July 11, 2009 - 10 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
July 30,
2009 - 25 years of Santa Barbara

A Martinez : «Playing Cruz deepened my life like few other things.»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, July 2009

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On last July 28, A Martinez agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actor talks about his family, his Santa Barbara years with and without  Marcy Walker, his acting job and his life since his departure of the show.

The beginnings before Santa Barbara

At first, I'd like you to tell us a little about you : How old are you today ? Where do you live ? When they were kids, we saw pictures of you and your children in the press. Of course, they must have grown up since then. How old are they now ? What do they do ? Do any of them want to start an artistic career like his father ?

I live in Malibu, California, with my wife Leslie and our children.  Our youngest daughter has two years of High School remaining, and lives with us year round. Our two older children attend college away from Los Angeles, but are home with us now for the summer months, and we are grateful to have them here again, as we know there may not be too many more summers when all of us share the same home.

All three of our kids are artists and performers, and we have devoted this summer to getting better as musicians (myself included).  It's important to discover and develop your "voice" - in all the meanings of that word - if you wish to be a person who devotes a life to the telling of stories.  So that has been the theme of these months, and we measure progress in small improvements, day by day.

Each of the kids has video available on YouTube. A good sampling would be :

Dakota : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo76gbO_vfM

Devon : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNsIWDIndj4

Ren : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfbROTQqLvo

I always thought that, especially with a long time part, the personality of an actor always shows through. So, could you be described as a very straight, kind and well balanced guy just like Cruz was ?

Cruz and I shared a couple of things - a certain sense of humor and a sense of devotion to the power of a great love - but his life provided so much more challenge and adventure than my life could have contained in those brief years I got to inhabit him.  He was a teacher to me. And he came to seem like a brother.  When I had to let him go, I went into a genuine state of mourning, as if there had been a death in my family.  It was a grief that was among the most powerful of my life, but was hard to talk about.  There were so many other wonderful things going on at the time, and it was hard to explain how deeply I missed him.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor ?

I knew I wanted to be an actor at my first "strike."  (That's the event that follows the closing of a play, where everyone gathers to take down the lights and deconstruct the sets and return the stage to its natural state as an empty space.)  That ritual marks the parting of ways for those who have gathered to tell that particular story.  What had begun as a company of strangers, had ended as a family.  The closeness that grows among people who share intimacy and face public judgment together - who learn to depend on one another for their success or failure - is a very strong bond.  But it is ephemeral.  It goes away with the dispersal of the company, and you want to feel it again.

How did you start your career ?

I was studying theatre at UCLA when I was "discovered."  A casting director by the name of Fred Roos was looking for young actors to audition for a movie about racial tension at a California High School, and he showed up to quietly monitor an acting class I was taking.  The class was devoted to improvisational exercises called "jumps," in which the actors sit in a circle facing center, and randomly begin scenes with others by standing up and asking for something from someone.  (Whoever is asked refuses to give what is requested - hence, instant conflict, the stuff of drama.) During the course of the two hours that Mr. Roos watched our class, three of my classmates "jumped" me into three different "scenes," and he liked my work enough to bring me in for a try-out on the movie he was casting.  It was called Born Wild.  I got the part.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ?

When my agent set up the Santa Barbara audition, he said the show was a weekly primetime drama - like Dallas or Dynasty.  Those kinds of shows spend seven days shooting each episode.  There are 22 episodes each season, and there is therefore a lengthy break between seasons.  It was only when I got to the audition for Santa Barbara that I realized it was a daytime drama, which would shoot an hour-long episode every weekday, and never take a seasonal hiatus.  The show would also be performed much like live theatre, and shot simultaneously on three or four cameras.  I was very distrustful of such a process, thinking it impossible to do good work under those circumstances.  So when they offered me the role of Cruz, I said "no" - three times.  Somehow, the producers thought I was only negotiating for a better deal, and they kept coming back with better offers. At one point, someone from the show had a conversation with my manager and convinced her that I was making a foolish mistake to pass up the opportunity - since Cruz Castillo had a chance to become a much more interesting character than most of the men I'd played up till that point. (I'd already been working professionally for 16 years.)  My manager, thank goodness, convinced me to take a chance.  When I look back now - it astonishes me that I could have been so oblivious to the wonderful possibilities of the show.  But I'd never been a fan of daytime drama.  And I hadn't yet met Marcy Walker.

