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A Martinez Interview: "Cowboy Bebop," Vaccines and Guns

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Image attributed to Chris Haston

A Martinez

Actor and singer A Martinez portrayed Cruz Castillo in the daytime drama Santa Barbara from 1984 until 1992. He has also appeared in General Hospital, One Life to Live, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives and the primetime dramas L.A. Law, Profiler and Longmire. His film credits include Joe PantherDebating Robert Lee, The Cowboys, Powwow Highway, Once Upon a Wedding and The Curse of Chucky.

Martinez recently made a guest appearance in the Netflix series Cowboy Bebop, the live-action adaptation of Shinichiro Watanabe’s classic anime. He can also currently be seen portraying Nardo Ramos in the digital drama series The Bay. Martinez appears opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the action crime drama Ambulance directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor). The film releases February 18, 2022.

"Cowboy Bebop is just remarkable, and if you give it a shot, you’ll just fall in love."

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Let’s talk first about Cowboy Bebop. How did the guest appearance come about?

A Martinez: You know, it’s interesting. I had a friend of mine with whom I was working on a show. She said that this dude, Andre Nemec, had me in mind for a cool part in this really cool show he was going to run for Netflix. I had been a little bit aware of Cowboy Bebop and had friends who were rabid fans of it. I thought, “Oh, how nice that he has me in mind for something like that.” But I just filed it away as a nice gesture and didn’t necessarily think that a conversation like that was ever going to turn into a real thing. But it did. He called up during the middle of 2020 and said, “How would you like to come to New Zealand to do this thing?” My agents were like, “What? What is this”? I said, “I’m very interested. Send me the script.” He sent me the script, and I was blown away. I just couldn’t believe a comment like that a year and a half earlier turned into an actual offer for a great experience. It turned out to be one of the sweetest experiences of my career.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tell me about the series.

A Martinez: The series is based on this beloved anime series around 2000. It basically looks at this group of bounty hunters in the year 2071. The earth has become inhabitable, and they’re basically making a living by chasing down criminals. The money is called the Woolong. It’s no longer the dollar. They can do a bounty for 25 million Woolong and barely be scraping by after the government takes away all their expenses. They’re sort of hanging around Jupiter most of the time in this spaceship called the Bebop, which is owned by a man called Jet Black who is played by Mustafa Shakir. He’s an ex-cop and is partnered up with Spike Spiegel who’s played by John Cho.

The secret is that John Cho is ex-syndicate, so he was basically the sworn enemy of the cops back in the day, and he’s kept that secret from the guy who owns the ship he’s living on. They partner up with this freelance crook named Faye Valentine who’s got amnesia. She’s just wonderful and is played by Daniella Pineda. Spike has a rival in love in the character of Vicious who’s played by the great Alex Hassell. The woman they’re both in love with is called Julia, and she’s played by Elena Satine. They’re just wonderful actors.

The story has the charm in combining all these elements that don’t seem to go together. It is 2071, and yet, a lot of the technology they have is old, like video tapes are still playing in VHS machines. A lot of the architectural stuff looks like it’s from the centuries before like the 19th century. The dress is sort of like that, and it’s got a retro funky period vibe to it. There’s a lot of Quicksilver humor, and at times, it deepens the film noir.

I just saw the episode I was in, which is episode nine. It’s like watching some great movie from back in the day. It’s real dark and moody, and the entire thing is being informed by the jazz scene of the great Yoko Kanno. The people doing the live reboot wanted to get her to be a part of it, and she jumped in wholeheartedly. She’s just a genius as a composer. The whole score is informed by her amazing sensibility as a musician. The score just ranges effortlessly over all these huge, different styles, which is what the show does itself.

I think, more than anything, the takeaway that struck me when I went there was that John Cho is such a brilliant actor, and he is so absent of cynicism. He really does look at the potential brightness of things. It’s in his sense of humor. It’s in the way he uses his instrument. He got hurt, and they had to wait a long time for him to get well. But they waited on him because they understood they had in him the perfect guy to play this extremely special character.

