Natalie Martinez Talks About ‘Self/Less,’ Diversity, and Much, Much More

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For the press day for Self/Less, the upcoming mind-bending thriller by Tarsem Singh, I recently got to sit down at a roundtable interview with the lead actress from the film Natalie Martinez. Having worked in a variety of projects like End of Watch, Death Race, and the MMA series on El Rey Kingdom, Martinez is building a reputation for varied roles that alternate between physicality and emotionality. Over the course of the conversation, the actress discusses her character and the weight of the character’s emotional center, her Cuban heritage, and the state of diversity in Hollywood.

On her character’s emotional state:

It is interesting. And one of the things we talked about that was I don’t think she quite believes it. Imagine I’m telling you, ‘Oh no, I’m someone else.’ You know what I’m saying? It’s kind of like you really wouldn’t believe that – your husband is right there, whether it is or it isn’t. I’ve had people pass away and I would give anything in the world just to see them in the flesh one more time. I don’t care what form or whatever it is, you just want to touch them or feel them again. I think that’s were that comes from. That kind of secures when she pulls back. It wasn’t about intimacy, it was more about that one last time. That one chance to do it again. Because even at the end she like, ‘You know what, my husband –‘ I think she says, ‘You’re worse’ or ‘better’ or something like that. I think that part was not necessarily cheating on her husband, but it was just that moment like, ‘You’re here again. Let me just feel you. Let me just hug you.’

On the script and what drew her to the project:

I like jobs that are kind of challenging. I mean, this was an emotional rollercoaster, and I always like to push myself like, ‘Can I do it?’ When I do do it, I feel such a sense of accomplishment. The type of movie it is, a sci-fi psychological thriller, but this is set in real science. So it’s not really that far off. So I kind of like those movie that make you kind of think. Those kinds of movies that really spark up conversations. It was a really interesting script. And then the people working behind them, we had such a talented cast and crew. That was just pretty amazing.

And I got to torture myself and cry. I feel lately all I’ve been doing is crying. You want me to cry and suffer and go through hoops? I’ll do it.

Which was more difficult, the physical or emotional demands of her character:

That’s the funnest part for me [the action]. I mean literally, the reason I wear pantsuits is because I have cuts and bruises all over my legs. All I do is fight. I do Muay Thai and I box and I’m very active. So if you tell me to roll over in a house when there are guns shooting, fire, and explosions, I’m down. I’m so down. That’s actually the easiest part of my job. I love action roles. It’s more exhausting crying. It really has to come from somewhere. It’s not like just put tears in your eyes. That works for certain little things here and there. But when you have to cry for a scene and really kind of expend yourself, it really takes a lot. By the end of the day, I’m just like – ‘Can’t even open my eyes. I want ice cream. I don’t want to talk to anybody.’

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On preparing for her roles:

I don’t work with an acting coach anymore. Basically, I have auditions and my boyfriend just helps me go over the lines and talk about certain things. My boyfriend is my acting coach. I’ve book four or five movies since I’ve been with him, so I’m going to keep him around for a little bit. I have certain things I do, depends on the role. Luckily, I’ve worked with great people, so the director or the actors or both together have helped me kind of pull that out, the writing alone, too, depending on the scene and what it’s like. I have a whole filing cabinet of videos and voice messages and letters and memories, and I’ll just pick a pile, ‘Oh, that makes me feel emotional today.’ Whether it be like dead puppies or heroes from the military coming back home to like Coldplay’s “Parachutes,” there’s definitely more than one thing that makes me cry.

On working with Ryan Reynolds:

He said how many movies he’s been in and it’s some crazy-ass number. I’m just like wow, because he really has been, I think, in over 100 films. He’s worked forever. It was kind of fun and interesting. He made everything kind of easy. I’ve been very fortunate to not have – I’ve never experienced those Hollywood drama-diva, crazy people on the set. I’ve never experienced someone who’s like throwing a fit or made it worse or harder for another actor. I’ve kind of fortunate. He was really funny and great in every scene and nice. It was cool.

I auditioned for [Deadpool]. I wanted Deadpool so bad. I think also being another love interest again it was kind of – we would’ve been the Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal of [indiscernible].

Is there any superhero role that she’d like to play:

Hell yeah. I wanna play Princess Kitana from Mortal Kombat. I’m a fighter. I’m doing this show now called Kingdom, and I play an MMA fighter. So I fight in the ring in a couple of episodes, which I’m really excited about. Chun-Li is my go-to for literally everything. I think I’ve done her every year and even off Halloween. I was Michelle Obama dressed as Chun-Li for Halloween. I like mixing things up to keep it creative. I have like four different Chun-Li costumes. But I dig those kind of heroes. Superwoman has always been something that we’ve looked up to, and I could kind of associate with her. But I actually want to come up with some Latin fiery superhero chick. Some crazy girl that dances at night and flies away to save the world.

