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Thoughtful A Martinez On His Career, The Housing Crisis, and More

California Winter PosterIf A Martinez seems familiar, it’s for good reason. The talented actor has had several stand-out roles, including heartthrob Cruz Castillo on now-defunct soap opera Santa Barbara and Daniel Morales on L.A. Law. Currently, Martinez plays the complicated Jacob Nighthorse on the recently rescued series, Longmire, and also has a recurring stint on daytime’s Days of Our Lives as Eduardo Hernandez.

All of that is just the tip of his lengthy list of credits. Martinez has also branched out into writing and directing; his 2014 short, Before Your Eyes, about a family band in crisis, was well-received.

Amid a busy 2016, Martinez is also promoting the release of California Winter, an independent picture filmed in 2012 about the 2008 housing crisis. The film focuses on Clara Morales (Elizabeth Dominguez), a new realtor who, in an effort to please her firm, has been pushing adjusted-rate mortgages (ARM) on first-time home buyers. Martinez plays Clara’s father, affectionately called “Papi”; after losing his wife to cancer, Papi soon finds himself in danger of losing the family home because he trusted Clara when she refinanced it with an ARM in order to pay her mother’s medical bills. The film is also notable for having Gina Rodriguez in a small part pre-Jane The Virgin, and features veteran character actor Michael Ironside and True Blood’s Rutina Wesley.

The Nerd Element recently chatted with Martinez via e-mail about his role as Papi, as well as his past roles and future projects, and discovered he is as passionate about the subject matter of California Winter as he is about his career. He’s also thoughtful and engaging. Please read on!

The Nerd Element: What attracted you to the role of Papi in California Winter?

A Martinez: I was attracted by the fact that Papi is a pivotal character in this wonderfully timely and haunting story. It was thrilling to read the script. It felt so unlikely that such a script would exist—almost miraculous, really—and I was deeply happy that it had found its way to me. It was clear that writer/director Odin Ozdil was a man on a fine mission—and a man after my own heart.

TNE: Throughout the film, we see different sides of Papi, including proud homeowner and family man to a man who’s lost not only his wife, but is about to lose his house because of his daughter’s advice (and possibly feels he is losing his daughter as well).  Did/do you know anyone affected by the crash of the housing market?  If so, did that inform your performance, or do you create your characters based on what’s on the page and/or what comes from inside you?

AM: The crash of the housing market was so tied up in the crash of the economy as a whole that it seems impossible for any of us not to know someone who was affected. My family suffered a deep financial wound in the previous housing crash—unable as we were to find a market for our home when we really needed to sell it—and I lost a good job in this latest, greater crash. And beyond that, so many people in the country lost so much, not least of which would be whatever faith we still retain in the sobriety and accountability of our dominant financial institutions.

The latent sense in me that such events are among the most effective tools employed by the masters of the planet in their quest for ever-greater power was re-awakened with a vengeance by the events of 2008. This sense that such events are basically a poorly disguised but massively effective form of theft is the source of quite a bit of deep personal frustration—something bordering on rage even, at times. And I think that same edge of rage shows up in Papi’s response to what befalls his family in California Winter.

TNE: Your lines are spoken entirely in Spanish. Was that part of the script, or was that a choice you made as an actor for the type of person Papi is?

AM: Papi speaking only Spanish was indicated in the script. It struck me as a crucial element of the map of his psyche. He’s obviously been living in America for a long time and obviously understands English on some level. But he has kept his life focused on what he’s comfortable with, and has not felt the need to move beyond the dependable cadences that have served him well and long. He’s very conservative in that sense.

TNE: Is there any difference for you in performing in Spanish vs. in English, and if so, how do you approach Spanish-speaking roles?

AM: I don’t speak Spanish as well as I speak English, and am prone to making the kind of errors that a non-English speaker like Papi would never make. Throughout shooting, I remained in a close relationship with our script supervisor, the very talented Miguel Bocanegra, who made sure my Spanish didn’t veer too far from the Spanish Papi would carry.

It’s a challenge to work outside your comfort zones—the film Wind River allowed me to play an historical character named Moragonai who spoke only Shoshone, and my character in Shoot the Sundown spoke only Navajo—since it adds another stream of processing tasks to the whole of the work. But it also helps you find useful stuff in yourself that you otherwise probably wouldn’t.

TNE: California Winter took only 16 days to shoot. Did your experience working in soap operas help you get into and maintain character for such a short schedule? Or is there a different process you use when making a film vs. making a TV show?

AM: There’s no doubt that the years I’ve spent in Daytime TV have helped to sharpen my memory. The strategies for quickly building a retrievable map of a narrative in your mind have been useful in a wide array of life situations in the days since Daytime forced me to find them. The process of building and sustaining a character is pretty much the same in any venue of storytelling, though it’s hard to beat the value of spending the six weeks in rehearsal that you typically get before you mount a play. That kind of time allows for a lot of exploration in a lot of directions, trying out things that you may anticipate will bear little surface resemblance to the character you finally offer, but will inform and deepen it.

It’s probably worth noting that the biggest steps I’ve taken as an actor corresponded to a recommitment to serious reading that came upon me some years ago. Again, it was the good fortune of an ancillary circumstance forcing an abandonment of a comfort zone—forcing a deconstruction of the same old stores of pattern recognition that had been holding sway in my brain for too long a time.

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A Martinez as Papi and Elizabeth Dominguez as Clara in Odin Ozdil’s California Winter

TNE: Was your short, Before Your Eyes, inspired at all by California Winter?  What sparked the story idea behind the short?

