Highly Focused: An Interview with Adrian Martinez

You might not know Adrian Martinez’s name just yet, but you certainly know his face. Martinez is one of those character actors who shows up for a small role and then forces the stars to fight their way back into top billing by stealing every damn scene that he’s in.  The New York native has almost 100 film and TV credits to his name over the last 20 years and chances are you’ve been tickled by at least one of his appearances in titles like Kick Ass, American Hustle, Casa de mi Padre, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the TV series Gotham or even as a voice in Grand Theft Auto IV. He’s been in pretty much everything at this point. Soon it will be a law that he must appear in at least half of the movies made in Hollywood.

This week Adrian Martinez scores one of his biggest roles to date in the Will Smith n’ Margot Robbie (soon to play Harley Quinn) headlined con man comedy Focus, from co-writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa, I Love You Philip Morris). In the midst of all the glittery lies and cons that fill up the film, Martinez scores some big laughs as Farhad. He’s an A-level con-man and an A+ level vulgarity-flinger who delights in saying pretty much anything to make the audience giggle in shock. With the movie hitting screens on Friday, CGM got a chance to chat with Martinez about his role in the film, his long career as a character actor, and his death defying screen debut on America’s Most Wanted (no seriously, that last part is real. You’ll see.).

Comics Gaming Magazine: I noticed the credits there was ‘a thieving consultant’ providing expert on that aspect of Focus. What did you learn from him?

Adrian Martinez: My storyline is just the computer guy. What Apollo Robbins, our technical advisor, did was with other cast members. But one thing he did tell me over dinner, and I do want my watch back, is you have to really, really be authentic, particularly when you're bullshitting. You have to come from a real, authentic, emotional place when you lie. And it's kind of the same thing with acting. You use real emotions to sell imaginary experiences. So that's one thing I have in common with con-men, we're all just sort of selling something that's truthful, but for fictitious reasons.

CGM: Were you nervous on set since everyone else was fully trained in the art of the con?

AM: No, this particular set, and I really appreciate what [co-writers and co-directors] John Requa and Glenn Ficarra did. They really created a safe atmosphere on set. We had takes that were scripted and takes that weren't. There was always a sense of community and party in the air. There were times when Smith would just start partying and dancing out of nowhere. Sometimes in New Orleans at three in the morning when we were riding around the Superdome, I got the sense that he felt like saying, "Get jiggy with it." It was a great time.

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Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez

CGM: How much of the filth that you said to Margot Robbie in the movie was yours and how much was in the script?

AM: Well, I don't know what you mean by filth? (Laughs) I think he was just speaking openly. I mean, people talk like that, but the reality is, he's a con guy so he's trying to test her and see what her motives are. He's trying to push her to see what he can get away with and what's she really made of. So a lot of that sort of stuff is basically a means to an end. He wants to find out what she's made of, so he says stuff like that just to see how she's going to react. I thought that Margot made the smart choice of just like, I'm not going to let this guy throat ? She could put up with anything I threw at her. So it was a little chess match there.

CGM: Did you actually show her a picture of your penis?

AM: That's on the DVD extras. The extended edition. (Laughs) Listen, she's absolutely cool. Out of every 20 million people, someone gets everything, and that's her. She's gorgeous, intelligent, and grounded. There's a lot being thrown at her right now, and you would never know. She's really cool and collected. She's like Jane Bond. she's just awesome.

CGM: Was it difficult you having to ‘act’ being attracted to her?

AM: It actually inspired my performance. Listen, a guy like me, when are you going to meet a Margot Robbie? Only in the movies, man. It's not going to be at the 7-11, where I was two months ago. So she's pretty awesome and I was just happy to be there.

CGM: What did you get out of working with Will Smith?

AM:  A sense of gratitude. It's the simplest thing. You just feel like despite the years he's put in and all of the miles he's traveled, he's still invested in bringing it. He really wants to do something special, each and every time out. People knock him for After Earth, but the reality is, you don't go into a movie to make it bad or good. You do the best you can and you hope it plays out right. That's what he brings to every take and to every day. Just this relentless sense of ‘I'm really going to fucking go for it, man.” And you feel it. You really feel that sense of determination to make it work. This is a guy that had a trailer the size of a city block filled with exercise equipment. at seven in the morning, he's working out. Meanwhile I'm thinking, “Do I go with the multigrain bagel or do I go with the Cheerios?” This is a guy who is just in another league in terms of work ethic and it's impressive.

