Interview With Actor Zak Santiago, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”

By Ruth on February 19, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Yes, I am one of the original POstables. I watched the pilot the first time it appeared on Hallmark, and had it not been for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I wouldn’t have discovered the art of live tweeting. I always credit that show with introducing a new social media world to me. I also remember when the character of Ramon first appeared on my then-favorite television series (it has since become a movie series), and in time, I became quite familiar with the man who portrays him so brilliantly–Zak Santiago. As I have been following his career more closely over the last year or so, it was a joy and privilege to chat with him recently. He’s a very busy guy, but he took some time to detail how he became an actor, how he landed the role of Ramon, and what his future endeavors are (as well as why he is such an incredibly busy man!).

RH: So nice to finally be able to talk with you, Zak. You are one busy guy!

ZS: Nice to chat with you too, Ruth. Yes, it’s been very busy. And as you heard, we got some good news that more Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies are going to be coming our way.

Yeah, I saw that! I was glad they announced that. We were all very happy for that.

Yes, you guys were and we were and are excited. We’ll be providing you with some more fun, titillating and exciting, heartfelt and inspiring stories.

That’s what we like to hear. But now, with you, it seems like every time I turn around, I see you in something else. 

Yes, 2016 was very busy for me. I’ve been trying to chip away at this acting career of mine for a lot of years now. And I think once you become familiar with a performer, you tend to notice them more whereas you might not have before. And now that you’ve seen Ramon, you can recognize my face showing up in other shows.

True. I first noticed you in Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but you’ve been doing TV and film for awhile.

Yeah, quietly chipping away at it in the background, and you never know when one of the things you’re on might get some heat, and then if it doesn’t, I’m still happy, and I thank God for any opportunity I’ve had. I try to do my best and work hard whether it’s a successful show or a student film or an indie project or a Canadian TV series or a Hollywood feature…I just try to be kind and do my best.

From my perspective, I would say you accomplish that. 

Thanks.

So how did you get started in acting?

Well, as a child, I was always involved in the arts. I was in what you would call a gifted kids class. It wasn’t really a program; it was just an extra class with me and a few other kids after school.  We would do all different kinds of art and things that would use a different part of your brain, I suppose. I played music since I was young. I was in piano for a lot of years. My mom put me in dance. I’ve always loved to write and to read. I never really wanted to be an actor or a DJ. I’ve had a very storied and colorful life, and I finally came to a point in my life where I started thinking, “What am I gonna do?” I didn’t really know what I was gonna do, and I didn’t really have any formal education. I had a different kind of education, but not the proper one. And I thought, “Well, you know, I’m gonna try acting.” {laughs} Not because it was my dream or my goal or my desire, but I was probably like, “What options do I have?” So I tried it, and I liked it.

I was also trying to promote a club so my brothers could hear some hip hop music. I was in this acting school, and I was sitting there for a few weeks, and I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m on the same vibe as some of these people.” I had some friends who told me to forget all that, and they offered to introduce me to their agent and have me start auditioning. I had these DJ’s who were opening for me. I had never thought of being a DJ, but I guess I’d been in music my whole life and played in bands up to that point. I guess I was DJ-ing on college radios and doing shows, but I never wanted to do it as a career or anything like that. But I know music. The kids who were opening for me weren’t too good, but I was paying them pretty well. So I dropped out of the acting school, and I was broke. I used the student loans I’d gotten to buy turntables. I fired the kids who were opening for me, and I started to open at my club. I got an agent because people vouched for me. I started auditioning, but I didn’t know how to audition. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to look in the camera. I didn’t know what a mark was. I didn’t know about timing and lighting. I didn’t know anything about film or TV. So I basically taught myself how to do both things. I played and I got better and I practiced at home and I got better. People liked me. If you have flavor, it can eventually come out if you’re proficient enough with your technique on something.

As an artist, with my voice, I could eventually start to express myself as a DJ like I had with music. So that was effective. Then with acting, once I learned technique and craft the hard way and I could express myself as a performer, then I just didn’t stop. I didn’t give up. I’ve never really cared what anybody else thinks. I try really hard. I started booking gigs for both music and acting and just kept going. God gives us all kinds of journeys in our lives, and we learn hard lessons and we learn fun lessons. I’ve been able to have a career in both acting and DJ-ing and I haven’t stopped either one since I started. So yes, I didn’t want to be a DJ or actor and everyone thinks, “Man, you have the best career!. That’s great. That’s everyone’s dream!” Actually, it wasn’t my dream, but here I am.

Wow, that’s quite a story. 

