Cruz-ing out of Santa Barbara

 By Janet Di Lauro, Soap Opera Weekly, 1992

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"I'm still kind of pinching myself", says A Martinez, describing his reaction to being offered – and signed to – a role on the critically acclaimed nighttime series L.A. Law for 1992-1993 season. "It was a complete 'the sky opens up and something falls on you' kind of thing. It's a reminder of what is so magical and mystifying about this business and why it is such a privilege to do this kind of work." In an interview with Soap Opera Weekly, Martinez shared his feelings - at times bittersweet – about this momentous career turn. Although delighted to embark on a challenging new part, the actor couldn't hide his regrets about giving up his portrayal of Cruz Castillo on Santa Barbara, a role he played for eight years, by the end of the summer.

How did your role on L.A. Law come about ?

I got a message to talk to Rick Wallace, who's the show's executive producer. He had directed the episode of L.A. Law that I did a couple of years ago. I played a convicted killer sentenced to die, who tried to find a way out at the last minute but couldn't. It was a very dramatic part and a very positive experience for me. (Wallace) seemed to share that memory of it. I've also known (L.A. Law creator) Steven Bochco casually over the course of a lot of years. I have made no bones about the fact that I have always wanted to work with him. I'm not sure exactly who hatched the idea. For all I know it might have been my agents.

What happened during the meeting ?

Basically, (Wallace) asked me how would I feel about being on the show. I said, "Pretty damned good." (He laughs.) They didn't specify much about the character. They just said that he would be an attorney. At the time I went in for the meeting they were still four or five shows short of finishing the (1991-1992) season. I would imagine they wouldn't get around to writing (my character) until hiatus.

Have you been boning up on your legalese ?

Yeah, right ! I'm trying to speak in complete sentences. (He laughs.) I feel real good about it. That was part of the question that (Wallace) wanted to broach – how I would feel about the controlled demeanor that's necessitated in a courtroom. I think it will be a nice change of pace. I played a legal assistant in a law firm in The Storefront Lawyers in 1971. It was the first TV series I ever did.

What were your initial thoughts on the L.A. Law offer ?

The first thing I did was talk it over with Les (Martinez's wife). She slept on it and the next day woke up and said, "I think it would be a fabulous idea." That certainly helped clear the air. I mean, it's really not that hard of decision. It's just that life is about change. If you sat down and picked what you'd like to do on nighttime television, almost any actor would have L.A. Law on his short list. And there it is on your plate.

Yet it wasn't an easy, cut-and-dried decision for you, was it ?

The thing that makes it hard – and it's no reason to stay really, yet must be acknowledged – is that Santa Barbara, beyond being a tremendous event on my career, was also a key to making me into a much better human being. How do you begin to measure the value of that and to honor it sufficiently ? I think I'm a much better man, and a much better husband and father, that I would have been had I not had the experience of having to figure out Cruz 1,600 times.

It certainly looks like you've been enjoying your recent storyline.

For a while I was basically wandering around trying to maintain my dignity while Eden (Marcy Walker) turned into several people and disappeared. Then for another year it was just sort of scratching around to figure out something to do, period ! I really never thought I'd be enjoying the work on Santa Barbara again as much as I am now.

Did rumors about Santa Barbara's possible cancellation in January 1993 make your decision any easier ?

No, because I desperately want Santa Barbara to succeed. I think it's so good now, and it just follows that therefore it should flourish. That's the way things should work out, right ? It really drives me nuts that we had to wait this long to get back on our feet. I'm really hopeful that the people who gave up on Santa Barbara will find their way back to check us out for a couple of days and see the difference Pam Long (Santa Barbara's current head writer) has made.

Obviously, you're an admirer of Pam Long's work...

She's an ex-actress who has an implicit understanding of what it is that lights up (actors) and what doesn't. She just shovels on your plate the stuff that lights you up. It's amazing what a difference there is in the process of going about your job when you have the kind of writing that just challenges you repeatedly page after page, as opposed to the kind that forces you to look for something to feature. Nowadays, when the scripts come out, people are jumping on them.

There's been talk that you might do both projects – Santa Barbara and L.A. Law – for a while.

I think it is going to happen for a little while. I start shooting L.A. Law in August. So there will probably be three or four weeks of doing double duty. Paul Rauch (Santa Barbara's executive producer) was telling me that he thinks I'll be airing as Cruz into September. That's the way it's been presented as a theory right now. It will be a little bit daunting, but then again anything that I can do to ease the transition I'm game for. The storyline that Pam hatched for Kim Zimmer (Jodie), Forry Smith (Reese), Eileen Davidson (Kelly) and me was scheduled to run for two years. It's an awful lot to ask a writer, no matter how good, to compress something that is planned for that amount of time into something so much shorter.

The bond between all of you has developed so naturally...

Eileen and I had a head start and worked hard. We charted out a place we wanted to get to off in the distance somewhere. We worked hard to get to it. Now I think we consistently land in that zone. Then there's Kim and Forry. Forry thinks it has a lot to do with starting off our first show together with the (20th-year high school) reunion. We were dancing together before we knew each other. You can certainly make a case for that rock'n'roll vibe – it accelerates people's bonding mechanisms. And that scene I did in the shower with Kim was the first time we ever did anything together, and it was firing on all cylinders.

What are you looking forward to over at L.A. Law ?

I love Steven Bochco. He's coming back. He's one of the very best writers who's ever graced the medium. And I got the chance to work with Michael Tucker up in Toronto last year while filming In the Nick of Time. He's a tremendous guy and a great asset, the kind of guy who's combination actor and teacher. Also, the way the show's set up it's possible and probable that I won't be working as much as I do now. I could certainly use that. After eight years at the pace I was going at Santa Barbara, it definitely leaves you with a certain appetite for a little more time to yourself.

What will you miss about Santa Barbara ?

I'll miss the goose bumps. While I was there I was blessed with a connection to my heart as an actor. Somehow, over the course of the years – and surely the experience of getting that intimacy with Marcy Walker – something happened. There's probably nothing as satisfying to me as an actor than to really get there emotionally, especially when the stakes are high. On Santa Barbara that became the norm rather than the exception. I hope I'll never lose touch with that wonderful sense of goose bumps and energy up your spine when you hit it emotionally… when you really get inside the heart of a character.

Industry insiders say Santa Barbara cannot survive the loss of A Martinez. What do you think about that ?

I think Santa Barbara is an excellent show independent of my being there. Go up and down the roster of its players; check out the quality of the writing. The show continues to look as wonderful as it always has, and is graced by the same wonderful musical sense. What's not to like ?