SEE ALSO:  Peter Parker returns in Slott's 'Amazing Spider-Man'
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Adrian Martinez, Will Smith

CGM: You mentioned them briefly, but how much did co-writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa bring to this experience for you?

AM: What I like about their working environment is it's kind of like driving in a Bentley. There's so much of it that is already set up for you, like cruise control and everything. These guys spent a year just figuring out the sequence at the Superdome. That's the kind of commitment to specificity that makes it easier for the actor to just come in, say his lines and do his thing, because they've already laid out all of this ground work that you just have to not mess it up and say the lines and not try to do too much.  Just be authentic to the scene and to the moment. It's easy because they've done so much work before you even get there.

CGM: Of all the actors and filmmakers that you’ve worked with, who has been your most memorable collaborator?

AM: Well, like I said, Will Smith inspired me just because of his sense of gratitude for everything. Ben Stiller was big too. But more for his work ethic. This is a guy that starred in the movie [The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty], produced it, directed it, and then put in 16-hour days and then edited it. He's got a mind blowing work ethic. With Will Ferrell, it was about his sense of discipline. In Casa de mi Padre, he would have Spanish cue cards on horses, literally. (Laughs) His dialogue would be on a horse and you would never know it. He was right there in character. Not like a funny guy, more like a banker on set. But then once you say action, he's right there with impeccable humour and timing. So different people inspire you in different ways. Even on the ones that don’t go so well. I got cut out of most of American Hustle. So that didn't work out well for me, but the cheques cleared and I got close to Jennifer Lawrence. So it wasn’t so bad. I still love her.

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CGM: Do you consider yourself a seasoned character actor at this point?

AM: I consider myself a leading man in a character suit. And hopefully, one day, everyone will catch up to that. I grew up loving character actors. Like Wilson in Castaway. He had balls and he said so much with so little. (Laughs) I don't know, I'm just this guy that pops up in movies and TV shows that people are like, “Hey, it’s that guy.” People come up to me on the street all the time and say, “I've seen you in something. What was it?” I'm like. “I don't know. I wasn't there when you watched it.” Now it's gotten to the point that I actually give out these little cards that have my website on it. Sometimes, I just gotta take a leak, man.

CGM: Is it true that you’re going to direct soon?

AM: Yeah, there's going to be a big announcement by Time Warner at SXSW of a project that I'm co-creating. I'm really excited to be a part of it. It's still going to be funny, but it's going to be like saucy too. I’m not supposed to talk about it, but it's going to be good.

CGM: I’ve got to ask you about the first time you played a criminal. I saw you were on America's Most Wanted?

AM: (Laughs) Oh yeah! We caught that guy.

CGM: Must have been a great performance.

AM: Yeah, one less scumbag on the street thanks to me.
aminsert6CGM: How'd you get involved with that? Were you just starting out as an actor?

AM: Yeah, I was a kid and I apparently just looked like the perp that they were trying to get. So the audition was just basically my face. Then they took me down to Philly and they were like, “Ok, you're getting this Uzi machine gun and we're going to put you on the passenger side of this car. Hold on to this metal bar. You don't want to fall out of the car because it'll be going 50 miles an hour. Ok, Action!” I was like, “Wait a second, I don't do stunt work.” And they're like, “Hey, you want the job? Just do it. So sure enough, I was like holding on to a metal bar with this machine gun firing. It was crazy. But, they caught the guy. So it's all good.

CGM: How did you hook up with Conan O'Brien? I remember you used to pop up on that show all the time.

AM: Oh yeah, that was just an audition like any other and they liked me so I got the job. The first time I played Conan O'Brien, Conan O'Brien's ratings were really bad. They had me on the sidewalk as Conan O'Brien with a red wig and the guest was actually John Lithgow, so he was sitting on a metal chair in front of me. We just hit it off and then they kept bringing me back, I was the guy in the audience, I was the Cuban kid Elian Gonzalez like 20 years into the future, and he's still in the lawn, but it's my body. (Laughs) Crazy stuff all the time. It was a blast. I would love to hook up with him again. If you know him. Give him a call.

CGM: Unfortunately I don’t, but I could maybe get you back on America’s Most Wanted.

AM: (Laughs) I’ll take it!