Cowboy Bebop is just remarkable, and if you give it a shot, you’ll just fall in love. It’s not something that’s easy to recognize like, “Oh, this is a show about this.” It’ll switch fields repeatedly through it but then finally cohere into something that becomes its own power. You’ll love it. As it goes, it lifts off. I’ll just say that.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Reading about your childhood and your teens, it seems like your primary interest was focused on music. Is music still an important part of your life?

A Martinez: Yeah. I sing every day, and I try to keep my keyboard chops alive. But I’m better at keeping my voice alive than my keyboard chops. I think the most wonderful thing about it is that it was part of the thing that sealed my early relationship with my wife because she’s also a singer. When I was first courting her, I heard her sing Joni Mitchell songs, and she basically could sing the entire Joni Mitchell catalog note for note. She’s just a wonderful singer, and as a result, all of our children are musicians.

My wife is in a band with my son and daughter-in-law, and I ended up inheriting the job as their videographer. My younger daughter Ren Farren is a singer-songwriter, and she’s about to release her first full-length record. Billboard called the title song of her last EP one of the 25 best rock songs of the year. She’s a legitimate singer-songwriter and just wonderful. We just saw her in concert actually. So that’s going on.

My daughter Devon sings in one of the A cappella groups in college and still sings incredibly well. We’re all still singing and doing it, and eventually, I think that it will draw me back in on some level. I’m writing something that eventually will have a lot of music in it, and I would imagine that some point in time, that would draw me back into being a musician because of what I’m writing.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Would that draw you away from acting?

A Martinez: It’s a movie that would be a pilot for a series. So it would just be an element of it, one of the things that would naturally occur to the people that are in the story.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Very cool.

A Martinez: Yeah.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: There used to be a certain stigma for an actor if he or she appeared in a soap or two. When the opportunity of playing Cruz Castillo on Santa Barbara came along, were you ever reluctant to accept it?

A Martinez: Well, you know, I think it’s like everything. It has its advantages and its drawbacks. But I didn’t like soaps growing up. I was not a fan. I’d just once in a while look at one somehow if someone else was watching. I’m talking all the way back when the soundtrack was organ music. The scene would end, and there would be an actor on camera, but the camera would just keep looking at the person even though the scene was over, and there was nothing more to say. The music would swell, and you’d watch this actor try to fill up his time with doing something to indicate what he was feeling and then changing into the next feeling. It just seemed to be a terrible fate to get stuck with a job like that. So I was not a fan of soaps.

When I was told about Santa Barbara, my agent said, “Oh, it’s a nighttime show. It’s going to be like Dynasty.” I said, “I’d be willing to try that.” One of the things that you’re aware of is that those hour-long television shows at night are shot over the course of seven or eight days. Of course, on a daytime show, that hour is shot in a single day. The challenge, just in terms of handling the workload, is so different. I was very reluctant. I said “No” a couple of times actually to it and finally was talked into the idea that it would be good for me if I finally got to be an actor who showed his heart instead of always the kid from the wrong side of the tracks with the heart of gold or the friend of the important character, which is sort of what I was playing generally.

Sure enough, that turned out to be true. I got to play this part of Cruz Castillo. Because the show was really finding itself early on, they gave me and Marcy Walker (who played Eden) a chance to step toward the middle. We seized that chance, and it worked and changed the course of my career to get to do that. So I loved it. Of course, late in the game, I got a chance to go be on L. A. Law. I thought, “This is something I’ve got to do because it’s hard to go anywhere else when you’re just doing soaps.” Santa Barbara was an international phenomenon, extremely popular all over the world. But it was not that popular in America in comparison to other soaps. It had good demographics, but the raw numbers were not as good as General Hospital and Days of Our Lives.