Did you know at your arrival in the show that Cruz would have a love affair with Eden, and would become the main hero of the show a few months later ?

Cruz was supposed to be a character involved emotionally with the Andrade family, whose anchor was the character of Santana.  It was mainly because the program was suffering a difficult beginning that the couple of Cruz and Eden was given a chance. At the time, there was a strong consensus that the show wasn't quite working.  It was going spectacularly over budget due to some incredibly long hours of shooting, and it was producing poor ratings as well.  (All of us were exhausted.  We had already produced thirty or forty episodes before we finally finished one of them before midnight, and we would start working on the next one at 6:00 am the following morning.  Some of the actors were sleeping in their dressing rooms - too tired to drive home.)

Looking to find a way to make a more successful show, an executive from NBC started asking the production staff for input.  Jill Farren Phelps, who was leaving the music department to become a producer at the time, suggested giving Marcy and I a chance to reveal what we could do together.  The writers were instructed to give our characters three days worth of forced intimacy, as we would be stranded together on a stake-out - and get locked in a room over a long weekend.

Marcy, on her own, had come up with a back story that filled in a lot of the details of what had "gone wrong" between the two of them in "the past," and she shared it all with me.  Then Ms. Phelps met with us and said :  "No matter what gets written, and no matter what the directors plan for you to do with these scenes - it's up to the two of you to take responsibility for them.  If you don't like the words, change them. If you don't like the blocking, fix it. Don't look back on these three days and complain that they weren't handled well.  It's your shot.  Seize it." 

Marcy and I were thereby specifically challenged and specifically empowered.  We met privately, went to work on the material and figured out what we wanted to do with it.  We knew that the situation needed to come to an emotional climax with the two of us down on the floor - SURPRISED - and upset about it.  So that's what we did.  And the audience really liked it.

As the main character of the show, Cruz knew many adventures through the years. What were your favorite storylines and the ones you particularly disliked ?

The storyline I most respected was the one that was built around Eden suffering rape.  This meant going into awful territory, emotionally, for all of us.  But it also gave Marcy a chance to show the full majesty of her astounding talent - and courage - and she freed all of us around her to go to places we had not yet gone.  I have never seen better work, and she sustained it for weeks.  To be so close to it was an honor.  She earned an Emmy for it, and the profound respect of her peers.

The worst story - by far - was the one that had Eden pretending to be someone else as she began to take her leave.  The audience was supposed to believe that Cruz would not recognize her even as they danced together, simply because she was wearing a disguise.  That was an insult to all concerned - the kind of generic bullshit storytelling that even an audience as loyal as ours could never forgive.

The Castillo family appeared little by little in Santa Barbara : at first Cruz's mother, then his sister, his brother, his father, finally his hidden brother... How did you appreciate to discover all these characters only years after years ? To play family siblings on a show do create particular relationships between actors ?

The introduction of his family made Cruz more interesting to play as time went along.  Much is revealed in those connections, right ? It so happens that I had previously enjoyed good working experiences with both of the actors who played Cruz's parents - Carmen Zapata and Henry Darrow. It was the third time I had played the son of each of them, so we already had a good feel for our mutual rhythms by the time we began on Santa Barbara.

Recently I got to see the scenes where Cruz's father Rafael leaves Cruz alone in the desert with a bota full of ayahuasca during the Robert Barr storyline. Henry was very strong in those scenes, reminding me of the days when I first laid eyes on him many years before on a show called High Chapparal.  He had played a guy named Manolito on that show - the absolutely coolest character - so I had become a fan of his long before I got to work with him.

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Cruz Castillo ?

