Q&A: DJ Cotrona & Zane Holtz on “FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES”
When FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES came to fruition late last year, all eyes were on who Robert Rodriguez would recruit to fill the shoes of the Gecko Brothers. Luckily, Rodriguez cast the charismatic DJ Cotrona and the quirky Zane Holtz to portray the duo, spotting their natural presence, chemistry and commitment to the roles.
Since the show began last month, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES has been running fierce, defying its critics and giving fans a brand new look at Rodriguez’s criminal-and-vampire infested universe, with Holtz and Cotrona front and center. The two leads spoke to FANGORIA about becoming the new incarnation of the Brothers Gecko and their unforgettable experience on this unorthodox venture…
FANGORIA: Beyond the preconceptions that the film built for the series, what was your first impression of the set for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES, and in working with Robert Rodriguez?
ZANE HOLTZ: Going into the set, being that there was the film before we had a clear idea of what they were aesthetically going for, I saw that they were really trying to do something fresh. When you see the first couple of episodes, Benny’s World of Liquors is like Benny’s from the film, but it’s a new version. It’s something old, but something brand new at the same time, so stepping onto that set wasn’t necessarily nostalgic, because I wasn’t there the first time, but I had seen it in the film. It was cool to step onto the set and into this character that I’ve seen before in the movie, but now I’m experiencing him for the first time as an actor.
DJ COTRONA: And working with Robert was a professional dream come true. We’ve all been big fans of him and his work for as long as he’s been around, so getting to meet with him initially and talk about what he wanted to do with FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was very exciting. To actually get the job is fantastic, but working with him is surprisingly one of the most natural working experiences I’ve ever had. Anytime you work with a prolific director, it’s hard for their work not to precede them, but with Robert Rodriguez, he’s a really calming presence and he lets everyone who works for him trust their instincts to creatively play. It’s the most fun and comfortable environment, so it was fantastic.
HOLTZ: We’re so lucky that Robert didn’t just come in, shoot the pilot and leave. We had the opportunity to shoot multiple episodes with him and I hope that will continue in future seasons. Working on the first season was like showing up and doing one of Robert’s movies for a really long time. For me, working with Robert has been my best working experience as well.
FANG: Coming into a project where your characters have been portrayed so famously in the film, was there anything specifically either of you wanted to do differently with your interpretation of the Gecko Brothers?
HOLTZ: I think every actor, regardless of the role, naturally will be different than when someone has done it before because you’re starting from a different place. You’re your own person, obviously, and you’re now doing this character. Some of the character traits and backstory is going to be there, but DJ and I are two different guys than the original Geckos, really. I don’t know if I have the ability to go in to do what someone has done before and not be myself or do my own thing.
COTRONA: Exactly. And we’re being directed in a specific way as well. Obviously, we have to play these characters for who they are and how they are written. I mean, how many times have we seen Superman? How many times have we seen Batman? We’ve seen countless iterations of these characters. Robert’s characters are iconic, but it’s not like no one could do them but [George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino]. I feel that Zane and I are scrutinized more because we’re the first people to step into these parts since the film, but it’s Robert who is writing the series.
We’re going from Robert’s script, so there are going to be similarities, but like Zane said, it’s automatically a different interpretation because we’re the ones walking through it and the characters in the series—whether it’s their interactions, their relationships and their story arcs—start in a different place. We flash so far back but we’re also moving forward on the series, so I think that at the same time, they’ll become their own thing. The initial comparison was pretty strong in the beginning, because obviously there’s such a recognition of the film, and we expected that. We expected to get some knocks because we’re going back over the same shit, but I think the show is doing fantastic. Robert is super happy, Quentin is super happy and we all love our job. I think we’re all doing great work and we’re still psyched to be there.
HOLTZ: And we’re doing a second season, so there’s that!
FANG: Robert Rodriguez really reached out to some great, heavy hitting directors aside from himself. The roster behind the camera includes Eduardo Sanchez, Fede Alvarez, Dwight Little and Joe Menendez. Coming onto the series, were you necessarily expecting that pedigree of director to be working on the series outside of Robert?
HOLTZ: Well, he never really gave us names when we signed up of who was going to be directing. He’d always say, “Well, you know, with El Rey, we have the opportunity to bring in guys who maybe have done TV, or maybe haven’t really done TV who are interested. Maybe we can get some guys you wouldn’t normally expect to come in to do something episodic.” So, we knew that he’d be reaching out to bring in the unexpected, obviously. I think it serves the show in a great way, because they each have their own style and, from what I’ve seen, each episode has their own feel. They still maintain the tone of the whole series, but for me, every time a new director came in, it felt like a new kind of experience.
COTRONA: At the same time, Robert was on set, editing every scene. When he wasn’t on set, he invented his own technology where his house, his phone and his car are all wired with sound and video from all of the monitors, so he’s watching all of the time. We’ll get text messages in the middle of scenes from Robert, like “tweak this, tweak that,” while we’re shooting with those directors. Robert has a creative culture that he’s built down in Austin at his studios, and it’s very freeing. It’s a very positive experience for the writers, the actors and the directors.
He’s attracting a lot of his contemporaries to come down, play and just flow without any executives getting in the way of the show. It’s a pretty unique experience, and as Season Two comes up, Robert has some really exciting plans to have some really exciting filmmakers come in and flesh out the story. The environment that Robert has set up with Troublemaker feels like we’re making an independent movie, and it’s with the same crew that Robert has used for his films for like 20 years now. It’s almost like a family in the way they shoot, and that’s been great.
FANG: As both of you are familiar with the original film, were either of you shocked by any of the departures or twists the series had made from that initial narrative?
COTRONA: No, because we’re not remaking the film. From the onset, we’ve been trying to make something different, and sure, the influence from the film is there. There’s similar moments, and we had pictures from the film up while we were filming, but the series is all from the ideas Robert has been sitting on for almost 20 years now. These are all things Robert and Quentin have been talking about from the mythology surrounding the last shot that you see in the film, and Robert’s been toying with these ideas in his brain for the better part of two decades.
These things are all really well planned out, and everything that’s considered a departure is actually meticulously planned by Robert. On the other hand, we’re shooting actual pages that Quentin wrote back in the day that they never got the chance to shoot, like action scenes and certain bits of dialogue. So it’s a departure in a sense, but it’s more planned out than when Robert was shooting the movie because Robert and Quentin were just running and gunning it on the fly.
FANG: In regards to your other cast members, do you both have a different relationship on-set than you would with the other actors as to create an organic sense of division?
COTRONA: Yeah, we have a ritual before every scene [laughs].
HOLTZ: Yeah, we do a secret Gecko Brothers handshake before we do a take, and that just comes with the banter. Otherwise, DJ and I spent a lot of time hashing out our scenes together because it was really important for that stuff to work for us, like our character’s banter and that sense of family. We’re playing brothers and we need to act like brothers who grew up together, so we did a lot of our rehearsing together and that may or may not have happened as much with everyone else that’s a part of this big ensemble. We do all get together off-set and the whole cast does gel.
COTRONA: We all get along. You’re supposed to say that a lot of the times, and you end up lying, but we did genuinely all get along. When we were in Austin, it felt like we were a part of a family unit, so the night before work, we’ll kick each others door down and hash it out all night. It was a very organic experience.
FANG: Now that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES has been confirmed to return for another season, have you guys heard anything about where the next season may take the Gecko Brothers or is that information all locked down?
COTRONA: Completely on lock-down. We’ve heard some rumblings and some rumors about their ideas, but at this point, it’s totally under lock and key.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES airs at 9 p.m. EST on the El Rey Network.