Haskiri Velazquez
Haskiri Velazquez (Photo: Sami Drasin)

School is back in session for the students of Bayside High. When Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot returns for its second season this week, over-achiever Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) and co. will be returning to in-person classes for the first time in over a year. The time in virtual learning purgatory was particularly hard on Daisy, according to Velazquez. “The fact that she couldn’t be at school, it was just eating her alive!”

Season 1 saw Daisy and her classmates Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena) and DeVante (Dexter Darden) integrated into the much wealthier Bayside after their lower-income LA high school was shut down. Over the course of the season, they won over the school’s privileged clique, and Daisy emerged as a refreshingly different POV character compared to the original series’ Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). Now an incoming junior and firmly established at Bayside, she’s trying to make up for lost time—and avoid getting distracted by a cute new boy.

Ahead of the Season 2 drop, Velazquez joined GRAZIA on Zoom to chat about the show’s socially conscious comedy, the young cast’s irresistible chemistry and whether we should be shipping Mac (Mitchell Hoog) and Daisy.

What has been your experience of the response to the show so far?

I think the reception for Season 1 was extremely amazing. Rebooting a show that has such a great following is hard enough. There’s also a lot of pressure that goes on behind that. But I feel like the casting process, everyone attached to this project—they did so well. They made the cast diverse, they made it mirror today’s world. And all of us put a little bit of our personal lives on the screen, and I feel like that’s what made it more authentic and more relatable. It was just such a smart way for Tracey [Wigfield], our showrunner, to say, The lead of this new show needs to be someone completely opposite of Zack Morris. Someone who’s more level-headed, you know, the voice of reason behind all the shenanigans that go on at Bayside. But also touching on important topics that need to be spoken about. It’s also done in a noninvasive way. People actually want to sit through this show and see the problems that we talk about, but then see how they can be part of the solution.

I almost knew that that’s the direction that a lot of people were gonna go towards, was loving the show, just because of everything that we put into the show.

Haskiri Velazquez
Haskiri Velazquez (Photo: Sami Drasin)

You mentioned everybody putting a little bit of themselves into the characters. Talk to me about how you helped shape your character.

Daisy was a Latina character to begin with, so when I saw the breakdown there was an instant connection to the character. She grew up in a low-income neighborhood. Everything she does, it’s bigger than herself. It’s more for those around her. And that was kinda like myself. I grew in a low-income neighborhood, I had this drive, this passion towards acting. I knew that acting was gonna, for one, benefit me, but also benefit those around me, because then I can create more opportunities. So, it was kind of just making sure that I put whatever I was feeling in the moment or taking from my real life experiences growing up and reflecting that onto Daisy and what she’s dealing with. The situations don’t have to be the same, but the emotional feeling has to portray authentically. I really love that Tracey allowed me to take control of certain scenes and say, “This is how I would say it.” I speak Spanish and English at home, so Daisy being able to speak Spanish and English at school or at home with her family was really important to me, because I knew it was gonna be important to the Latino community.

The new season picks up as everyone is heading back to school in person. How did Daisy spend her pandemic?

Daisy is always so focused. She loves having a routine, she loves having an agenda. So, I think she took the pandemic pretty hard, the fact that she couldn’t be at school, it was just eating her alive! She probably home schooled herself.

You see this character come back for junior year feeling like she’s wasted so much time. She’s trying to make up all that time that she felt like she wasted, and trying to cram in as much as she can. She’s so focused on her future, and she knows that she needs to work even harder than the next [person] to get where she wants to be. And because it’s a high school show, you still see her deal with what kids deal with in high school. She has her first crush. So, she’s trying to figure out that balance between having a crush, having friendships, also having school spirit for Bayside and not letting anyone down. So, there’s a lot of pressure applied to her, but you kind of see her allowing herself to have fun.

Alycia Pascual-Pena and Haskiri Velazquez in <i>Saved by the Bell</i>
Alycia Pascual-Pena and Haskiri Velazquez in Saved by the Bell (Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

Daisy also has a new love interest. What can you say about that?

It’s fun to see Daisy in that different light and not always so Type-A with school and focused on homework.

What kind of boy is this? What’s Daisy’s type?

So, this kid comes out of nowhere and he’s literally the boy Daisy. He couldn’t be more perfect for her in a sense. One of the first scenes, you see he’s carrying an agenda book, and to her that is just so hot. That’s like, drooling on the floor! But she feels like she’s getting sidetracked so she tries to find reasons as to why she shouldn’t like this kid. And every time she finds something, it only makes her like him more. He’s a straight A student, he likes homework. Can this guy be any more perfect? But a lot happens and then you see a different side of him.

I feel like the typical teen comedy narrative would eventually steer Mac and Daisy toward an unlikely romance. What are your thoughts on that and whether it makes sense for what this version of the show is trying to do? 

I think with Daisy and Mac, since they’re such polar opposites it kind of works for the audience to root for them. When you first meet Daisy and you first meet Mac they’re so opposite. But then, throughout the series, especially in Season 1, you kind of see her reel him in and ground him and change the way he looks at things. His perspective is so different from Episode 1 to Episode 10 of Season 1. I think a lot of people love that; they love the fact that someone can come in and kind of change someone’s mindset and get them to look at the fact that they’re so much more privileged than the next [person] and that they need to be a part of the solution to create more opportunities and open more doors, to make everything more equal. And I root for them too! They just need to team up! But I think also Daisy and Mac know that no matter what goes on, they can always rely on each other. I got you whenever you need me—just don’t annoy me.