This is a little difficult to answer, because I got to share the stage with literally dozens of actors who left me feeling privileged for the experience.  But Marcy, obviously, stands alone. Not just in the context of the show, but as a crucial person in my life.

The love story between Eden and Cruz was famous because of the strength and the amazing chemistry between you and Marcy Walker. But do you think the fact that Cruz had Hispanic origins and that Eden was the perfect fair American girl played for the success of their couple ?

Someone once told me that the success of Cruz and Eden had a lot to do with the way they looked.  But for me, the most important aspect of their success was simply that Marcy and I approached the work from a very similar point of view.  And that, of course, was nothing more than good luck. It allowed us to understand one another's needs really quickly. And from that early understanding, we built a strong, deep, and genuinely loving relationship between us that seemed to "sparkle" in the characters as they moved through the arc of their wonderfully written time together.

Recently, Marcy Walker, in an interview for a French TV report, said she enjoyed playing with you on Santa Barbara, and had a great respect for your person. What can you tell us about her and the years you spent together on the show ? What do you think of her choice to put a term to her acting career ?

I have great respect for Marcy as well.  The most difficult aspect of the whole thing was our struggle to find a way to keep the connection we forged at work from breaking up our lives. There is no book you can read to learn how to do that, and no one explains it to you in an acting class. We had to figure it out on our own, and it was not easy.

At one point, the pressure of it all had begun to threaten our capacity to be kind with one another.  But we were lucky enough to get offered a publicity appearance one weekend on the other side of America from the studios in California.  We flew together across the country to Boston, took a long car ride up to Rhode Island, had dinner together, did a long appearance together the next morning, had a leisurely lunch, road back to Boston and flew home to Los Angeles. It was the first opportunity we'd had in years to spend so much time with one another without the constant pressure of the shooting. We got to talk about every little detail of what we had been experiencing, including the parts of it that had become painful and had not been healed.  It restored our relationship in the most wonderful way, and allowed us to finish our run together as the best of allies.  It deepened our affection, which in turn deepened our work.

One thing that has become obvious to me is that an acting career is not necessary to sustain one's happiness.  That being said, I never, ever think about Marcy without imagining what it will be like to act with her again.  How could my dreams be otherwise ?

In France, we never saw the episodes you shot in Paris in 1989. What memories do you keep from that trip ? How do you explain that Santa Barbara was so popular in France ?

I'll never forget the trip to Paris.  To be greeted with such excitement in that most beautiful of cities is beyond the realm of the reasonable.

After the first day's shooting was complete, I had just returned to my hotel room when I heard a loud knocking on the door. I answered it to find two desperately worried sixteen year old girls who had snuck past security to meet me and were about to be thrown out by a hotel guard who was coming down the hall.  The girls begged me to let them in, and I did, sending the guard away, but I was worried that the situation was not a good one.  One of the girls told me that her whole family was devoted to watching Santa Barbara, and that she had decided to come get me from the hotel and take me home to their apartment for the evening, since it was her mother's birthday, and she wanted to surprise her.  I didn't want to do that, since I was feeling very jet-lagged, and had a difficult week of work ahead of me.  But it soon became clear that my desire not to go with them could not possibly match the intensity of their desire to have me come. So I went.  As I was leaving the hotel with these two young girls, Marcy was walking into the lobby, and gave me a look as if to ask, "Have you lost your mind ?"

It turned out to be one of the most memorable evenings of my life.  The girl's mother was ecstatic to have "Cruz" show up in her home.  It turned out that her father was also an enthusiastic fan of the show (the family had dedicated an entire wall of shelves to a video library of all the episodes that had aired since the show's debut in France).  Since my French is not the best (especially after a glass of wine or two) I switched between English and Spanish, since the father was pretty good in Spanish, and his daughter and her friend both spoke English along with their French - so we were able to keep a nice multi-lingual flow going among us. We ended up having a wonderful meal together and talked for hours about not only the show, but about the nature of our countries, the true dynamics of the political forces that shape our lives, the central stories of our mutual family histories, and on and on.  It was an utterly unexpected, magical night.  I had been reluctant to go with these girls, but I'm forever grateful that they bent me to their will.

