A Martinez: The “A” Stands for Actor

POWWOW HIGHWAY (1988)

Late in the fall of 1999, the British film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett in her breakthrough role, was released to great critical acclaim. I couldn’t believe reviewers and critics touted a film that was so clearly flawed (can anyone say “the 180-rule” or “screen direction”). And, the hyperbole surrounding Blanchett accelerated as awards season grew closer. Echoes of “the best acting of the year” were everywhere. Blanchett was fine, but for me it was another example of that stiff-upper-lip style of acting that Hollywood has been enamored with since Charles Laughton won the Oscar for The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1934. As I reflected on America’s Anglophilia, I pondered what I thought might be the best acting of the year. It did not take me long to figure it out: It was A Martinez and Jacklyn Zemon in an episode of the ABC soap opera General Hospital.

The storyline was one of those “returned from the dead” plots that soaps are so fond of. In this episode, longtime character Bobbie Spencer, played by Zemon, is strolling along the docks of Port Charles when she accidentally runs into Roy DiLucca, her beau from two decades earlier who had died in her arms. DiLucca was played by Martinez, who was not the actor who originated the character. It was the type of ridiculous narrative context that you can only find on soaps. But, what could have been an occasion for exaggerated theatrics was a moving scene of emotional depth. There was little if any dialogue as the two soap-opera veterans expressed an emotional trajectory of shock, the pain of loss and the reawakening of love in a matter of seconds. The scene transcended the absurd storyline because the emotions were relatable to anyone who has ever lost a spouse—or, parent, or friend, or child—and wished so hard for them to return.

Martinez was not new to soaps; in the mid-1980s, he starred on NBC’s Santa Barbara as one-half of a super-couple with Marcy Walker, Cruz Castillo and Eden Capwell. I know what you are thinking: Why am I writing about a soap-opera actor on FilmStruck, a streaming service devoted to high-end film fare? My answer would be: Don’t be so snobby. Not only is A Martinez a gifted actor, but you can learn a lot about the entertainment business when you look closely at the career of a performer like Martinez.

Born Adolpho Larrue Martinez III, the actor is of Mexican and Native American heritage. In the early 1980s, if he had pursued film acting in Hollywood, he would likely have been cast in roles as gang members and drug dealers—a fate he endured as a journeyman actor on episodes of prime-time television. Before Santa Barbara, he played more than his share of pimps, dope dealers, assassins, and crime victims. As Cruz Castillo, he got to play a heroic leading man—a cop who pursued the wrong-doers and landed the leading lady. Soaps have historically been at the forefront of putting minorities in important roles, though not for any altruistic reasons and not with any consistency. Soap producers are merely looking for that key ingredient essential to luring viewers—charismatic actors who have chemistry with other charismatic actors. According to Martinez in a 1989 interview, “Reuben Cannon, who was casting the show, and Dolores Robinson, my manager, laid it out to me. They said if I ever wanted to play a leading man, I had to play a role in which I got the girl.” As “the only major Hispanic character in daytime TV,” he won an Imagen award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews for portraying Hispanics in a positive light.

His success in soap operas and the fan recognition that goes with it gave him better opportunities in prime-time, including the role of detective Gil Carillo in the made-for-TV Manhunt: The Search for the Night Stalker (1989) and as regular Daniel Morales in the hit series L.A. Law (1990-1994). Both characters are positive depictions of Hispanics as prime-time began to catch up with the soaps in terms of casting. Still, there is the impression that prime-time producers were casting for tokenism, rather than casting for star power. Martinez acknowledged in an interview that he was likely brought in to replace resident Hispanic Jimmy Smits, though his popularity on Santa Barbara was mentioned by the producers as a factor in the decision.

Martinez’s opportunity for a starring role in a movie came as a result of his Indian heritage; he is part Blackfoot on his mother’s side. In Powwow Highway, a 1989 independent film with an all-Indian cast, Martinez plays Buddy Red Bow, a hot-headed young man who is angry about the political issues affecting his people. Catch Powwow Highway on FilmStruck, and be sure to pay attention to the opening scene. In a local bar, Buddy plays pool with a vengeance: Each time he plants a ball in the pocket, he notes one more injustice against his people, whether it is an infringement on native land or the new strip mine about to open. At one point, he ferociously slams one in the side pocket against a hated pipeline snaking across Indian lands. Later, Buddy argues with his friend, Philbert, noting that the whites are not going to hold off much longer for their land and the natural resources under it. The dialogue is so timely considering the standoff at Standing Rock between the Sioux and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the DAPL pipeline: Some things just don’t change.

