If you’ve been to the movies or turned on the TV in the last 17 years, chances are you’ve seen veteran actor Adrian Martinez. Since starting his acting career in 1993, Martinez, who is of Nicaraguan and Dominican decent, has worked with over a dozen Academy Award winners and nominees including Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in “The Interpreter” and Denzel Washington and John Travolta in “The Taking of Pelham 123.”

He has also earned roles in a number of award-winning TV shows such as “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” where Martinez played characters for various skits, which included donning a red wig to imitate the late-night host.

Like he has done for his entire career, Martinez is keeping busy in 2010. His next film is “Cop Out” starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, which hits theaters next Friday. After that, you can see Martinez in the superhero action comedy “Kick Ass” in April. The movie stars Nicholas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Currently, he is shooting the film “The Miracle of Spanish Harlem” with Kate del Castillo.

During an interview with me, Martinez talked about how he started in the industry, what kinds of roles he likes playing the most, and why he thinks Conan O’Brien will be just fine wherever he ends up.

What first interested you in acting?

Well, first I went and tried everything else and I was completely incompetent. (Laughs) Some people say I don’t know how to do this either, but I’m doing it anyway. Actually, I was just watching movies like “Raging Bull” and seeing these great performances. It was very alluring to me – the work and the passion of actors. I felt very connected to it. I just told myself, “I want to be in movies.” I started taking acting classes and doing workshops in New York. My mother was like, “Ah, what are you doing? You have to get a job with a pension!” The first time I took her to a movie I was in, she saw my name in the credits and yelled out, “That’s my son!”

What were you doing before you became an actor?

Most of the time I was just on the sofa looking for the ketchup and watching cable. It was ridiculous. I did a little bit of social work, but mostly I just hung out.

After 17 years in the industry are you able to be more selective with roles?

Well, the thing about this business is you always have to prove yourself. I have five or six movies coming out this year, but I still have to audition for everything. But I accept the challenge. I love doing the work.

What kind of roles do you gravitate to the most?

When it’s all said and done, I would love to be the guy who represents the underbelly of society; someone on the fringe; someone you don’t want to look at when your on the subway or on the street. Those are the people I want to represent because they’re human beings, too, and they matter. I’ve always had a great heart and empathy for the mentally disabled, the impoverished, the people that are ignored by society. I love those kinds of roles. Then you have to mix it up and do big Hollywood movies. I play a mobster in “Cop Out” and “Kick Ass.”

Was your first professional acting gig really as a criminal on an “America’s Most Wanted” reenactment?

Yeah, I think it was. Actually, I played a guy that they ended up catching. (Laughs) So, I take full responsibility for getting him off the street.

You’ve worked with Conan O’Brien on a number of occasions. What is your take on everything that happened between him and NBC?

All I know is that everyone is still going to be making a lot of money and everyone is fine. Conan will resurface somewhere bigger and better than ever. He’s a genius. I’m not worried about him; I’m worried about me. (Laughs) Anybody who gets a $40-million check not to work is doing better than me.

I saw your role last year on the TV medical drama “Mercy” where you play a technician who works in the part of the hospital where they store all the amputated limbs. Did they let you keep that fake leg?

(Laughs) Yeah, I put it right next to my candles at home. No, actually that role was supposed to be a recurring one, but I guess they thought I was a little too creepy for national TV.

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