A Martinez, who played SANTA BARBARA’s signature romantic hero, Cruz Castillo, from 1984-1992, reflected on his SB journey and the show’s legacy with Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: What stands out to you about your SB casting story?
A Martinez: I rewrote my audition — that’s kind of the main takeaway — because I didn’t know how to make the scene work as it was written. It was on the advice of Leslie, my wife, who was much more aware of the possibilities of what it would mean to be on that show. I’ve always felt that gave me a big advantage because I was doing something that was uniquely mine and that I felt completely comfortable with.
Digest: Cruz and Eden quickly became the main couple on the show. What do you think made you and Marcy Walker (ex-Eden) such a successful acting team?
Martinez: It was just dumb luck, the luck of the draw. Our methodologies were similar; we had similar mechanics in the way we went about setting up the work. So there was that and also a really strong work ethic. We were really protective of keeping the quality as high as we could. We understood how lucky we were.
Digest: Did you ever sense resentment from other cast members because of all the attention that was focused on the two of you?
Martinez: There was never any feeling like that that I was aware of. It’s probably human nature that there might have been. By and large, we had a really collegial vibe on that show. We functioned really well together as a group. It was such an unreasonable task to do a show a day and there was so much pressure on us that you tend to bond; you have to have each other’s back to survive it. I feel we had a great deal of respect for one another just based on understanding how hard it is and, especially in its best years, how good a job we were doing. We were pretty proud of the work we were doing in the middle years, when the show just got up and sailed.
Digest: You got to play a few triangles on the show. Did you have a favorite?
Martinez: I thought the Robert Barr storyline was amazing. Roscoe [Born, ex-Robert/Quinn], may he rest in peace, was such a brilliant actor. I thought it was really hard, given everything they’d set up, to believe that he could be a legitimate problem, that Eden could have difficulty choosing. There had been the incredible storyline of Eden’s rape and the honesty with which they illustrated the damage of that and the long road back … They wrote that so beautifully. Then there is Robert, and you see all that stuff — the way he is, his power and his intellect. You kind of go, “Yeah. I could see that this could be a problem.” I could believe it, and it was tough to find a legitimate challenge to something that was as brilliantly constructed as Cruz and Eden.
Digest: What do you remember about shooting Cruz and Eden’s wedding in Carmel Valley, CA?
Martinez: I remember that I couldn’t see Marcy’s face because of the sun shining. It was bouncing off that white veil. It drove me crazy. I was so utterly dependent in everything I did with her on being able to have access to her face, especially her eyes. There was always such a strong sense of “what’s going on between us is so much greater than the sum of its parts,” and that’s about electrical and/or chemical energy. To have that cut off in the moment that I was most vulnerable was real hard. I bitched and moaned about it to the director, Rick Benowitz. He would say, “Yeah, I know, but look at that. It just looks so beautiful. We’re not going to kill that because of your process [laughs].” So I had to suck it up and pretend I could see her eyes.
Digest: Is it true that there were some audience members who objected to Cruz and Eden’s interracial romance?
Martinez: Yeah. I got hate mail — “How dare you greasy piece of s**t put your hands on this beautiful blonde woman.” I had it happen to me where I lived, in my hometown. I had it happen to me for being married to a woman who everyone perceives to be a white woman. It happened to my friend, an actor who’s a white man married to a Black woman. It happened on the same day. We got vicious, threatening hate mail put in our mailboxes at the physical place where we lived. You realize that they were courageous to put Cruz with Eden, because it doesn’t go down good with everybody. By doing that they provoked that certain percentage of people, who can’t stand that kind of thing, to come forward and make some noise about it.
Digest: It’s almost hard to fathom, since Cruz was scripted as the perfect man.
Martinez: Yeah. He was ridiculous, really, in terms of his level of correctness and courage. He was everything. He was a brilliantly constructed ideal. I’ve got to say that was part of the reason it was so beneficial to me to play him, because it was like going to school. Cruz was a constant study in, “What if? What if you really were able to muster your best almost all the time? What would that be like?” It was an honor to play him.