Powwow Highway is essentially a road movie in which two mismatched opposites become friends as the journey progresses. But, the familiar genre is invigorated by its focus on a particular region and culture. The Native American actors in Powwow Highway are natural and authentic, including a young Wes Studi and the spiritual Gary Farmer, who seems to envelop the environment around him. But, A Martinez, the film’s only bona fide star, gives the story its energy and drama. Like an outlaw from an old-school western, Buddy Red Bow is an activist who is also a trouble-maker and hell-raiser. Martinez imbues the character with romance and charisma.

Starring roles for Hispanic actors in Hollywood movies during the prime of Martinez’s career were rare, which was also true for Asian and Native American actors. At the very beginning of his career, he costarred as one of the adolescents hired by John Wayne to herd cattle in The Cowboys (1972), a movie that opened the door for him as a professional actor. The same year that Powwow Highway was released, Martinez landed a small role in the Roseanne Barr comedy She Devil, in which Meryl Streep costars as a spoiled romance novelist. Martinez played Streep’s handsome, hot-blooded pool boy/butler. Though the role did not have a lot of lines, he was quite funny as the sexy Latin hunk who struts around the house bare-footed with his shirt open. It’s clear his duties are more than answering the door.

These days, an actor with Martinez’s resume is a treasure for producers looking for powerful character actors in long-running television series. Recently, he appeared in the recurring role of Jacob Nighthorse in the series Longmire, a modern-day western. The series originated on A&E but finished its final two seasons on Netflix.

Looking at the career of A Martinez reveals many aspects of the contemporary entertainment industry, especially in regards to actors. The Hollywood studios remain backward in their hiring of minority actors for leading roles; indie movies and cable television are the best hope for diversity in casting; and soap operas were ahead of the game when they made A Martinez a star.

Susan Doll

21 Responses A Martinez: The “A” Stands for Actor
Posted By Lyndell Smith : December 5, 2016 10:31 am

I like Martinez a lot, but have seen little of his work you mentioned. However, the second you told of the Streep film and his acting in it, I had a good laugh. Yes, he was mind-blowing in that small role and I remember it to this day.
On an entirely different topic, I am concerned about no more Morlocks and moving entirely to Filmstruck Streamline—for this reason. Although every Morlock was not about info surrounding a TCM movie, the majority of the entries were. This has been so important to me to learn how to watch and appreciate movies in more depth. I have always enjoyed the Classics more than most modern films with very few exceptions. But through TCM’s hosts and Morlocks posts, I have learned a lot about film: For me, it is no longer just that I like or don’t like a film, but I can see what is good or not-so-good about it. This adds depth to my level of appreciation and makes for a much richer experience. (If this can be passed on to someone at TCM who would care, please do so. Thanks.)

Posted By LD : December 5, 2016 12:55 pm

What is going on? Are most of the posts going to be commercials for FilmStruck? Glad to see this post wasn’t about a FilmStruck movie but of course it was mentioned. What is meant by “high end” entertainment? I can assure you that is a matter of opinion. Are writers no longer going to be able to write about films that are not being shown on the streaming service? Are all the Morlocks leaving? I will repeat, what is going on?

Posted By Chris Wuchte : December 5, 2016 1:11 pm

When I saw this post, I was wracking my brain to come up with where I’d seen A. Martinez – was it an Almodovar film? Some obscure indie? It never occurred to me that his was the face that frequently turned up on the covers of soap opera magazines that my sister bought back in the ’80s. Not a name I expected to see on this blog, but I do recall him being a standout among the seemingly endless stream of actors that went through those soap operas. It’s kind of a shame that so many of them seem to end up typecast, but I guess if you’re able to do that kind of acting under that kind of schedule, you could carve out a comfortable niche yourself.

And add me to those wondering what exactly is that status of this blog. When Filmstruck is available on Roku, I plan on signing up, so perhaps it will be more relevant to me then, but I still miss the TCM connection. I’m not sure why this wasn’t simply treated as a separate blog instead of co-opting what was already there.

Posted By George : December 5, 2016 4:23 pm

LD: This is now the FilmStruck blog. There seems to be no blog devoted to what’s airing on TCM anymore. At least none on this site. Can’t there be a blog (or blogs) for both?

“High end” apparently means arthouse fare: foreign and indie films. That’s what FilmStruck emphasizes.

Posted By LD : December 5, 2016 4:39 pm

Thanks George. Wish TCM had given the situation more thought before they did away with the diversity of the Morlocks. I have a few other thoughts that are better left unshared.

Posted By Chris Wuchte : December 5, 2016 4:43 pm

I don’t think anyone’s confused about this now being the FilmStruck blog. I just think the people who had been reading Movie Morlocks for years are a little surprised to see that when it announced it was going offline briefly to make a few changes, the changes would end up being replacing it with an entirely new concept.