Velazquez (right) with Mitchell Hoog in <i>Saved by the Bell</i>
Velazquez (right) with Mitchell Hoog in Saved by the Bell (Photo: Casey Durkin/Peacock)

Everyone on this show has such great comedic chemistry. I’d love to hear about the building that amongst the cast. How much of it is the writing and how much just happens between you all on set?

I have to give Tracey her flowers. Her writing is just so impeccable. She comes up with the craziest things, and sometimes it’s just on the spot. And it just works. And I think it comes down to the casting process. My audition process was a pretty lengthy one. So, I think they really took into consideration who they were casting. And from the first table read… Alycia came into the room screaming and I was like, Yup, she’s one of me! And then after the first read, the entire cast just huddled up in a circle and we were like, “Ok, what are we gonna do? We have the whole rest of the day ahead of us. We all need to hang out.” We went to Aroma, which is in Studio City, and we sat there for about six hours, I kid you not. Just hearing each other’s stories. We were just talking about everything, and I think that helped shape our characters, but also how we are onscreen together. I think we know how to play around and pull things from each other. We work from the script a lot, but when the cameras aren’t rolling we kind of do improve and sometimes Tracy will see that or the director might see that and they’re like, “Why don’t you guys just put that in there?” I think that also creates a fun dynamic to see onscreen.

Tracey Wigfield is one of my favorite TV creators, and obviously her sensibility is all over this. Basically every line is hilarious. I was wondering if there’s one that is a particular favorite of yours.

For sure, from Season 1—and everyone does this to me: they’re like, “Time out! What did that blond fool just say to me?” That line! I need to get it tattooed on my ankle or something! It’s gonna live with me, I think. Like Joey’s line [from Friends]. What’s his line…?

How you doin’?”

Yes! Mine is, like, a little lengthier. But a lot of people love that line.

Haskiri Velazquez
Haskiri Velazquez (Photo: Sami Drasin)

One of the things I love about this new version of the show is that it’s very socially conscious. It sneaks in issues like school segregation in a way that feels pretty seamless and doesn’t clash with the comedy. What issues will the new season touch on?

This season we get more into solving the issues that saw in Season 1. But you also see the different dynamics in relationships at Bayside. It’s just getting more in-depth on each character’s life and the struggles that they’re facing outside of school.

For Dexter [Darden’s] character DeVante, you see him with his crush and that dynamic. You have this Black couple, these two kids, but they’re complete opposites, the way they were brought up. You know, Nadia goes to Bayside and she grew up in, like, the good area in a very fortunate family.

You grew up in Washington Heights and the shoe films in LA. I’m always curious how New Yorkers adjust to LA. What has that move been like for you? How are you adjusting to LA?

It’s been different, for sure. I feel like “different” is the word that I have to use because I’d never been to LA before, ever. The show gave me the opportunity to visit LA, so I was always on set working. But then when the pandemic his, I was like, I wanna explore LA. But everything was shut down, so I couldn’t explore it the way I wanted to. I think one of the big differences between New York and LA is the people. New Yorkers are just so real and so straight to the point. If they don’t like you, they will just tell you. Here, LA people, they don’t like you, but they’ll be like, “I love that for you! You’re amazing!” And I’m like, Is that true? Or are you just trying to use me as a pawn or something? I guess the relationships are just more authentic in New York. I feel like there’s always an act being put on [in LA].

Velazquez (center) in <i>The Forty-Year-Old Version</i>
Velazquez (center) in The Forty-Year-Old Version (Photo: Jeong Park/Netflix)

I want to ask about The Forty-Year-Old Version. It’s such a brilliant film and Radha Blank is such a singular talent. The film was unique in the sense that it is the vision and perspective of its star-writer-director. What was it like working on a film like that?

That’s a project that will forever live in my heart. It’s a project that I’m so proud to have been a part of. You know, with indie films sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. But, when I read the entire scrip, there was a clear story about how to find your own voice. For me, it spoke about how to find your voice in an industry that is trying to constantly shut you down, or is not interested in what you have to say. Radha, her sense of directing is just so real. We’d do something and she’s like, “Nah, scratch that sh*t. This ain’t New York!” She allowed all the actors to kind of take their role and make it their own. There was a lot of improv. I love when people bring it up!

I also have to ask about What Lies Below, which was a bit of a phenomenon on Netflix last spring. What’s your take on the film now?

It’s funny, I just went to a Q&A at USC for the film. I saw my part and I was just like, “Yay! That’s me! Oh, I’m no longer on the screen.” I mean, it’s a journey, you know? Being an actor is a journey. You have to start somewhere. I was just so thankful that [director Braden Duemmler] gave that opportunity. I shot this in 2018 and it went quiet for a while. But now that it’s getting all this attention… It’s so different from anything that I’ve done, and I want to do a thriller again. But I want to be in it a little longer, you know what I’m saying? But watching my younger self onscreen, it brings me back to those times, that hunger and that passion. It’s good to remind myself, like, Damn, I can’t believe I started there and now I’m here! It makes me want to push even harder for the next thing.