Dexter Darden is Bayside High’s newest star. HL spoke EXCLUSIVELY with the actor about joining the ‘Saved by the Bell’ universe, his character, staying close with his ‘Maze Runner’ family, and more.
Dexter Darden stars as Devante, one of the new Bayside kids we’re going to get to know in the Saved by the Bell revival, which premieres Nov. 25 on Peacock. While the revival will feature familiar faces like Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley, Dexter revealed in our EXCLUSIVE interview that the new show will be “very different” from the original series. However, the show will “pay homage” to the original.
The talented actor also opened up about playing the late John Lewis in the film Son of the South and what it meant to him to have John cosign on him getting the role. Dexter remains close with his Maze Runner castmates, and he revealed how they’ve been there for him during the modern civil rights movement. Read our Q&A below.
First and foremost, I know the show was a little bit before our time but had you watch the original series, or did you at some point?
Dexter Darden: Of course. I was a big fan of the original back in the day. I used to wake up and watch reruns. It was nice to be able to just dive right back into that world and have the opportunity to go to Bayside and be the new Bayside kid. It was really exciting.
Tell me a little bit about Devante and how he fits into this Saved by the Bell world.
Dexter Darden: Devante is one of the kids who comes from Douglas and ends up joining Bayside in hopes of having a new beginning. He was into some trouble at Douglas, and he’s finally getting the opportunity to reinvent himself and really dive into what he feels like he would like to be known for at Bayside and moving forward in the rest of his life. I think it’s really, really important that we show characters like Devante on television because not very often do we see an African American young man get the opportunity to have a fresh new start in school where he has a new opportunity to be somebody who he’s always wanted to be.
How would you say the revival compares and contrasts with the original series?
Dexter Darden: It’s very different. We have a lot of the originals back. Mario’s back, Elizabeth’s back, and there are a couple other guest stars everybody will be really, really happy to see on the show. But based on right now with the current nature of our world, it can’t be the same school as it was in the early 90s, late 80s. The world was very different in terms of how things were operating in terms of fashion, so Bayside is offering that aspect of life with fashion, but with a newer twist. With everything being the way that it is right now in the culture and the current climate of our country, it’s important that we touch on certain issues that tend to be avoided by most. Saved by the Bell’s really doing that, and we’re also a single-camera show. The original was multi-cam for the live audience to get the laughs. We don’t have that. Our showrunner Tracey Wigfield, who did 30 Rock and Champions, she’s done so many different single-cam comedy shows. She comes from that Tina Fey umbrella to the point where the humor is a little bit more subtle. It’s an exciting layer of Bayside.
In the trailer, it looks like there’s a little musical number. Are we going to hear you sing?
Dexter Darden: I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say there’s a possibility that you get to hear Dexter Darden finally open up his vocal cords and let loose. Devante is one of those characters who you have to watch the show to figure out a little bit about, but I think I finally get the chance to showcase a little bit more of my abilities and talent that the world has kind of gotten a glimpse of but not really the opportunity to fully explore.
The Saved by the Bell cast is filled with such great young talent. What was it like for you to be on set with people your age and creating something that’s very current for a new generation?
Dexter Darden: We weren’t ignorant of the fact that the show and the world that we were stepping into is important and means a lot to everybody. Saved by the Bell has established itself — from a nostalgia standpoint — to the masses. It’s important for us to do everything that we can to kind of pay homage to that and to really show how we’re the new 6 kids that Bayside has chosen to follow. But we mean a lot in this world of Bayside and it’s important, so I’m excited about the opportunity to be able to showcase and work with Josie Totah, who is such a revolutionary in the sense of what she’s working so hard to accomplish for the world in terms of the LGBTQ community in New York. Having the opportunity to work so closely with Jo and also create with the originals Mario and Elizabeth every single day, it really means a lot in terms of what we are trying to accomplish on the show.
You starred in an incredibly important film called Son of the South where you played John Lewis. What was your process like as you stepped into the shoes of a civil rights legend?
Dexter Darden: For me, every chance to play somebody who actually existed and walk this earth and make such a positive and influential impact on our world, you really want to have the opportunity to just pay him homage and that’s really it. All I really wanted to do was make him proud. He actually had to cosign on me playing him, which was really special. Because when you play such an iconic figure in the Civil Rights movements, you really want to make sure that a) you’re doing your best job to make them feel as great about what your performance is providing and what you’re bringing to the table, and b) you want to make sure that you know that you are making the audience understand and be a part of the pain in the world that he was experiencing at that specific time. It was really an honor. It’s a heavy movie, but it’s a story that needs to be told right now very similar to how Burden was.
On your Instagram, you posted your poem Silence a few months ago. Is poetry something that you have always been interested in? Were you inspired by the moment that we’re in right now?
Dexter Darden: I’ve always been a singer-songwriter. Being a singer-songwriter, you have a way with words that are impactful if you can portray them in the right way. But when it comes to poetry, it’s never really been something that I’ve been passionate about doing. With this recent civil rights movement, I remember sitting down, and I was watching all of the riots happening in Minnesota. I actually happened to be watching CNN when the African American reporter got arrested just for doing this job. These police officers were arresting him for reporting and doing his job. He wasn’t even a rioter. He was peaceful. He was actually coming to congratulate them on how great of a job they were doing and so on. That inspired me to just write Silence. I just really wanted to give people a perspective of what it feels like being an African American male, not really knowing many allies in the community and our industry. I wanted to give everybody the opportunity to not just plead their case, but to come forward and say I stand with you, and for those of them who didn’t know why not speaking up is also contributing to the problem. I think presenting to them through art that they can relate to me and that through poetry or whether it be music or whatever, they could relate to me in a specific way. I thought that that was the way that I could kind of reach the masses the most.
I was a huge fan of The Maze Runner series. Do you all still keep in touch today?
Dexter Darden: We are still very close. We try our best to see each other and communicate. We talk every day about life and check in with each other. One thing that really meant a lot to me was when the civil rights movement started happening — George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so forth — having Kaya [Scodelario], Chris [Sheffield], Dylan [O’Brien], and Ki Hong [Lee] all call me and say, can we get on Zoom? What can we do? How can we make you feel comfortable right now? We love you. We care about you. We look forward to making you feel safe. It really shows that we weren’t just a family because we were filming a movie together. We’re a family for the rest of my life, and that was something that really meant a lot to me.