I do appreciate real technique. After awhile, I did go and start taking classes–scene study classes. I’ve really gotten serious about acting over the last several years. I’m always in class, even if I’m working on two series at the same time, I’m in a theater class. And I’m spending half a day for five weeks workshopping a scene. I am really serious now, but at the beginning, I just hustled it. I grinded it. I just did it myself. But since then, I wanted to make sure I was doing it properly ’cause I respect the people I work with and I want to be good. I’m definitely trained now. I’ve played music and danced in front of people for many years. Being a performer and being on stage performing for people made me already a bit more at ease with it I guess. I didn’t know that much about acting, but I knew how to perform and tell a story in front of people whether it’s through music or dance. I think maybe that’s why it came easier to me.

Being a music teacher and singer myself, I know what you’re saying. Music gives that really good foundation for performance. 

Absolutely. And that’s my dream. If I could sing… you’re livin’ my dream.

Did you do any Hallmark work before Signed, Sealed, Delivered?

I’m honestly not sure. I would have to look back to see. I know I have done lots of MOW’s for Lifetime, and so I may have done other work for Hallmark outside of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but I’m not one hundred percent sure where everything airs that I have done.

Right, but if you were in a Hallmark movie before, it was probably a small role, and you weren’t a lead in a Hallmark film.

No, I have not been a lead in a series or film with Hallmark.

How did you get connected with Signed, Sealed, Delivered?

It was because of my friend, Kevin Fair–he’s a director who has directed so much of our stuff. I was a lead in a Canadian TV series called Robson Arms. I did three seasons of that. It  was a great show ’cause the writers would involve upcoming writers and new writers and also hire new directors. It was a great concept to push forward our voice and our culture and build identity in our film and television history by giving these people a chance who had dedicated their lives to the industry. Kevin’s first gig directing was an episode of Robson Arms. Every episode, this series had a different focus on one of the tenants of this building, and the episode he happened to do was one that figured heavily on my character’s life. And that was his first time directing episodic television. We got close on that, and I think he enjoyed working with me, and I enjoyed working with him. Many years later, I heard from him, and he said, “Zak, I want you to do this thing,” and that was Signed, Sealed, Delivered. It was when they were doing episodes as opposed to movies. When I first read it, I was a bit unsure that I was right for it. I knew the show because I had auditioned for the pilot. I actually auditioned for Norman. I auditioned for Martha {Williamson}, and I put it behind me because as actors, you see how much any of us have worked, there’s ten times the number of auditions behind that. There are so many scenes, characters, and scripts that you’ve prepared and auditioned for, and then you’ve got to throw them away ’cause you didn’t book it. You’ve gotta erase it from your hard drive.

So later when Kevin told me about this recurring character and he wanted me to play it…Martha saw my demo, and she really wanted me to do it and she contacted me. I was afraid that my schedule might be a problem with filming the show. I spoke with her, and the moment she asked me to do it, I said “yes.” I am really thankful because I did it and it’s so fun. I didn’t know Kristin {Booth} or Eric {Mabius} then. I love them. I had only met Martha once, and man, I love her. I just love all the characters and the story.

This story is really not the typical for an actor like me. Normally, as an actor you don’t have an executive producer that you really don’t know pursuing you and saying, “Can you play this small part for me?” That’s more when they’re looking for their leads. They want to meet them and go to lunch and almost offer them the role. But they still have to audition. The only time they will reach out personally is when it’s a huge role. All it took was her doing a gracious reaching out which I wouldn’t expect for that smaller part. I had no idea it would continue this long. They knew before I did that I would be perfect for the role, and I am grateful.

So I did that one, and then they wrote the next one, and they keep changing what Ramon does. It’s so much fun.

I know what you mean. I watched Signed, Sealed, Delivered from the beginning. It’s been phenomenal to see the growth in the characters from the beginning. So when Ramon first shows up, he’s the–

–choreographer. And a dance teacher–he owns a dance studio.

And he becomes this threat to Norman for Rita’s affections. I was afraid they might write Ramon out of the series. I don’t think Ramon has been in every movie. 

I think there’s a couple I’m not in. I think I did two in a row and then missed one. And throughout the movie series, there has definitely been breaks for my character. Every time there is a break, I don’t assume that he’ll be back because each time he’s on, he fulfills his purpose, and you never know for sure if he’ll be back. So every time I hear that I’m coming back, it’s such a joy. He did kind of fulfill his thing, but I guess the fans like him,  Martha and Brandy {Harkonen} like him, Joel {S. Rice} and the cast like him. I guess they see we work together well, and I’m so grateful they found a place for him.

What can you tell us about Ramon in the upcoming Higher Ground film?

This may be my favorite one so far for Ramon. It may even be the best movie so far. They keep getting better and better. But I don’t want to give anything away, so we’ll leave it at that.

Have you had any input into the development of Ramon’s character?