I can even still scroll back and see all those old Movie Morlocks posts. Nice to see them still available, but it’s odd considering that they belong to a very different blog.

And nothing against the new blog. As I said, when FilmStruck is available on Roku, I’m sure I’ll find this blog very handy when I’m looking for recommendations, and I’ll probably be as active as I was on the previous blog.

Posted By Doug : December 5, 2016 6:42 pm

I may be off base, but I was wondering what prompted this post?
Was it to highlight a good actor who’s been around forever?
Or to promote this political view:
“The dialogue is so timely considering the standoff at Standing Rock between the Sioux and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the DAPL pipeline: Some things just don’t change.”
Or to make this point:
“The Hollywood studios remain backward in their hiring of minority actors for leading roles; indie movies and cable television are the best hope for diversity in casting; and soap operas were ahead of the game when they made A Martinez a star.”
Go ahead-it’s your blog,and a post about A. Martinez would be cool. Unless he is being used to ‘apply context’ for something else.

Posted By George : December 5, 2016 9:06 pm

I don’t know if I’ll ever subscribe to FilmStruck (or any streaming service), but I’m glad it exists for the growing number of people who won’t watch a movie unless they can stream it.

Posted By Susan Doll : December 5, 2016 11:47 pm

Doug: I wrote this post. My name is at the bottom. I accidentally sent it to the wrong place, and Christian posted it for me, so it would make the schedule. That’s why his name is at the top.

I wrote about A Martinez because I have been a fan since I saw him in The Cowboys, the John Wayne film. I have followed his career for a long time. And, he was great when he was on the soap General HOspital, which I still watch faithfully.

As writers for FilmStruck now, we are asked to mention or write about movies available on that service. When I saw Powwow HIghway on FilmStruck, I decided this was my chance to write about a talented actor who has gotten little attention outside of the soaps.

While re-viewing Powwow Highway for the post, I was surprised at some of the references to the way Indian lands were being grabbed or abused. It is a fictional film but I know some of the things mentioned in the movie were actually happening. It seems there is always someone coming for their land, or trying to get at the natural resources in it or around it. In that regard Powwow HIghway is like a bit of history that reflects on what is happening now. It adds subtext to viewing the film and it adds an insight into the situation with Standing Rock.

As for Martinez’s career in Hollywood, you can’t ignore his Hispanic heritage, because many of the roles he got and many that he lost were because of that heritage. I discovered he had more opportunities to play leading roles on tv and in indie films than for Hollywood studios. I have recently been researching leading roles in studio films, and the studios track record for nonwhite leading men is getting worse, not better.

The reality of America’s population is not reflected in the leading man of studio movies, which is not true of indie films and television. I said in the post that Martinez’s career offers insights into the industry. And, I pointed out some of those insights.

I didn’t write about him to “apply context” for something else; but I am not afraid to call ‘em as I see ‘em.

Posted By Susan Doll : December 5, 2016 11:55 pm

And, to address some of the other concerns regarding the Morlocks vs. FilmStruck. The Morlocks blog was discontinued, and the writers were asked to pen for FilmStruck. There is a tighter connection between what FilmStruck offers and what we write; we were asked to do that. And, that makes sense because this is a new service that needs a chance to be successful. Considering the lack of foreign, indie, and classic fare in the world of streaming, FilmStruck is a light in the dark, dark Netflix forest.

My specialty is Hollywood history, including its stars, the studios, and industry systems and practices. I try to choose my topics based on my strengths, though I don’t always do that. (Next week I am writing on Man With a Movie Camera.) BUt, in general, I will be looking for Hollywood titles and subjects to write about here. Please stick with us. I have some great colleagues here who really know what they are writing about. They make me look better just to be among them.

Posted By LD : December 6, 2016 6:16 am

My apologies for misunderstanding. Glad to know we haven’t lost another Morlock.

Posted By Doug : December 6, 2016 7:02 am

Thank you for responding, Susan. I guess we will always have different points of view, which is fine.
When I look at someone such as A. Martinez, I see a man. Not a Latino/Native American. Just a man.
“the studios track record for nonwhite leading men is getting worse, not better.”
I don’t know which studios you are thinking of, but I see quite a bit of diversity on TV and in movies, which I find refreshing.
As for the Morlocks/Filmstruck thing-I always thought that Morlocks was limiting-not everyone visiting would get the H.G. Wells ‘dwellers in the dark’ reference.
As I’ve mentioned on another post, I’m more into American classic cinema, so I won’t have much to comment on when foreign films are highlighted. I like foreign films, but I grew up with Hollywood.

Posted By Chris Wuchte : December 6, 2016 11:08 am

I have to agree that the previous blog name wasn’t the best. I followed it for over a year on my RSS feed reader before I even realized it was officially tied to TCM. Kind of like naming a band 10,000 Maniacs – you unnecessarily turn away a lot of people who might otherwise be interested.

