Watch Out, Fil-Am Actor Martin Martinez Is Gearing Up For Big Things

The theater kid goes Hollwood.

Another day, another Filipino-American actor in Hollywood to have on your radar.

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With a name like Martin Martinez that feels like it came from a Hollywood screen name generator, you would think the young Filipino-Latino actor was destined for great things. And you would be right. Born and raised in Sacramento, California, Martin first caught the movie bug as a young kid when he became obsessed with watching old VHS tapes and DVDs his mom would buy. High school introduced him to the world of theater, where he could translate his love of storytelling as he auditioned for high school plays and flexed his burgeoning acting skills. After getting his acting feet wet in theater, Martin transitioned to the big leagues, appearing in a slew of network, cable, and streaming shows.

In just a few years, the young actor found himself booking big productions like Marvel’s Runaways, Never Have I Ever, Pachinko, and more. These days, you can catch Martin in the Amazon Freevee show, Primo, where he plays Miguel. But aside from getting those acting credits, Martin is also helping push forward Filipino narratives in Hollywood, such as starring in the upcoming film, And One, a coming-of-age musical basketball drama starring a slew of Filipino actors. We’re definitely here for this new generation of Filipino actors making waves in Hollywood.

We recently got the chance to catch up with this rising star where he opened up about his Filipino roots, his love of acting, working in Hollywood, and more. Get to know more about him by reading our interview below. 

Growing up, were you close to your Filipino roots?

Not as much as I liked to have been. So I am mixed, and my mom is a first generation immigrant from the Philippines. I wish I had learned to speak the language but I think my mother actively chose not to use Tagalog directly with my siblings and I, but growing up with my mother showed me that t was important to her that we all saw her side of the family, so we spent a great deal of time at my lolo and lola’s house. My aunts and uncles lived there as well, and that was our family headquarters. We would have all of our events and gatherings there, and everything always revolved around a lot of food. My comfort food will ultimately always be a Filipino dish. I’ll order or make chicken sinigang or halo halo when I’m feeling far away from home. I identify a big part of myself from growing up with a Filipino family, having really learned about the culture from them.

How did you fall in love with acting?

I was maybe 13 or 14, and I had this old fashioned TV, like you know, the big boxy ones with the VHS slot built in. And the screen must have been, I don’t know, 24 inches. My mother was always thrifty; she would always snag all kinds of DVDs on sale, or VHS videos at garage sales or Goodwills. I would then make a stack of movies I’d want to watch, place that old TV on the floor in my room, grab a blanket, and watch movies like a hermit all night long. You know, I was so captivated by the story telling, the messages and how inspiring it was. How eye opening and freeing storytelling is.

As I got older, I read a ton of fiction books; you could always find me with my nose buried in a book. As I got further into my teen years, my home life wasn’t the easiest for me. I found a sanctuary in the theater: the lights, the costumes, and the creative space for your imagination to just run free. I felt at home there. In an empty theater, I found I could be the most reflective, and it felt like anything was possible here.

I began to audition for plays in high school and spent most of the rest of my time there where I led several plays. This is when the acting bug stuck. I did the spring, summer, and winter plays, and even was part of a thespian competition. Working on these characters, to me, felt like I knew them better than I knew myself.

Martin Martinez

How different is it when it comes to acting in a play as compared to acting on TV?

So for this one, I have a bit of a difficulty describing this because to me, the storytelling should be rooted in the same foundation but through a different medium. I think in television it’s easier to lose the truth in what you are doing. I mean, there’s still an audience, but that audience is the crew, the camera department, the writers, producers, director at video village, cameras surrounding you, etc. Sometimes we’re learning re-writes and new material the day of, and sometimes you only get so many takes before we have to move on. I think your foundation and preparation have to be strong.

You have to know how to be professional and pivot at any given moment. The same goes for theater, but with theater, for me personally, I feel like you get to explore so many different facets of that character through the – sometimes months, of rehearsals. When we have shows in theater, we’re doing the same play sometimes twice a day every weekend, for weeks. There’s something different about that. Of course, there are technical differences as well, but performing on stage starts to become second nature; you know this character inside out. I think this would be comparable to being on a show for many years or the same for a film. But, ironically, I find television moves so quickly
and it’s easier to become rigid.