Digest: There was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama at the show with the lawsuit between Creators Bridget and Jerome Dobson and New World Television over creative control of the show. Did that have an impact on you or trickle down to the set?
Martinez: People tried to leave that out of their work. You know that it’s still your job to go in and do your performance. You have to do it. So you’re not going to let all the turmoil get to you.
Digest: SANTA BARBARA had giant international popularity. Why do you think it resonated so well with a global audience?
Martinez: It was brilliantly written. It was a cut above. At its best, it was so audacious. The things it did, the humor in it when Justin Deas and Robin Mattson were playing that couple [Keith and Gina] — you’d see that on any television show, any time, anywhere and think, “Wow. That’s amazing stuff.” That was stuff you didn’t see [on daytime]. I’m not an expert. I wasn’t watching all the shows that were on then, but I just had a sense when I looked back years later that this was spectacular writing, the sense of audacity, the willingness to take risks and try things that were around the bend. It was just amazing. The music was amazing, the writing, the storytelling, the respect, the sense of communion…. There are so many people who have come up to me in the years since and said, “Thank you for being part of SANTA BARBARA.”
Digest: Is there a behind-the-scenes moment from working with Marcy that stands out to you?
Martinez: We had a wonderful moment at the end, when things had gotten difficult for Cruz and Eden. It was later in the journey. We’d gotten married and gone through all that amazing story with the rape and Robert Barr showing up and all this amazing stuff that they’d put these characters through. We got asked to do a personal appearance in Maine on a weekend, and we both said yes to it. We met in the morning and flew across the country sitting together, then we took a long car ride from Boston up to Maine. Then we had dinner together and talked. Then we did the show, got in the car, drove back to Boston sitting together and talking, and flew back to Los Angeles. So we got to talk for hours over one weekend. It literally pivoted our whole relationship. It allowed us to talk about so many things that had built up over the course of doing all the work that we never really had the time to address. It was one of the greatest gifts of all time. I don’t remember what we got paid for doing that personal appearance, but the chance to just have time to talk together…. It was such a gift to have that and make sure we could finish our relationship on the show in a really good space.
Digest: When you look back on your time as Cruz, how did it shape or influence you?
Martinez: It’s where I really felt I became a professional actor. I don’t think my work before then was on par with what I got to do with him. It didn’t happen overnight. In the beginning, I was so overwhelmed by the pressure of it that I was jacked up on coffee and power bars all day long. A lot of my early work was so jacked up, always going from 90 percent to 110 percent. I was just running way too hot, I thought, but it was what I had to do to keep the fear away. I had to be super-wired to be able to remember everything. It wasn’t until later, when you start to have success and positive feedback, that you’re able to relax a little bit. Once I could actually relax and find more colors, Marcy and I fell into a profound comfort with each other. At the beginning it was really scary to try to portray that level of intimacy. Eventually we started to trust each other and trust, with those exceptions that we mentioned, that the audience was really responding to us. We started feeling more comfortable and were able to do better work.
Digest: It’s been 30 years since the show went off the air, yet it’s maintained a passionate fan base. What does that mean to you?
Martinez: I’m so proud to have been a part of it. It kept getting better and better. It got to a point where it really became magical. You could just say, “Wow. This is a good TV show.” You wouldn’t have to qualify it by saying, “for a soap opera”. I was not aware when it came up for me that it could be anything that special. I was very ignorant of the possible power of that show. I feel so lucky that wiser heads than me prevailed. First, my wife saying, “Don’t give up on this. If you can’t make [the audition scene] work, rewrite it.” That was incredibly good advice. I’ve told that story to several actors who were trying out for Cruz, and it breaks their hearts to hear it. I probably won’t say it anymore. I had an unfair advantage. I got to present him exactly as I felt most comfort- able trying to be him. So I was lucky. And I feel so grateful I got to be a part of the show. It was thrilling.