. I think what often happens, especially with social media, is that a lot of people compare themselves to others. That's what I used to do when I was younger, always comparing myself to those around me, but our stories are all different. Our paths are all different. This is something my parents used to tell me, but it’s different hearing it from yourself. When you tell yourself something [positive affirmations], there's more of a connection because it's what you're feeling in the moment and what your heart is telling you.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
HV: I would say a notable challenge in my career is that I was always getting very dramatic roles or cop dramas. The roles were always the girlfriend of the suspect or a role that I couldn’t do much with, in terms of expressing emotions. I was always the supporting character, and I think that when people truly do meet me in person they notice that I have a very comical side to me. People question why I’m never getting these main roles and I explain that there aren't many roles made for us Latina women. If I'm going to be in this industry, I know that you have to get into certain doors so that you can eventually open your own doors, because a lot of doors aren’t provided for us. So, I’m ok with having supporting roles in cop dramas here and there, it’s fun, but I wanted something more, I wanted something that showcased my range and my talent. One of the challenges that I face is being able to feel like there is a world where I can do comedy or can be funny, I don't have to be the sexy mistress or be a person that's labeled.
MM: So do you have any more exciting upcoming projects coming up for the new year?
HV: I can say that I booked a lead in an action-packed film. I can’t give any real specifics, but I have been training for it. I have a boyfriend who is a coach, so he helps me with how I feel inside and out, food and nutrition-wise, and all that jazz. He's like, “...You have to get ready for this movie, go run three miles.” I don't even know what it feels like to run a mile or a half-a-mile! But, it's been really good to see what I'm capable of and how far I can push myself. So, I'm really excited about this film because I know I can showcase the inner-strength within myself.
MM: Aside from acting, what would you say your other passions are?
HV: I’m a dog mom, I have two puppies. The first one is Milo, he's a Goldendoodle and the second one is Blu, and he’s an Aussiedoodle. But, another passion is my YouTube channel. In 2015 I started a channel with my boyfriend, and we were just giving out advice. We were young when we started it, and we were young, in love and thought we knew everything. So we would just give out advice to anyone who came across our videos and it actually helped a lot of people. It was really surprising to see how many people reached out to us and asked specific questions regarding relationships. We would remind the viewers that we’re just regular people who happen to be in love, but we would give our advice and it connected with a lot of people. Another passion of mine is making sure that people know that they can believe in themselves, no matter how big their dreams are, that it can happen.
MM: Do you feel you have a social responsibility with your growing platform?
HV: Every time I go on social media, it comes back to that initial comparison of what others are doing and posting. But, something that I've been telling myself the last two years is that if you're going to post something, make sure it means something to you and make sure that it is a passion of yours. You never want to seem like you're faking it because if you fake it, you don’t come off as genuine. It’s so important to be myself on my social media platforms, I recently posted a video of me with my hair in a busy bun, wearing a sports bra, and leggings when I first got the news about the film. It felt so genuine because this is me in my space, this is who I am, and I never want to fake it for anybody. This is who you're going to get when the cameras are off, and if you don’t like that person, then you can't love me, because you don't really know who I am.
MM: What would you say your personal style consists of.
HV: My style really changes, in high school, I had a septum piercing. My style changes and evolves, and it depends on how I feel when I wake up. That might be the acting side of me, but I like to see who I can create with my looks. Although, some people may say that they went on my Instagram and labeled me and my style as someone or something that I’m not.
MM: And then who would you say your ultimate style icon is?
HV: I grew up on Jennifer, so Jennifer Lopez. She does red carpets and you just remember what she wore, her looks are just mind-blowing. Her team and my team should work together, so we can recreate some of those iconic looks, [laughs].
Photography by: Krystena Patton