I thought L.A. Law was a chance for me to go from a soap to one of the most respected nighttime dramas. So I took it, and that meant, of course, that I had to leave playing this character I had played for 1,650 times on Santa Barbara. I missed him so much that it depressed me. It was shocking that with so many good things going on in your life, you can feel sad because when something you’ve been pinning your daily existence on like this one character and this one set of work requirements disappears, it’s really hard to get over it. It felt like I had lost a relative in my family. It’s funny because people would look at me and say, “What is wrong with you, dude? You have all this good stuff going on, and you look all down in the mouth.” It’s hard to explain. It’s embarrassing actually.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You became emotionally attached to a character you’d been playing for several years, and you were very well known as that character. I get that feeling of loss.

A Martinez: Also, I learned how to use my mind on a level that had never done. I was always really at ease at wasting time and wasting energy, and to actually master a soap opera job, you have to learn how to completely master your time and energy. So it made me a better person, a more effective person on every level. I just felt alive like I never felt before. As soon as I lost the gig, I could just feel myself getting dimmer by the week. So, yeah.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You played Roy DiLucca on General Hospital in the 70s and from 1999 until 2002. Both Steve Burton (Jason Morgan) and Ingo Rademacher (Jasper “Jax” Jacks) have recently left the show after declining to comply with the production’s vaccine mandate. What are your comments about that?

A Martinez: Well, I consider both of those guys friends. I feel particularly close to Steve. I’m so regretful about it. But I just don’t get it. I think that if you actually have some problem with your system that literally is triggered by the elements of the vaccine, it’s one thing. But you’re not doing a deep dive as to what’s in these vaccines. Some people have trouble with Polyethylene Glycol, but there’s not a lot in there. This lie that got circulated in the early days about Mercury being in there is not true. There’s not a lot in there that’s bad, that’s even slightly problematic.

I had a friend years ago who didn’t get lucky enough to get a polio vaccine in time and actually contracted polio. It made her life a constant struggle. She was so weakened by the ravishes of that disease that to just step off a curb onto the street was a big challenge for her. I just think that if you look at the history of these kinds of diseases and look at a chart of how they bloomed and how they were obtained, it’s all about vaccines. I think it was a miracle that we got these vaccines, and we need to be cognizant of the fact that it’s quite possible for this virus to mutate in a sideways way that would evade the vaccines. We’re so incredibly lucky to have them.

Meanwhile, you have people in the medical profession simply saying, “I’ve had enough!” There comes a point in time where the entire system by which we keep the culture running and the economy running will break down because doctors and nurses just can’t stand the stress of going through this. I have friends who are doctors and nurses who talk on social media, and the stories they tell are just heartbreaking. I’ve lost people close to me that died quickly.

I get that nobody likes to get shots. It puts you through changes to get vaccinated. It’s like a heavy thing to do. But it’s obvious that it works, and I just think that to not do it because of your personal sense of having your freedom violated, is selfish. I think it’s selfish, and I don’t respect it.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve been in many films and television shows where guns are used as props. What are the safety protocols involved in discharging a “prop firearm,” and what are your thoughts about Alec Baldwin fatally shooting Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust?

A Martinez: The protocols are generally strenuously enforced. I was doing an episode on The Bay. We had the prop guy, literally for every single scene where a firearm was involved, stop everything, show it to everybody and explain what it was and what it wasn’t to everybody. I think there’s always an implicit risk when you are using something that has so much power.

There was Jon-Erik Hexum back in the day who was just joking around with a gun that had blanks in it, and he was ignorant enough to think he could pretend to play Russian Roulette with a blank. He stuck it up against his temple, so the story goes, pulled the trigger and killed himself. It’s just cardboard wadding, but when it’s right up against your skin, it can still do serious damage. It went far enough into his brain to kill him. It is implicitly a dangerous thing to have guns on sets. You just hear stories about bad things happening. It’s not just guns, but it’s most often guns.