How do you consider the evolutions Santa Barbara knew through the years ? What were the reasons of the fall of the ratings in the 90's (Bad storylines ? Departure of strong characters ? Lack of eccentric bad guys like Kirk or Keith ? Lack of humour ?) ? Also, what was for you the Dobson's touch on Santa Barbara ?

For me, the show's middle period was the most resonant.

There were several years where everything just clicked into focus and held.  As always, the key was the quality of the writing, which was so strong; and the guidance of Ms. Phelps, who is a genius of a storyteller, understands the true nature of the actor's task, and is willing to suffer the inconvenience of allowing a group as headstrong and aggressive as we were to find a genuine voice as a company.  Almost everyone involved grew more confident as the show's quality rose, and everyone's work seemed to continue to improve for quite a while.

The loss of Justin Deas - who was so brave and brilliant as Keith Timmons - was a turning point.  Some actors cannot be replaced.  He is one of them.

Marcy left.

At one point, NBC decided that the show had a "problem," which was that it moved too fast, and therefore confused viewers who had not tuned in for a while.  The thought suddenly became, "This kind of show needs to move very slowly, so people can miss a couple of weeks, and still know exactly what's going on when they find their way back to it."  But Santa Barbara's audience was one that loved the quicker pace it had established, and it did not serve that audience to see the show re-invented as a more typical soap opera.

The trust of the viewers, especially for a show that paints such a big community and asks that so much attention be spent in the tracking of it, is all too easily lost when treated disdainfully.  Some of the later storytelling was remarkably ignorant and disrespectful of the loyalty and expectations of the audience.

The Dobsons, of course, were the keepers of the original vision (they had actually spent time living in Santa Barbara) and credit must be given to them for the wisdom of their faith in the viability of the show.  But serial television is an exhausting beast that demands to be fed at a furious pace. By the time the show was finished, it had passed quite a distance away from that original vision. Some of those changes served it well, but others didn't. Though the show had seemed to slump later in its run, it seemed to me that it had "found itself" again in the year before the end came.

How did you live the departure of Marcy Walker in 1991 ? Do you think Eden could have been recast ?

I was happy for Marcy because she had found a wonderful opportunity.  And I was so thankful that no one even suggested for a moment that the role of Eden be recast.  It would have been a crime against nature.

How did you live the fact that Cruz had an affair with Kelly, his sister-in-law, after Eden's departure ?

I thought it was a logical relationship to attempt, even though it was obviously doomed to falter by comparison, and I very much enjoyed the playing of it.  Life goes on, even after great loss, and to pretend that it shouldn't seems insane.

Many Santa Barbara fans consider your departure in 1992 as the real end of the show. What do you think of this ? Did you continue to watch the show after that ?

I didn't feel my departure was the end of the show. In fact, I had expected to come back to it at some point, since the show had become successful all around the world, and I fantasized that it would be ongoing for many years to come.  What I didn't understand was the importance of the fact that NBC did not own it.  New World Television owned it, and NBC was not benefitting financially in the show's international success.  NBC came to believe that it could make more money with a lower-rated show of its own creation, and time would prove the NBC right in that regard.

At the time of my departure I was working too many hours to watch with the same regularity of the past, but I managed to see it often enough to keep track of the feel and the stories.

What storyline for Cruz would have decided you to stay in Santa Barbara ? What do you think Cruz may have done after 1992, in Mexico ?

I left because I was offered a role on L.A. Law, which was a show with a tremendous history.  By joining that show, I enhanced my chances of having the kind of career that lets you test yourself in a greater variety of ways, and allows you to stay alive in this very difficult business.

But whenever Cruz returned, regardless of however far away he'd been exiled, he would have devoted himself to finding Eden.

If you hadn't play Cruz, what character would you have liked to play ?

I can't imagine playing another.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ?

