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Q&A: Actor D.J. Cotrona Previews the Second Season of “FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES”

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Fans of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES, which returns for its second season on the El Rey network tomorrow, Tuesday, August 25, will remember that at the end of season one, Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) had survived his ordeal at the Titty Twister bar—a hangout for the vampiric, serpentine beings known as culebras, whose roots are in Aztec lore. However, Seth didn’t come out unscathed.

He had thought he was robbing banks for an employer who would lead him and his younger brother Richie (Zane Holtz) to the possibly mythical town of El Rey, where criminals can retire at leisure. Instead, it turned out that Seth and Richie were being manipulated by the culebras. Their queen, Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) chose Richie for her consort, transforming him and leaving Seth alone except for his new companion, Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport), a teen whose father was turned and killed. This is no way for a self-respecting bad-ass to live.

That’s why, Cotrona explains, Seth is far from at his best when we first encounter him in season two. “Seth and Richie were split pretty definitively at the end of the first season,” the actor says. “We see this guy, this iconic character of Seth Gecko we know so well, the man with the plan, the guy in charge, the P.T. Barnum of their crime duo—and he’s been completely destroyed. The world has changed, he’s been through hell—literally—and everything he had to support him, or that he loved, has been ripped away, and the only person he has anything in common with at the end of all this madness is this 16-, 17-year-old churchgoing girl. So nothing makes sense any more.

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“At the top of season two, Seth gives up,” Cotrona continues. “He’s a broken man. And what does that look like? He’s very much in the opposite place from where he was in the first season. He’s monotone, he’s despondent, he’s doing heavy drugs, shooting up, and he’s just a complete mess. His journey now is that of the underdog. What does it take for a man who has given up to rebuild himself and become again what he once was, and can he achieve that?”

Cotrona, previously a regular on TV’s SKIN, WINDFALL and DETROIT 1-8-7 before taking over for the DUSK TILL DAWN movie’s George Clooney as Seth Gecko, also previously appeared in the horror film VENOM and the action flick G.I. JOE: RETALIATION. Fango chats with him at the Beverly Hilton Hotel during the El Rey Network’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour while his co-stars give interviews in other parts of the room; there may be animosity between the characters, but Cotrona and castmates Holtz and Wilmer Valderrama, who plays culebra gangster Carlos, greet one another warmly.

Seth’s humanity is a source of contention this season between him and newly culabrated brother Richie. Cotrona observes, “It’s funny how these things are sometimes art imitating life and vice versa. No, I’m kidding. I have a fantastic time working with Zane. He’s a phenomenal actor. From the first time we worked together with Robert [Rodriguez, series creator] during the casting process, it just clicked. We have great chemistry just as human beings. We get along really well, but the things we don’t get along about, and that make us different, play very well on screen, so I couldn’t have a better partner to be working with.”

While Seth was one of the few characters left alive and human after the first round of episodes, Cotrona says he doesn’t feel left out. “Quite the opposite: I feel very privileged and special. It’s a rare thing on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN not to be ripping people’s heads off and covered in blood, so I’m very excited to pull down the human aspect.”

As for whether Seth sees himself as a good guy or a bad guy, Cotrona relates, “I always like to say that, on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, there are no good guys; we have bad guys and we have worse guys. We all live very much in the grey; we all justify our actions any way we can. Seth sees himself as a man who’s willing to commit the means to a certain end. The laws that apply to society, he doesn’t apply to himself, so if you called him a criminal, he’d accept that.”

Danny Trejo joins the DUSK cast as the fearsome Regulator this season, and Cotrona is thrilled about getting to act opposite the Rodriguez regular. “Are you kidding me? Of course. Any time you watch a Robert Rodriguez film, you see Danny, and he was the one missing element of our experience in the first season. So when Robert told us he was bringing Danny in, especially when he’s playing such a cool, iconic bad-ass this season, we were all very excited. We had a blast with Danny, and his fans and DUSK fans and Robert’s fans will all be very excited about what we got to do.”

The folklore surrounding the culebra cult is a source of fascination to Cotrona, who doesn’t see them as typical bloodsuckers. “Seth calls them many different things, but they’re not vampires. They’re a mix between demons and snake creatures that incorporate some of the research Robert did into Mayan mythology when he was originally looking into DUSK the film. So they actually have some historical roots.” The actor also acknowledges his happiness that, unlike many of his co-stars, he didn’t have to handle any of the live snakes that are part of the culebra lifestyle: “Thank God, no!”

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Cotrona, who grew up in Connecticut, says he now believes he has always wanted to be an actor. “You know, I normally say no [when asked about early ambitions], but the more I get that question and the more I think about it, the more I believe the honest answer is yes. I grew up obsessed with films and television as forms of escape from things I went through in my life when I was a kid, and became hooked on them. I started making small, ridiculous movies with a home camera with friends of mine when I was a little kid. There was something about that energy, that feeling of total immersion into a creative endeavor, in a story—trying to live a different life, even as a child—that was very powerful and moving for me, and I believe it has informed a lot of the choices I’ve made, even as an adult.

“My priorities haven’t changed since I was 9,” he continues. “And I say that seriously; I’m very proud of it, because it never went away, and as my life went on and I went to school for many different things. It was always this center point, this thing I would go to when I was escaping the tediousness of whatever was in front of me, be it school or work. I was just lucky enough to finagle my way into it where I get to do it for a living now, so I feel very blessed and very lucky.”

The fan reaction to FROM DUSK TILL DAWN’s translation to the small screen, Cotrona says, “runs the gamut. Robert’s characters, and [original DUSK screenwriter] Quentin Tarantino’s characters, are so iconic that the film can be from 20 years ago and people feel like it just happened yesterday. These people live on in our memories and our hearts as elements of iconic entertainment, myself included. I’m a huge fan. So people are excited to see them again. We see that a lot these days: Iconic characters, be it in superhero franchises or other forms, being remined and reimagined, because when you have characters so well-defined and entertaining, you want to see more of them. You don’t want to let them go. The thing about Robert and Quentin’s characters is, no one can do them, no one has access to them, except those two guys. So when Robert decided that he wanted to revive them, it was exciting for the fans just to be able to live in this world a while longer.”

And Cotrona says that the second season of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN will give fans of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s creations “another opportunity to live with some of the best characters they’ve ever collaborated on in an entirely new and explosive scenario. If you love the series and the film and just those guys’ creative forces in general, this is a great, exciting new way to live in their world.”

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