Audrey Esparza plays FBI agent Tasha Zapata on NBC’s Blindspot, but after some investigation we found the screen star actually got her start in the downtown theatre scene in New York City. She moved to Manhattan when she was 18 to study experimental theatre at NYU’s Tisch School. Having worked extensively Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, Esparza counts over a dozen theatre credits to her pre-TV days, including Underneath My Bed directed by Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Reyna in Post No Bills at Rattlestick, Tetrology at INTAR, and work at The Lark, Repertorio Español, and Theatre Wing.
Despite her diverse roles across her burgeoning career, Esparza says Tasha is a singular personality to take on. “I’ve never played anyone quite like her,” she says. “I am inspired by her bravery and candor. Tasha can be downright rude, but she is always trying her best to do the right thing. And I like that about her.”
Tasha goes beyond flexing Esparza’s acting muscles, too, in the physicality of Agent Zapata’s work. Still, Esparza relishes playing the mature character for a third season. “Beyond the physical demands of playing an agent in an action show, I've never really played an adult. She is a real grownup, with a very grownup job,” she says. “Keeping her fresh and honest has been a challenge for me. Oftentimes on network television, already established characters have to acclimate to story. We are shooting 22 episodes of television and have to keep the story moving. Meaning, sometimes our characters do something ‘out of character’ to push the plot forward. It has been exciting to lean into that. Instead of arguing, ‘Umm...Tasha wouldn’t do that,’ I ask myself, ‘What if she did, and why?’”
As Blindspot prepares to return to screens across the country January 12—after its midseason break—Esparza talks about the theatre moments that made her the actor she is.
What was your first professional job?
Audrey Esparza: My first for real for real professional theatre job right out of NYU still ranks as one of my favorites. I did a play at Rattlestick called Post No Bills by Mando Alvarado, directed by Micheal Escamilla. Rattlestick is an incredible space that champions diverse voices. It will always be my first love. Post No Bills was a beautiful heartbreak. Mando often described the characters as “open wounds” that somehow found one another. Mando and Micheal taught me what it meant to work hard, pushed me to be brave, and reminded me of the importance of my voice as an artist. I consider them my brothers still, and am forever grateful for that experience.
What was the stage show that has most influenced you?
Between growing up in a small Texas border city and being a poor college student, my favorite stage shows live in my head still. I didn’t have access to much theatre growing up. I was introduced to the world of theatre during my time at NYU, having spent my four years at the Experimental Theater Wing. I absolutely love reading plays, good, bad, old, new, weird. But if I dig deep and am really honest, we had a recording of a recording of John Leguizamo’s one man show on VHS. That will change any Latino kid’s life.
Is there a stage moment you witnessed (from the audience, from the wings, in rehearsal) that stays with you?
My friends and I laugh about this moment all the time: We’ve all read about the “real” theatre audience, the audience that existed during the time of Shakespeare. The audience that participated, that felt with, and for the actor, the kind that responded in real time to all that happened on the stage. This is not a “polite” audience. That audience is alive, well, and resides in all five boroughs. A couple of years ago I played the “Bride” in a modern version of Blood Wedding. This particular production toured around parks all over the city. (Spoiler alert: The arguably most dramatic moment of the plays is when the Bride cries in agony over her dead lover’s body.) On one night, this moment came and then was met by a roaring response from an audience member. “Por puta!” he yelled. Which loosely translates to “because you are a whore.” He was very not into the Bride’s side. BUT he was moved. And although I was horrified in the moment, I am very grateful. Theatre is powerful.
What’s been the most rewarding experience onstage for you?
I love the moments before you step onstage. When you look at your fellow actors for that second as if to say “goodbye for now” and “see you on the other side.”
Who is a collaborator from theatre who has made you better?
All of them? Really. All of them. They all make me better. Whether the experience was good or bad, if you are really there you can’t help but learn. Learning what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do. Also, anyone and everyone who decides to be a theatre artist is incredibly brave. Being around bravery makes me better.
Of your stage roles, which one was most like you and which was the least like you?
Honestly looking at that list, it all seems far away now. I’m not the girl who played those parts anymore. But I am so looking forward to the opportunity to jump back in [to theatre] again.
What is your favorite part of doing TV that’s different from theatre?
Paying my bills without a second job is a very good plus. But television, especially network television, reaches so many people. I understand the importance of young women seeing themselves reflected in me. Especially today, representation matters.
Blindspot airs Fridays at 8PM ET on NBC. Check your local listings.