I've kept in touch with many of the people from the show, both in the cast and the crew.  One of the most notable relationships has been the one my family has with Lane Davies (who played Eden's brother Mason). Lane has not only directed both of my daughters on stage in the years since, but he even tried to get my wife Leslie to go on stage with him at one point - and she almost said yes even though she doesn't consider herself an actress !  (She's actually very gifted in the necessary skills - and very beautiful - and Lane, of course, knows that about her.)  We have a tremendous love for him, and I've always considered him a wonderful actor, as well as a dear friend and one of the wisest men I've ever met.

And speaking of wise men, I sit on the floor in the magical library of former Santa Barbara castmate Leigh McCloskey every Tuesday night (as do my children when they're in town) and participate in an ongoing discussion group he's been hosting in that room for twenty-seven years. We are currently reading the book, Perennial Philosophy, by Aldous Huxley - getting through five or six pages at the beginning of each session - and then spending the next couple of hours talking about what we've read. Leigh is not only a fine actor, but a fine artist as well, and his efforts to excell at what he describes the "artistry of consciousness" is inspiring to many people who've gotten to know him. If you're curious, please check out :  http://www.leighmccloskey.com

 

These 17 last years after Santa Barbara and now

You played in daytime soap-operas, nightime dramas, movies... What difference do you find in all these kind of programs as an actor ? Which one do you prefer ?

If I had to make such a choice (and I'm glad that I don't) I'd probably choose daytime drama as my favorite, even though the pace is difficult to maintain.  There's a freedom to it in the sense that the actors play the scenes as if in a theatre - one time through and any surprises that may happen along the way can be responded to, freely and immediately - without repetition and without the necessity to play the scene the same way many times through so as to make all the various angles and pieces fit together later.

But at the end of the day, it's the collaboration that makes or breaks any dramatic endeavor. What is the story ?  How well have the words been wrought ?  Who are your colleagues in the process ?  That's why actors sometimes soar in modest circumstances, yet may crash and burn sometimes even when oceans of money have been spent.

On French television, we saw you on L.A. Law, Profiler and many movies you made for TV. Unfortunately, we missed all your parts in the daytime soap-operas you played in (General Hospital, One Life to Live recently...). Until today, what were your favorite roles as an actor ?

I loved the character of Juan Cortina that I got to play in The Cherokee Kid, with Sinbad.  (Leslie said I never came home in anything but good spirits from that job.)  And I liked playing Coop on Profiler, a lot. He was wired a lot tighter than I am, and that was fun to feel for a while.  But I loved Cruz like no other.

Do you have projects for this year ?

I'm working to help put the scripts together for a couple of movie projects right now.  Both of them are politically motivated.  As the world gets more difficult for most of us to deal with, I think it's imperative that we stand up and tell the truth about the corruption that is threatening to destroy what is most precious in most of our lives.  Like any parent, I worry for my kids' futures, but things have gotten ridiculously out of hand, and the time to maintain our frustrated silence is long past.

Do you find it easier or more difficult to be an actor today than at the time of your beginnings ?

It seems harder to get started now than it did when I began.  There are more people pursuing acting than there used to be, and the quality of their skills is generally a lot higher, so the competition is tough. But it remains an heroic task to attempt - a likely passage to a genuinely existential life - and I consider myself very fortunate to have undertaken it.

What would you like to say to all the Santa Barbara fans all over the world ?

I want to express my appreciation to everyone who has invested their time and attention with the stories of the community that was Santa Barbara.  Your enthusiasm and support allowed all of us who worked on the show to feel that our efforts to do our best were never wasted.

Playing Cruz deepened my life like few other things.  The personal challenge of deciding how to approach his ever changing struggles caused me to make decisions about what really mattered to me that I might easily have avoided for years - if not forever. He became an invaluable teacher during the years I spent with him, and for that wonderful opportunity I am indebted to the fans of the show.

So to each and every one of you who cared enough to spend that time with us, let me simply say - from the bottom of my heart - thank you.

 

Once again all my thanks to A Martinez for his time, his kindness and his sincerity.