A familiar face to film and television audiences for over two decades, José Zúñiga essayed small but memorable roles in features like "Con Air" (1997), "Mission: Impossible III" (2006) and "Twilight" (2008) while maintaining a host of guest and recurring turns on such primetime series as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ) and "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010). Like many character actors, he was frequently cast as a "type" - in his case, as intense, ethnic authority figures on both sides of the law - though on occasion, his compact frame and soulful visage led to assignments outside of his niche, including a hapless romantic in "Next Stop Wonderland" (1998) and a kindly biology teacher in "Twilight." Zúñiga's ability to imbue even the most stock character with nuance granted him the ideal career for a character actor: immediate identification, and more importantly, appreciation by audiences, even those who did not know his name.
In 1973, 7-year-old José Zúñiga left his native Honduras with his mother to settle in the Bronx and Washington Heights neighborhoods of New York City. There, he quickly overcame the language barrier and assimilated into his new culture, graduating from Manhattan's Xavier High School before moving on to higher education. Though he developed an appreciation for acting at a young age, counting inner city action heroes like Ron O'Neal ("Super Fly," 1972) as an early influence, Zúñiga did not consider an acting career until he reached his 20s, when he was pursuing a graduate degree in law. He soon became involved in the New York stage scene, where he co-founded the Malaparte Theater Company, before making his on-screen debut in the independent feature "Riding the Rails" (1988). Bit parts as policemen and street denizens in films like Spike Lee's "Crooklyn" (1994) led to his first substantive turn on "NY Undercover" (Fox, 1994-1998) as a Catholic priest and brother to series co-lead Michael DeLorenzo.
Zúñiga's performance as an ill-fated DEA agent in "Con Air" (1997) was soon followed by his first stint as a series regular playing a youth pastor on the controversial drama "Nothing Sacred" (ABC, 1997-1998), which earned him an ALMA Award nomination. It was soon followed by a second ALMA nod for his debut as a series lead in the crime program "Sins of the City" (USA Network, 1998). Zúñiga rebounded from that show's speedy cancellation to a steady stream of television guest appearances, and while playing cops and crooks on top-rated shows like "CSI: Miami (CBS, 2002-2012) and "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-2012) remained his most consistent showcase, he brought depth to these parts, most notably as a detective on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" with a penchant for photographing victims in curious states of final rest. His busy schedule of television appearances cut down his availability for features, though Zúñiga managed to score roles in several high-profile releases, including a 911 operator working with Halle Berry in the surprise hit thriller "The Call" (2013), which reunited him with his "Next Stop Wonderland" director, Brad Anderson.
Cast (Feature Film)
First screen appearance in "Riding the Rails"
First recurring television role on "NY Undercover" (Fox)
First regular series role in "Nothing Sacred" (ABC)
First series lead role in "Sins of the City" (USA Network)
Portrayed Mr. Molina in global phenomenon "Twilight"