I think sometimes if I don’t think something works with what my character is supposed to say, I might suggest something different to say. But just minimal things. Martha and Brandy are really open and collaborative, but the scripts and Ramon’s role has never been workshoppy. Sometimes on the read-throughs when we’re all there, if I improv or say something differently that works, then she’ll write that down and put it in the revision. But basically she comes with a beautiful, amazing script with the characters and then whatever the characters are saying or doing, they’re pretty much already gold.

A lot of times, Ruth, when we work on things that aren’t Signed, Sealed, Delivered, you’re like, “Man! How are we gonna make this work?” And you’ll work with the other actors and your director and be like, “We gotta change this or cut this.What can we do?” And some directors have the authority to do that because they’re also a producer. Or we’ll talk to the show runner, and we’ll make changes ’cause it just doesn’t work. But Martha’s writing is basically flawless.

As actors, if we’re lucky enough working on something for a long enough time, if you’ve worked a character through different situations–maybe through different episodes or a series of movies like this–the creators will see what you do as an actor to bring life to that character, and as they get to know you and that character as it lives through you, they’ll start writing for you. Now they have a face and a voice  and a mannerism to the character, whereas when that character was originally conceived, it was just an idea in their head and on their paper. So in that way indirectly, I think, all of us actors if we’re really lucky to be able to work with these thoughtful writers and creators, we do indirectly influence our characters because now the writers are thinking about writing for us and enjoying it. The things that I do with the lines that Martha gives me–I’m not saying they’re worse or I’m not saying they’re better–but they’re different than how any other actor would do it. All of us are unique in how we interpret these characters and how they talk and think. In that sense, I’ve had input, but with Martha, she has created this great character, and I have no worries about what she has written for Ramon.

Who’s idea was Ramon’s accent?

I remember in the first one he was Latino or Hispanic. I just did it with an accent. I assumed they wanted it. The script did have him saying “Oviler,” so she had already made him speak a little funny. Then going forward, having to interpret those songs, like, “Do you speak Portuguese?” “It’s my second language.” “What about other languages?”  So he and where he is from have continued to become more and more mysterious. I have to let that reflect in his accent and his mannerisms. Instead of just focusing on one territory, I have tried to expand it. I have played Mexican, Honduran, Colombian, Cuban, Dominican–these are all Spanish-speaking countries, but their accents are all very different. I’ve also spoken Arabic, French, and even a British accent. So I try to be careful about representing accents correctly. With Ramon, {laughs} we don’t know for sure who he is or what he is now. You’ll see more of that in the upcoming movie. It will be like, “Wait a minute, you did this? You did that?”

I think a lot of Postables fans would love for Ramon to have a romantic interest. 

Oh, that would be nice. {laughs} I’ll always say “yes” to that.

It would make things interesting since Rita is definitely spoken for. And it does seem that Ramon is done going after her.

Yeah, not trying to get in the way and trying to be more of a colleague.

Which was nice to see because sometimes in series, they will keep the tension and the love triangle going too long. I even remember Oliver came to Ramon for advice which was another nice thing to see. 

And now he’s free to have his sights on someone else.

I think that would be nice for the fans to see because from what I can tell, we have always enjoyed your character. Your character added a lot of comedy to the story.

He’s just this charmer. He’s always trying to be charming in a goofy way. It would be fun to see him try to charm someone new. Who knows what’s in store, but I’m very excited about it. And who knows what’s in Higher Ground?

In addition to Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground, is there anything else upcoming that you can mention?

There’s a series I did for Hulu called Shut Eye that I really like, and I filmed that last summer. It’s on Crave TV in Canada, but it’s on Hulu in the States.  It’s got Jeffrey Donovan and Angus Sampson from Fargo and Isabella Rossellini, who’s like a legendary actress. And it’s produced by Melissa Bernstein and Mark Johnson who produced Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, so it was really exciting to jump on board that series. It’s very different from Signed, Sealed, Delivered and very different from Dirks Gently. My character is pretty fun and he’s throughout the whole season clear up to the last episode. You get to know him better and better as the season goes on. I had fun playing him, so I”d love if any fans want to watch that.

Then there’s Dirk Gently, which is on Neflix in over 122 countries and in the States on BBC America. We’re going to start filming our second season in May, I believe. There’s two more episodes than last season, and it promises to be even wilder and crazier.  We’re really looking forward to that. I love my character in that show.

Not too long ago, I was on location filming Cult of Chucky, the latest in the famous horror film franchise. I really had a great time on that, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product. My character on this is very different from Ramon who’s very different from Cross on Dirk Gently who’s very different from White Tony on Shut Eye. It’s fun to be playing all these different characters.

In between all this, there’s been a couple of guest star parts on shows that are probably popping out now or did pop out in the last few months.

You also did a guest spot on the upcoming show The Arrangement, right?