On if she’d be willing to try the “shedding” process of Self/Less:

There’s so much shit you go through right now, I’m not doing this twice. You know what? I’m just really happy right happy, the position I’m in. I’m happy and content. I feel that you’re given that chance. This is the chance you’re given, so live it up to the fullest and live life and do everything it is that you’ve ever thought of or imagined. I always thing about it and the first thing that comes to my mind is that everyone else is going to die. What, you’re gonna stay alive? Like, yeah, I’ll be a robot but I can give you a high-five and feel it. None of those things interest me. I kind of really content and happy and want stick this one through. I think it’d be interesting to see life as another gender, you know what I’m saying? Like I’ve had my trials and tribulations and amazing times as a woman, but I want to figure out what those are equally for a man. That’d be kind of interesting.

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On her Cuban ancestry:

I did go. I have my great-grandmother is still there. I still have a lot of family. And just to research, you know, culturally, I wanted to go. My great-grandmother is 100. She’ll be 101 this year. So I really wanted to go over and see her and meet her. I actually have a huge family. And it’s crazy, the moment I stepped foot there, the moment I was there, it was like – I’ve never been to jail, but I can totally imagine what being away for so long and coming home felt like. It’s so crazy, I’m meeting my great-grandmother for the first time, and it was an instant connection. Like family, you know what I’m saying? And seeing how they are, seeing the land, seeing my culture, my people. It makes so much more sense. My ass makes so much more sense. I was like, ‘Oh, I get it – bigger on the bottom, smaller on the top.’ I’m from Miami and it’s a very highly populated Cuban community. I mean, we are Little Havana literally. It was just nice to go back and see kind of where I’m from and my culture, and what my people go through. It was actually kind of an eye-opener to see what they live with. To look at a book and actually see eggs, milk, rice, and your portion and rations of what you’re supposed to have, it’s kind of a little bit of a slap in the face. Like, wow, we still live in a world where some people do not have a choice, and don’t have the freedom to do certain things. That’s kind of like a big wow.

They all have Death Race, you know, bootlegs. One of the funniest things I got was – you know, we’re all used to movies and meeting, seeing these people and stuff. You know, they take on parts and change our appearances and stuff. In Death Race, my bust was a little bigger. So I get there and one of they’re like, ‘Oh, meet the neighbor. He loves Death Race.’ I go there and I show up – mind you, it’s Cuba; it’s fucking hot. I’m wearing shorts, a tank top, and sandals. No makeup whatsoever, just natural. I show up and he’s like, ‘You’re the girl in the movies?’ He’s like, ‘No you’re not. Where are your tits?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s the movies.’ I guess sometimes people think you’re like this famous person that you’re going to walk in with this hair flowing, the entourage, and all this wardrobe. But really we’re just normal people who change our appearances according to the role that we’re in. It’s just kind of trip. But they are fans and they all call me ‘artista,’ the artist of the family. It’s kind of a trip, but at the same time I’m like that’s not me. I’m just Natalie. I just want to eat some plantains and hangout.

On the diversity on the set of Self/Less:

Nowadays, though, in Hollywood, I feel it’s so mixed that it’s beautiful. It’s great. The last three roles I’ve played I’ve just happened to be Spanish. It’s not like, ‘You’re Spanish. Have an accent. Walk like this. Talk like this. Say something in Spanish.’ I’m not a poodle that does tricks for you. I feel that’s changed with all ethnicities. You know, ABC has African American women who are leading shows that just happen to be black. It has nothing to do with who they are or what they are. They’re professors. They’re with the President of the United States. Same thing with Latins, we’re not housekeepers anymore. We’re not gardeners. Everything’s kind of changed, and I really do feel that. But it’s so funny, I’ve been working on this Spanish network for Robert Rodriguez, and that was a whole other world because everyone was Spanish. It was just louder on those sets. You could definitely tell the difference. But I think nowadays it’s such a beautiful world that we’re living in that I don’t think race, gender, ethnicity matter anymore. I just think if you’re qualified for the job and you can pull it off and people believe it, you got it.

I think it’s a beautiful thing because we are all one. I feel it’s not about the color anymore. It is not about any of that. If you’re still on that, you need to fucking grow up. It’s such a mixed world now. It’s about the quality of people. I think if you’re a good person, you’re a good person. It doesn’t matter what color or race you are. I think if you’re a bad person, you’re a bad person. Period. With acting, I think we’ve kind of broken that elite scene, we’ve acknowledged other cultures. Spanish people don’t just watch Spanish television, and we’ve seen that with the numbers for Fast & Furious. End of Watch had over 45% of Latinos that made us number one in our first weekend. We’re starting to realize that everyone goes to movies. It’s not a gender or a race or a certain person, we’re now considered everyone. What does everyone want? What does everybody watch? That’s what matters.

Self/Less opens in theaters nationwide on July 10th, 2015.

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