It becomes common sense to stop and take the time to actually check the firearm yourself and not only look in the cylinders but actually look in the barrel to see if there’s one in the chamber. Apparently, that’s what happened with Alec. Obviously, it’s easy for me to say. I feel for the guy. He was the star and producer and the co-creator, which was my understanding, so I’m sure he was a little overworked and who knows what the hell. It’s a tragedy.

Halyna was just a light of a person, a rising star in a business where there had been far too few females who had been able to forge a career trajectory like she was on. So it’s a huge loss. Of course, Alec will be carrying that weight for the rest of his life, so I feel sorry for him. I just hope they investigate it really deeply and actually figure out how that kind of thing could happen because it shouldn’t have been able to happen.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve got a film coming out in February of 2022, with Jake Gyllenhaal.

A Martinez: Yes. It’s a wonderful movie, and it’s called Ambulance. Eiza Gonzalez and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are in it as well. In a nutshell, it’s about a guy (Danny, played by Jake) who decides he’s going to do one last bank job. He’s going to rob a bank, and he recruits his brother Will, whom Danny's family took in when he was a kid. Danny is white, and Will is black. So it turns out Will’s in a terrible state of need. He’s got a real sick wife and is not able to afford the treatments for her cancer. He decides, against his better judgment, to jump in on this bank job. Wouldn’t you know it goes sideways. When it starts to unravel, the only way they see to escape is to commandeer this ambulance. So that’s the story of the movie. The bank heist happens in real time. I play a character who is Jake’s godfather. Jake calls me up on the spur of the moment once the shit hits the fan, so to speak. He calls and asks me to help him, and I agree to help him. It was an amazing experience. We had a wonderful time.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are currently on The Bay?

A Martinez: Yeah, and I’ve got a lot to do this year. They’ve brought me in to a lot more episodes. There was this plague of some kind that descended on the city at the end of season six. My character, who’s an ex-cop, calls the commissioner (played by Tristan Rogers) and says, “Hey, what the heck is going on?” I get some unsatisfactory answers and say, “Well, I’m coming back.” The commissioner says, “Nah. We don’t need you here. Save yourself.” I said, “No. I’m coming. Do you want me to show up at the hospital where all those people have been taken or at the police department? Either way, I’m coming, so you should tell me where to go.” So he did. I got to jump in and do the stuff my character used to do in his younger days. It was really fun.

I got to do my thing with Tristan and Matt Ashford, both of whom I’ve admired for decades but never worked with. Kristos Andrews is the lead of the show, and he makes the set a welcoming place. I’ve always admired people that would actually go out of their way beyond their work as actors to make the set a welcoming place for everybody else. Over the course of my years, two other people immediately come to mind who did that, and that’s Meryl Streep and Ricardo Montelban. You’d walk onto the set, and they would get right up with you, check in with you, tell you every nook and cranny of the set. Kristos is very much like that. He welcomes everybody. He takes care of people and asks if they need something. He just has a generosity of spirit that’s really special. That’s one of the reasons The Bay has not only survived but thrived.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You mentioned L.A. Law earlier. Are you interested in the reboot?

A Martinez: Yeah, but I never had any fantasies that they would consider me part of that. I came, I think, in season six or maybe even seven. There was a year between Jimmy Smits’ departure, and everyone immediately conflated Jimmy leaving with me coming on, even though it was a year later, just because we’re both Hispanic. But I figured the show in its heyday is what they’re looking at to be rebooted. I didn’t think they’d consider me for that.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is there anything else going on?

A Martinez: I’m writing a movie that will function as a pilot for a series about stuff that’s important to me. As you go along, you sort out what matters from what doesn’t. I feel compelled to tell a story about what I think is important stuff. I think that will eventually be involved with music. But more than that, involved with family issues. I feel really good about it. Eventually, I’ll have something that’s coherent. Then I’ll have it finished, and I’ll check in with you again to talk about it.

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