Still miss the posts about TCM, but I’m looking forward to signing up for FilmStruck once it’s on Roku. I don’t even own a DVD player or VCR, so streaming or tracking down a download of something are my only options these days. My house was becoming overrun with DVDs, CDs, and books, so I dived headlong into digital.

Posted By Artfrankmiami : December 6, 2016 2:32 pm

Susan Doll: as I was reading your profile…even before the pool game, you mentioned “strip mine” and I thought about the pipeline…and then you describe the scene where that’s brought up, so I, too, made the same comparison.

As for diversity, I see more on TV* than in film, but noticing a bit more of international stars coming to American films because the business has grown more international.

*for example, watching a Steven Segal/Kurt Russell plane hijacking movie, Executive Decision, one of the background terrorists was John Huertas from the tv show Castle. Here he’s cast as cannon fodder on Castle his character developed into half of a very funny comedy duo.

Posted By kingrat : December 9, 2016 11:18 pm

Susan, thank you for appreciating the excellent work being done on the soaps, which often goes unappreciated.

And I thought I was the only person who thought Cate Blanchett’s performance in ELIZABETH was overwrought. Not up to the work of Bette Davis, Flora Robson, Glenda Jackson and others in the same role.

Posted By Kathy : December 10, 2016 1:50 pm

Hello,
Met this talented man at Longmire Days in Buffalo,
Wyoming this past summer. You won’t meet a more humble, funny, appreciative, and ” interested in you” actor.
Kathy

Posted By sideline journalist : December 10, 2016 8:35 pm

Actually, it’s “Jacklyn Zeman” from General Hospital; Longmire didn’t finish it’s last two seasons on A&E, Season 6 (the third on Netflix) will be the final season. I can’t figure out if this article is supposed to pimp Filmstruck, honor A Martinez or simply be a brief review of Powwow Highway.

While Fimstruck is a great avenue for indie films more can be done to make it a more viable option for independent filmmakers. Now moving on to the subject of A Martinez (if that was the focus of the article and there’s no mistaking that he is well deserving of the focus) you probably want to mention the Daytime Emmy that he received and in your narrative provide a better timeline for his work. Maybe even include a quote from him as he accepted his Emmy where he summarized in one sentence how his career was launched by accepting the role on Santa Barbara (it’s the little story he tells about his son in the backyard). Perhaps even mention that his pairing with Marcy Walker (Eden Capwell) on Santa Barbara was one of the first romances of it’s kind on daytime TV and went into uncharted territory. Even the studio executives and TPTB at the time were weary of allowing it to happen.

If you are reviewing Powwow Highway a closer examination of Gary Farmers’ Philbert character might serve to give the piece a stronger foundation. Philbert’s naivete in the film is a stronghold that launches the storyline down many paths not taken in traditional films. Philbert (Farmer) is the hope, promise and driving force of the film. Through his innocence he seeks to help and find the peace with the world that often contradicts with the ways of Buddy Red Bow. By the end of the film Philbert shows Red Bow just how important the need for hope and family in difficult times can triumph over the sadness and interference from corrupt outside forces. Yes, there are many comparisons between the film and DAPL, almost an eerie foreshadowing, and if you look close enough you can find some of those same ideas in the storylines of Longmire as well. All these realities can continue to be accurately portrayed in film at the hands of a master wordsmith and talented cast.

Posted By hank cheyne : December 11, 2016 12:40 am

great and well deserved article about A. It warmed my soul to read such heartfelt recognition of one whose journey has been long and true. pce

Posted By George : December 15, 2016 7:10 pm

Anyone who misses the old Morlocks blog can follow the occasional “TCM Diary” posts at Film Comment’s website. They did a really interesting one on TCM’s Vitaphone shorts festival from a week or two ago.

Posted By Juana Maria : January 26, 2017 7:38 pm

I first saw A. Martinez on “Columbo”. The next time I remember seeing him was “The Cowboys”. I had a crush on him. Then I don’t really remember him being in anything for a long time.. Because I don’t watch soap operas, mostly Westerns(or as Me-TV says Rope Operas). So that was when I found “Longmire” on A&E before it moved to Netflix. Love that show! Great cast! Good to see Lou Diamond Phillips on the show too. I first saw him in “La Bamba”. Graham Greene is another amazing actor that needs more mention. I first saw him in 1990,”Dances With Wolves”. If you want a really good laugh watch him in “Maverick” from 1994. Bye!

Posted By Doug : January 26, 2017 9:33 pm

A magical little film that I think everyone should see:
“Smoke Signals”
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120321/?ref_=nm_knf_i2

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