Yes, I did an episode on that. There’s a lot of buzz on that show. It’s going to be big. My friend, Jonas Pate, is a director and executive producer on that show, and I also worked with him on Battlestar Galactica. He was working on that show, and he saw something come up on an episode he was directing, so I came in and booked it. It was good to work with him again. There’s some great actors on that show, and it will be interesting to see how it’s received when it comes out.

I’m glad it’s finally coming out. I’ve known about the show for at least six months.

Finally, yeah. In this business, it’s crazy sometimes. We’ll find out, and we get if confirmed, and then it will be eight months before we start working on it. Then it sits in post or it just sits and they’re waiting on the dates to release it. Your life has changed since then, and you’ve done a lot of work since then. Then the thing is airing, and we’ve got to do press for it, and it’s like, “Wasn’t this a lifetime ago?”

Are you ever hoping to someday have a show or movie that you write for? 

Yeah, there’s one script in particular that I’m really trying to get off the ground. I’ve been tackling a few different angles on it. It’s a drama feature and pretty intense. I put it down for a little bit ’cause I came really close to getting it potentially produced, but it didn’t happen, and that is pretty frustrating. When I’m doing my own passion project, I tend to give a lot of myself, sometimes more than I might have to give, and I have to be careful that I monitor that. Otherwise it’s not healthy. And I’m still DJ-ing lots and acting lots and still training lots. I love my family. So if I’m burning myself out on too many passion projects, then I get worn out. So I put it down for a little bit, and when I have a little break, then maybe after this year, I might take some time and retool it and then push forward.

That’s good that you have something like that. Most actors do have things like that. I also think it’s great that you’re aware that taking a break from it for awhile is a good thing. I know I would probably be the same way. I sometimes push myself too hard.

Yeah, ’cause there’s only so many hours in the day. A lot of my peers that act, they just act. If they are still in the game and professionals, they basically audition and act. But I have a whole other full-time job. I do four full nightclub residencies, and I DJ for a radio station. And then I try to be in an acting class. So I have a full-time job plus all the acting and auditioning I do. I have two careers. I try to keep dancing and working with music. And I’m still boxing. So when I try to add these big passion projects, I don’t have that much spare time. So we got to slow it down when we can.

We at SSD really appreciate the support and the love from all you guys. Some actors might not say it enough or comment or let you know how much it means to everybody there and of course from Martha all the way down, it means a lot. We know there are ears waiting to hear our words, and there are hearts waiting to feel things. Even before we’re announcing that we’re going to do it, we know there’s love. It’s a scary business we work in, and it’s scary being an artist or performer or writer. To know that there are people who support us and appreciate us, that means a lot. And I’m glad we could make this interview happen. Thank you very much.

I might be able to subtitle this interview “Ramon Speaks,” because it seems that his character is one that often fades into the background, and we don’t hear from him as much as we might like to at times. I recognize the reason is that he is a supporting character, but it was so amazing for me to sit down and just listen to Zak tell the story of his life and how Ramon has been such a significant part of it. While Zak has gone on to do other shows in recent years with more lines and more clout, there is no doubt that he holds a special place in his heart for Signed, Sealed, Delivered. I did not prompt his final words to the POstables–that came directly from his heart and soul–and I told him that was a simply beautiful way to end the interview. I have no idea how he is able sustain his frenetic schedule and still master every role he tackles, but I suppose that is the gifting of God and the dedication of a true professional artist like Zak. While he didn’t take the traditional route to his ultimate calling, there is no doubt that God had this plan for Zak all along. While Zak may have taken a somewhat convoluted path to his destination, the main thing is, he arrived. However, Zak is not stationary by any means. His fierce determination and commitment to his craft and responsibilities will keep him heading in the right direction and ensure that he continues to improve upon the talents with which God has endowed him. I also appreciate the fact that he is so quick to highlight those who have made this journey possible for him, and his words about Martha Williamson–does it really get any better than that? Please be sure that you tune in to watch (or DVR) Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground tonight (February 19) on the Hallmark Movies & Mystery Network to see the next chapter of the phenomenal POstables tale. Also, please check out all of Zak’s links below and follow him where you can because I believe that supporting all the actors in the cast is a sort of divine responsibility when it comes to sanctioning such an amazing movie series. Also, it will keep you up-to-date with all of Zak’s endeavors!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

2 Comments

  1. Margaret Appel February 24, 2017 Reply

    I love Signed, Sealed, Delivered & love watching it even in reruns. I adore the character of Ramon & Zak Santiago does a wonderful job with portraying him. I really hope the show continues on now that it is being made as movies, all the characters feel like friends that I don’t want to lose touch with. Thank you for a wonderful interview with Zak Santiago, it was wonderful hearing about his journey in life 🙂

    • Author
      Ruth February 24, 2017 Reply

      Margaret thank you as well for your support. I loved chatting with Zak. His story was not what I expected which is always nice. And he loves Ramon too. So let’s hope it remains for a long, long time!

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