When you become rigid, you can lose that spontaneous, organic authenticity since you are working within so many restrictions. It’s like sculpting with a scalpel in theater and sculpting with a laser for TV. Someone once told me television was like speeding down a highway, and theater was like cruising slowly down a country road. I thought that analogy was interesting.

Your new series Primo revolves around a San Antonio teenager balancing his personal life and hectic family. Considering how Filipinos have a close connection with their families, was your role in the show someone you could relate to?

The premise of the show revolves around Rafa played by Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, a teenager, and his single mom played by Christina Vidal, and five uncles played by Carlos Santos, Henri Esteve, Johnny Rey Diaz,
Jonathan Medina, and Efrain Villa all of which who have distinctive personalities. I play Miguel, Rafa’s best friend. The overall thematics of the show revolve around the meaning of family and what that looks like, even if it may be unconventional. Miguel lives with his grandparents, and his parents aren’t really in the picture. And throughout the series, we find out that a lot of his guidance is provided by Drea, Rafa’s mom, who, with the uncles, kind of unofficially adopt him into the family.

I think that is something that I can relate to, in regards to my upbringing. I have found that it’s not necessarily the family you’re born into, but the family you choose. I also love how this show reveals the positives. There’s a sense of resolution at the end of each episode that leaves you feeling more whole. I think regardless if you grew up with a big family or not, you can find a family in this show. You feel part of it.

Martin Martinez

How did you come across And One? What attracted you to the project?

When I read the script for And One, which is loosely inspired from a true story, I was so intrigued. There was such a strong reveal that it took my breath away. I play this character Robbie who is conflicted but doesn’t know why. His world feels completely disrupted, and throughout the film, we find out what has been weighing him down so much. The film is really about depression and overcoming that, and I think
that’s inspiring. I felt very connected to this character’s story.

There’s also a musical element involved in the film. We have a few musical numbers where I sing along with my other co-stars and a challenging solo piece I sing as well. This kind of project felt very different than the ones I have done before. It felt riskier; I knew I wanted to explore this character more. There’s so much passion behind this project coming from everyone involved. I felt so compelled to be a part of it. I’m very much looking forward to this release.

You’ve appeared in your fair share of big shows over the years. Whenever you step on set, do you get nervous working in these big productions?

Every time. I thought it would be different by now, since I’ve done a few at this point. I just learned to trust myself, my instincts, and my preparation. When the lights go on and the director yells, “Action!”, I try to just forget everything going on in my head and focus on one thing: the scene. I have to tell myself that nothing else matters.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with nervousness all my life, and on a recent job, I was speaking to one of the actors who has a career I really admire. He told me he saw no fear when I’m acting and asked me if I got anxious. And I said, “I do, every time.” He told me he does too and that he’s just an anxious person as well. This was comforting to hear, to know it doesn’t ever really go away—we just learn how to handle the nerves more effectively.

Among all the roles you’ve done so far, is there one that sticks out to you as your favorite?

That’s tough. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my characters in most of the roles I’ve done. I specifically liked the ones that had an action element to them, whether that be sprinting at full speed and weaving through people like I did in NCIS: Hawai’i or having a heartfelt scene under these giant rain towers in Saving Flora, haha.

But two projects come quickly to mind though. My role in Magnum P.I. has felt very powerful. My character overcomes so many adversities given his tough background, which I think is really inspiring, and we get to see this unravel throughout a few seasons. And like I mentioned earlier, Saving Flora was a complete adventure. I mean, we were on set with this elephant almost every day. Getting to know this gentle giant creature in that kind of capacity is indescribable. We even swam in a lake with her! It was a magical experience. I really enjoy the projects that have stunt elements to them.

Martin Martinez

What are your dream roles that you would love to do? 

