D.J. Cotrona had less than two weeks to prepare for reinterpreting one of his favorite film roles in Robert Rodriguez’s TV adaptation of his 1996 film “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
“We just got thrown in very quickly,” he says over his second cup of coffee at the Algonquin Hotel’s Blue Bar in Midtown Manhattan. “Robert shoots very fast. Everything is very fast, so you learn on your feet; it’s definitely run and gun…. But I prefer it.”
It’s an apt description for the “From Dusk Till Dawn” world, first brought to life by Quentin Tarantino (also the screenwriter) and George Clooney as the Gecko brothers, two small-time crooks on the run who enlist a Bible-thumping family of hostages to sneak them across the Mexican border.
What moved “Dusk” beyond the run-of-the-mill crime saga into indie film history was not only Tarantino’s “verbose” script and Rodriguez’s seamless integration of spaghetti Western and kung fu film influences, but the radically sudden switch from heightened realism to the dark fantasy of a full-on vampire horror flick.
That shift was more drawn out in the TV adaptation’s first season, starring Cotrona as fast-talking Seth and Zane Holtz as mentally unstable Richie. Now, Season 2 moves beyond the cult classic’s original telling, expanding on the universe. The first two episodes bring a welcome change for Richie and a newfound low for Seth, who finds himself lost without his partner in crime.
“It’s funny because my career as an actor has been extremely up and down,” Cotrona says of the similarities between Seth and himself. “I’ve had a lot of big opportunities that have not come to fruition for myriad reasons, and it’s weird but I think that really informed my experience with my character.”
In 2007, Cotrona was cast in George Miller’s “Justice League: Mortal” as Superman, a potentially career–making role, but the project fell through. It wasn’t until 2010’s “Dear John,” in which he played Noodle, the Army bud to Channing Tatum’s titular character, followed by 2012’s “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” that audiences saw him on the big screen again.
“You think about it and [actors are] constantly just rushing to grab one job real quick and get away with it, and then that job brings us to the next job. You feel like you’re always on the road to snatch a role or snatch a bag of money, just enough to continue to the next one.”
But it’s the “obsession” with the chase and the process, and rarely the job itself, that both entices and serves as the driving force behind Cotrona’s acting career, Seth’s criminal one, and “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
Luring fans back into the groundbreaking film’s hazy world of sex, Satan, blood, and bank robberies hinged on creative support from Rodriguez. The Texas native brought his atypical style to the TV series, making it the first original from his cable network, El Rey, a move that ensured complete creative control in front of and behind the camera.
The project was daunting, but Cotrona says being selected by Rodriguez pushed him to trust his acting instincts, as well as lean into taking agency over his choices. There was no space for self-doubt.
“[Robert’s] always saying, ‘Keep creating. Keep moving forward. Don’t second-guess anything. Take the first instinct and just go.’
“ ‘There are no mistakes’ is a big thing with him,” says Cotrona.
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