Television

" I want to do work that I won't be embarrassed about" : Actor Victor Hugo Martin

33 year old Victor Hugo Martin's childhood in Mexico was spent hearing both sides of the argument surrounding Cuba's unique status as the only communist country outside Europe and Asia. "In school, I had classmates who were the children of Cuban exiles who had no choice but to leave. I also grew up hearing the admiration of Mexico's left wing faction for Castro," says the 33 year old Mexican actor, who is currently camping in Los Angeles.



Martin makes his English language film debut with
Fidel, the biopic on the charismatic Cuban leader Fidel Castro, which will feature in the Showtime Original Miniseries scheduled for telecast on Hallmark channel on 14 and 15 June at 9 pm, and again on 15 and 16 June at 5 pm.



If his riveting performance as Fidel Castro is a sign of things to come, Martin may soon be taking the Hollywood ride, joining the ranks of Latino crossover stars Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem. In the meantime, Martin will contentedly work in his Mexican homeland, letting Hollywood come to him. In an email interview to indiantelevision.com, he held forth on his career, life and of course,
Fidel...





How did you prepare for your first-ever English film?

Do you feel language is an impediment when it comes to acting in a foreign film? Did you undergo any language training for the rigorous monologues and extensive dialogues?


Yes, the film is mostly in English, nearly 85 per cent, I would say. Although I do speak English, it was quite a task having to go through the 400-page script and learn my lines. There are a lot of monologues and speeches that I had to remember. Castro used to be a lawyer and is the head of state. He is known for making really long speeches, up to seven hours in one go, too! That is what's so admirable about him, everything he says comes from the heart, and it's all about truth. Apart from English, we also had to take lessons in Cuban Spanish. We had a language coach with us, Joy Ellison, and she worked with each of us daily for about four months. Joy had a lot of work, she had to make all of us sound the same, we all had to have the same accent, except for Gael's character. This was not an easy task because the actors were from all over Columbia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Spain. It was also quite confusing off screen because everyone would be speaking in his or her native tongue! Not many of us spoke in English off screen.



How did you manage to graduate from being selected for a supporting role to that of the lead protagonist?

Actually, another actor had already been cast as Fidel and I was auditioning for a very small part in the production. But then, I was called to read again, and then again, and finally I was informed that I had the part - not the minor role I had auditioned for but that of Fidel Castro. Naturally, I was thrilled. That was the beginning for me! (According to Attwood, Martin became his only choice for the title role after being impressed with the passion and strength that the Mexican actor displayed in his readings in a series of auditions) I think doing another person's life is a tough task. I needed to get all the information on Fidel's life and try to understand what he was going through. Although there was a lot of information about him, it was hard internalizing all that data. I think I have been really lucky.

 

"That is what's so admirable about him, everything he says comes from the heart, and it's all about truth."
 
Fidel Castro

Did you have to research the life and times of Fidel Castro? How have you tried to bring in an element of cultural authenticity and identity to the character? How have you traced Castro's character from a young lawyer to a mature statesman?

There was a team that did an in-depth research on the life of Fidel Castro - they were the ones who looked for archival footage. They also interviewed the people who knew Castro as a person. There was also a biography on Fidel Castro, which helped a lot. They showed us a lot of photos of Castro, and newspaper clippings too. They had photos of him when he was young, when he was in the guerrilla, when he was a lawyer, right up to how he is today. From the photographs, you could sort of see the history of Castro, his facial gestures, his demeanor and so on. I also talked to people in Mexico who knew him, asked them what kind of a person he is. There was also a book I read - Fidel: A Critical Portrait by Tad Szulc. That also helped me a lot.



Can you outline your career graph thus far? What have been the highlights of your career?

While many outside Mexico may not know me, I am no stranger to acting. As a drama student, I have done everything from Shakespeare to Moliere to Ibsen, and I have also done a lot of TV work: the series Nada personal (1996), Yacaranday (1998), La calle de las novias (2000) and Lo que es el amor (2001), the miniseries La casa del naranjo (1998) and the acclaimed film Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (1999). My career started mainly on the stage. I learned all the crafts of the stage, like making the wardrobe, lighting and building scenery. Later on, I started getting small roles, then lead roles. I also have Sex, Shame and Tears to my credit, which had me portraying a role completely different from Fidel. My role in Sex, Shame ... is that of new age spirituality, your typical guy, while Fidel Castro is a very public man. The situations they went through are vastly different... something like water and oil.



How did you get into acting as a career? Have you undergone formal training? Do you believe in method acting or do you follow your instincts, or are you a director's actor?

I started acting in school when I was 14, then continued in college. I liked it so much, I went on to get a degree in theatre acting. After I graduated, I continued acting in theatres for about 10 years before I landed a job in a TV show. I have never chosen the characters or the jobs, they have always come to me. I was happy doing theatre, but someone offered me a TV role, so I took it. After that, came a few offers in film and I took those too. The film industry in Mexico isn't strong at all. We only make about five to 10 films each year, so if you get a chance to act in one, you don't give it up! You can't live as a film actor in Mexico. But I love acting.

A stage actor has a more direct communication with the people, he is able to feel the audience reaction, and he knows how to raise the rhythm of the audience. He can sense if they are very concentrated or are with you. A stage actor has a very direct relationship between the audiences. It is very different when doing a film, in front of the camera coz you're alone, its like gambling, you don't know how its going to be edited, how the movie is going to be, how the lights, the intentions of your emotions will come through the screen. You have no idea on how it will be done and how it will come out. You only get to assess the audience reaction after the film has been done. You feel alone doing it and you have no idea on how the audience will react.

"The film industry in Mexico isn't strong at all. We only make about five to 10 films each year, so if you get a chance to act in one, you don't give it up! "



Which projects are you currently working on? Do you plan to migrate to Hollywood now?

At present, I do not have any projects in hand. Obviously, the portrayal of Castro has caught the eye of Hollywood since the miniseries premiered on American television. I've been asked to stay here to see what happens in six months - I am currently based in Los Angeles. A talent agency has signed me up and I'm currently working to improve my English so that perhaps, you know, I will have better possibilities here in Hollywood. But I must say that I'm not losing sleep over whether I make it here or not. All I want is to do work that I won't be embarrassed about, and there's a lot of that for me in Mexico.



Are there any actors who are your role models?

I'd love to be paired with the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Depp and Uma Thurman but I still have a long list of actors I would like to work with. I definitely love good actors and Hollywood has a lot of them.



How do you see Fidel helping you to grow as an actor?

Well, Fidel posed a huge challenge - and not only because I have only a slight resemblance to this widely recognizable real-life character. I was confident that with the right makeup, the right shade of hair colour and the right prosthetics-I would make a passable Fidel Castro. The challenge was that this was an English-language miniseries, and, of course, all of my previous work as an actor had been in my native Mexican. But I overcame all the challenges - I feel an actor has to be focused on what he is doing and the role he is playing to be able to fully grasp the essence of his character as well as to be able to project it to the audience.

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