I think it’s one of those things where I don’t know until I see it. I would love to be in a sci-fi project, something that takes place in space. Something inspiring. I want to be— I want to go through a journey. I want to overcome something, something that captivates the audience and makes them wonder the what-ifs. I mean, that’s what I love about film. You forget your world for the moment, and there’s a possibility for something completely impossible to exist, or maybe not, and it’s something totally relatable. Something that invokes imagination and passion.

I would say in addition to sci-fi, I would love to get into fantasy, adventure, action, and thrillers. I just recently wrapped a project that involved prosthetics, and that was really fun. Some of my favorites are like Gladiator, Cast Away, Life of Pi, Turner and Hooch, Apocalypto, —but that one’s really messed up—Disturbia —I’d love to do a movie like Disturbia, Gangs of New York, Se7en, Basketball Diaries, The Aviator, Chronicle, etc. I mean, I could go on forever. I just love a compelling story. I mean, just a story that compels me. I want to step into this character’s shoes, and I want to take the audience with me in this story through all those moments and share that story. To me, the story is what matters.

I have to read the script and I have to feel like, “Oh, yeah I want to experience this. And I want to share this experience.” I need to feel inspired because the dream role is ever changing. At first, I just wanted to be a working actor, you know. And I am super grateful for where I am but now I want to tell different types of stories, stories I haven’t told before.

What kind of impact are you hoping to have in Hollywood as a young Filipino-Latino actor?

I’m hoping to invoke imagination and relatability to others through my characters. Find and follow those passions, and don’t give up!

Martin Martinez

Hollywood can often be an intense place to work in. As a young actor, how do you find that balance of booking roles all while avoiding burnout?

That’s tough for me. I guess I’m still figuring that out. When I’m traveling and working, it’s busy, but before and after each job, I’m constantly auditioning, just doing my best at putting my strongest work forward, and trying to procure the next job- one that resonates with me. Finding the roles that move the needle is a tedious thing. I also have to understand that this is the life of an actor. Creativity is a lifelong journey, and this journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

The best way that I can avoid burnout is by spending time with my dog and reading books, journaling, playing video games, boxing, just really filling that well of creativity outside of my acting life. It’s tough to step away from the grind of it all, but when I do, I try to look for things that inspire me and make me feel invigorated and alive. Finding a place where you can be physical and learn new skills is also very helpful in maintaining that balance.

What’s something about being an actor in Hollywood that you wish more people knew?

I wish more people knew that the journey is different for everyone. It’s easy to look at the results, but the Industry is all a perception. There’s a grind and hustle there, it’s very much an iceberg. Everything is below the surface: the building blocks, foundation, hours of prep, self-motivation to stay consistent, and then once you have all of that, you have to maintain that foundation.

Sometimes it’s doing 50 auditions before finding one that sticks, or hearing any kind of feedback, and sometimes it’s taking different acting classes to hone your craft. It’s not always shiny or shimmery. Sometimes when you finally get the job, it may be on set filming in the rain, in the cold, and your hands are turning blue, but you remember everyone is there because we’re all passionate. That’s the most fulfilling part. The ebbs and flows of the industry are also really important to understand. We’re all trying to strike lightning in a bottle. I definitely do find that the more consistent you are with your work, the luckier you get.

Martin Martinez

What advice would you give to other young people who would like to pursue an acting career?

My advice to other young people who would like to pursue an acting career is to try it out. Act in a play, explore telling different stories, see if it resonates with you. It’s easy imagine the idea of it: the appeal of being a working actor, moving from project to project, doing press, the lights, etc., but that is just a minute component of the acting experience. I would say to really make it worthwhile as an actor, you have to really want to do this.

There’s a Steve Jobs quote, “people say you have a lot of passion for what you’re doing, and it’s totally true and the reason is because it’s so hard that if you don’t any rational person would give up. It’s really hard and you have to do it over a sustained period of time,” and I think this very much applies to acting. And once you’ve made that decision, and you feel it in your bones that you want to pursue this, always remember to stay true to yourself. It’s easy to forget sometimes why you do what you do or even who that ‘you’ is. Like any business, know your ‘why’.

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