AM: Before Your Eyes shares the thematic element of the human pain attending the foreclosure process that is at the core of California Winter. But BYE was born as a “pilot” for a longer feature that I wrote before CW appeared in my life. My manager, Mark Teitelbaum, had suggested that I should make a “trailer” for the longer movie, so as to prove to potential investors that I was a viable director. That trailer became a 50 minute movie—a “tweener” as it were—too long to be a short, too short to be a feature. It is, however, a compelling piece in its own right, and will no doubt find a way into the world at some point.

TNE: How was the experience of making your own film? Would you like to do more directing and/or writing?

AM: It was among the most satisfying experiences of my career. For years, I was immune to the attraction of taking the helm of a project, but the process of getting older ushered in an understanding of the need to do so. It just seems right that the actor’s central concern of making himself available to help tell someone else’s story would eventually give way, in a well-considered life, to a willingness to start choosing the stories to be told.

The task of writing and directing presents challenges on so many fronts, and until you actually attempt to do it, it’s impossible to know whether those challenges can be met. The relative merits of the final product aside, I was pleased to realize that I actually had an answer for almost every question that came up in the shooting and editing. The questions come like a river, and it was nice to be able to respond to them coherently—a happy artefact of the years I’ve spent addressing the work from the actor’s point of view, I suppose, all the while paying as much attention as I could to the bigger picture.

TNE: Could you describe the emotions of first hearing Longmire was cancelled and then having it picked up by Netflix for an additional season? Did the outpouring of love from fans trying to save the show affect you in any way?

AM: It was like a kick in the stomach to imagine Longmire being ripped from the world. It was unfathomable. And therein lies the hint of the hidden pleasure to come. It was unfathomable because it was so absurdly misguided: that a show so beloved by such a substantial audience could be dismissed with such disdain was surely and simply a mistake.

And lo and behold, as has seemed to be the case with every aspect of the show, its firm purchase on a state of grace would not be denied. The outpouring of love and social media elbow grease expended by the fans was like a tidal wave. As can sometimes happen, a true community arose around the fictional community the show has delivered, and that community was focused with a profound intensity on saving the show. I consider many of the people in that community to be my friends now. Like them, I recognize how remarkable a show it is, and like them, I’m so grateful that it continues to flourish.

TNE: Is Jacob Nighthorse coming back for the next season of Longmire? If so, what can you tell us about his arc for the season?  If not, what was your favorite part of being on the show?

AM: Jacob is definitely back for Season 5. In the earliest vision of the show, he was slated to be potentially expendable early. But his emergence in the “Dog Soldier” episode (S1E5) brought him a new lease on life. And as with all the characters, he’s deepened and put down more substantial roots in the culture of the show. It’s a pleasure and an honor to play him.

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A Martinez (second from right) in a scene from the “Dog Soldier” episode of Longmire

TNE: As an actor, what do you think of the current binge-watching model of networks such as Netflix? Does it matter if your audience has to wait week to week to see your work, or if they can watch it all in sequence, like a long movie? Does it affect the preparation you put into your role and if so, how?

AM: The new model of viewing doesn’t change how I prepare my work, but I sure do appreciate it as a viewer. I would miss so much of what I love if I couldn’t watch it on my own schedule.

TNE: You’ve had a long and varied career in television and film. Looking at your career to date, is there any role or project that sticks out? If you had to pick a favorite role, who would it be?

AM: Cruz Castillo in Santa Barbara is the role that has meant the most in my life—though Jacob is now pushing him. I played Cruz in more than 1,600 episodes of SB, and got to build an extraordinary working relationship with the great Marcy Walker [Ed.: she played Eden, Cruz’s great love], a relationship that lasted a long time and helped us both overcome a lot of the stuff that was blocking us as actors.

TNE: What advice would you give to an up-and-coming actor or actress about today’s acting climate (“climate” = choices available as far as film, TV, and Netflix-style shows)? Is there any piece of advice you were given when you were starting out that has stuck with you or affected your career choices?

AM: The most important thing any actor can do is to find a way to work. No matter what you have to do, find a way, whether you’re getting paid, or simply attending classes regularly and getting yourself up in front of your peers, or booking professional gigs if you’re far enough along. You’ve got to be doing it to grow, and you’ve got to be doing it to be seen. And if you’re fortunate enough to get a legitimate flow going, it’s your responsibility to honor and nurture it.

The great breakthrough for me in the journey was coming to realize that it’s about every bit of the work, even though most of what I get to do never escapes the auditioning process. But I can still address those auditions with the same commitment to preparation I’d assign to a role that was going to be witnessed by millions. Even if it’s just two people or a handful of people in a casting office, an audition constitutes an opportunity to deliver something memorable in the moment, and treating it as such means that you’ll be likely to get back in that same room in front of those same casting people when your name comes up again.

TNE: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about your career (including other upcoming projects to watch out for)?

AM: Mainly I’d like to reiterate how much I love California Winter, and my hope that everyone reading this will make sure to bring it into their purview. Elizabeth Dominguez as Clara, Papi’s beautiful, hard-working, well-meaning daughter, will break your heart in the perfect way.

And I’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet discovered Longmire on Netflix to find it and watch it.  It’s a very special show, and Jacob Nighthorse is a very special character. I’m also recurring on NBC’s Days of Our Lives, as Eduardo, the patriarch of the Hernandez family. That show has seen a welcome and well-earned revival as it’s passed its fiftieth anniversary.

As with all actors, my history in total—past, present and future—is always available at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0553436/ and folks can follow me on Twitter @ABoneMartinez!

TNE: Thank you very much for your time!  

AM: And thank you very much for the smart and cool questions. It was a pleasure.

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About Dezbot

Désirée I. Guzzetta is a freelance writer and poet who loves movies, books, music, and nerdy things, not necessarily in that order.
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