Life in the Spotlight

An actor’s life for A Martinez — at the Malibu Playhouse

The original plan was to study political science at UCLA. Then he was told he had to read 11 books over the summer. That was not an exciting prospect for A Martinez, who had just starred in a high school play with a friend, Ben Lund, and had loved the experience. Lund was also going to UCLA, but to study theater.

“Ben’s assignment for the summer was to write a 500-word story about himself. Read 11 books or write 500 words? It was time to rethink my priorities,” Martinez said. “Luckily for me, it was the last summer where it was possible to change from political science to theater so late. Now, it’s a difficult program to get into.”

His luck continued. “In the beginning of my career, when I was fairly clueless, I was spared the kind of reviews that could have killed me off early in the game,” he explained.

Apart from one lean patch in the mid-2000s, Martinez has continued to work steadily as an actor in films and on TV. His biggest success was starring on the daytime soap “Santa Barbara” that ran for eight years. 

“That was a breakthrough for me. It was a brilliantly written show, way ahead of its time,” Martinez said.

There’s one role Martinez wishes he’d won, but didn’t. 

“I would have loved to have played the guy Tom Beringer played in ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord.’ I was up for it,” he said. “I understood why they went with him. Tom’s a much bigger name than I am, or was then. But I really feel I had a take on that guy that was worthy. Beyond that, you start realizing as the years pass that the clock is not with you.”

Fortune smiled on Martinez yet again when he had the lead in an American Film Institute movie, which meant working with a beautiful camera operator.

“We definitely noticed each other, but we were both involved with other people,” he recalled. “It was a tight budget and the director didn’t want to do anything more than he had to. If I didn’t fall flat on my face, he’d shout ‘Print.’ I noticed Leslie looking at me and she’d say the camera needed another take, when in truth she could see from my face I wanted another one. I contacted her 18 months later and asked her out. The night before I called her, she was talking to her roommate’s mother about how she had the sense that I was the one who got away. So, while she was thinking of me, I was thinking of her. That first date we were talking about a family.”

A and Leslie will celebrate 35 years of marriage in July. The couple has three children and the family lived happily in Malibu for 25 years before moving to Thousand Oaks.

Just when most actors might be thinking their best parts were behind them, Martinez was given a plum role on the acclaimed hit TV show, “Longmire.” When season six, the final one, wraps, Martinez will have played Jacob Nighthorse in 30 episodes. 

“So many times when I see a script, I think, ‘I could do this.’ Then I think of 10 other guys who could do it as well,” the actor said. “When I read the audition for Longmire, I knew it was something I could do better than most of the actors I compete with. I have so much in common with him. He’s extremely well read, he has the heart of a radical, he’s got a formidable dark streak and not ashamed of his connection to the dark side. Even though I’m a lot more polite than he is, I have a similar connection to my dark side. I thought, ‘Wow, this is perfect for me.’ Very rarely do you have such a strong feeling of the rightness of a part as an actor.”

Although Martinez says he is “aware that I’m not trending in a positive direction,” he has no plans to retire. “There is so much astounding acting to witness now. It’s the golden age of the craft and it’s so thrilling to be part of it.”