In the new romantic dark comedy “Focus,” actor Adrian Martinez plays Farhad, the best friend and partner-in-crime of Nicky (Will Smith), a professional con man who teams up with a femme fatale (Margot Robbie) for a major heist in Argentina where the stakes get a lot higher for all three thieves.
During an interview with Martinez, who has also starred in films such as “American Hustle,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” we talked about what attracted him to a project like “Focus,” how he approaches auditions after 20 years in the industry, and what it was like working with Louie C.K. last year on his hit TV show on FX.
So, what were you going for with the look and style of your character Farhad?
Well, Farhad is based on a real-life Grammy Award-winning producer who is friends with [“Focus” directors] John [Requa] and Glenn [Ficarra]. I can’t remember his name, but that’s basically what he looks like. But then I was able to put my own spin on it. It was lot of fun. John and Glenn let me take chances and make the character my own and were supportive of me being a part of the creative process.
What initially drew you to a project like “Focus” other than getting the chance to work with actors like Will Smith and Margot Robbie?
What really drew me to the movie was that the script was full of surprises. You never knew how things were going to play out. That’s so rare these days. Then, you had Farhad, this character I could relate to because of his loyalty to his best friend Nicky, played by Will Smith. Personally, I am very faithful to the people in my own life. I always have their back. I think that’s something that really comes across with Farhad. Nicky relies on Farhad. I see him as a spiritual brother to Nicky.
Where does a film like this rank for you in your career? You’ve worked on some major movies before like “American Hustle” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” just to name a couple.
You know, a lot of people saw me in “Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. The movie did well and really took on a life of its own when it went On Demand. We’ll, have to see how “Focus” plays out. If it’s a hit, I think it’ll certainly help my career. But if it’s not, it doesn’t matter to me personally because I’m going to keep acting and going after my own projects. But I do feel like it’s a special movie that will really connect with audiences.
You’re very recognizable in the film industry. Does that help you when you go into auditions? I mean, I know you need to have talent to land some of the roles you’ve received, but does having a familiar face help you in any way?
I think it helps get auditions that are high profile, but you still have to prove yourself. Even after Will’s last movie “After Earth,” there were questions if he could make box-office hits, which was ridiculous. The man’s made billions of dollars for studios. It’s crazy. You really do have to prove yourself every time out.
The last time I interviewed you was back in 2010 and you told me the same thing. Has it gotten any easier in the last five years, or is it still a dogfight?
Yeah, you always have to keep proving yourself. You’re just proving yourself to more important people. (Laughs) When you’re starting your career, you’re proving yourself to unknown directors. And now I’m proving myself to John and Glenn and Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell, or whoever. You just have to go into your audition and nail it. When you audition you have to make them feel like something exciting is going on.
For some reason, I don’t see you as someone who really gets fazed by the audition process. I imagine you going in and just laying it all on the table every time.
Yeah, I mean they’re called auditions, but I call them performances. I prepare as if it was opening night. I go in assuming I already got the role. It’s a chance to act and do my thing. That’s how I approach it. I use the same skillset that I do on set or on the stage. That’s how I move forward. The only time recently where I didn’t have to audition for something was for an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” where I got to play a mentally disabled person. They just made an offer, which, I guess, says a lot about me.
Talk a bit about playing the sidekick in a lot of your movies. It seems like you’ve embraced that role.
To me, it’s basically going to a free film school. When I was working with Will Ferrell [in “Casa de mi Padre”], I learned a lot about discipline. When I worked with Ben Stiller, I learned about how someone works with a lot of stamina. When I worked with Will Smith, I learned about being generous and grateful. I’ve never met anyone who was more grateful for his stature in the business than Will. We shot the film in Buenos Aires and one day he was coming out of this market and people just started gravitating to him and he’d stop for selfies. He spent a lot of time taking photos there. He really enjoys his fame. He’s special.
Do you ever think about your career 20 years from now and what you’ll be saying about the films you were in 20 years prior? I mean, movies last forever. Twenty years from now, all your DVDs – or whatever we’re watching movies on – will still be floating around.
Yeah, I do think about doing work that will stand the test of time. I do think about leaving behind a film legacy that my daughter will be proud of. I’ve been blessed. There are a lot of Latinos actors who are coming up now and have had opportunities that 10 or 20 years ago simply did not exist. I like to feel that it’s in part to actors like myself or David Zayas or Paul Calderon or any number of actors in their 30s or 40s or 50s who cleared the path for the new generation. I feel like it’s all good. We helped them and hopefully they help someone else.
Later this year, we’re going to see you in a comedy called “Sisters,” which stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler about two sisters who throw a big house party. What do you think a house party hosted by Tina and Amy would look like in real life and would you go?
I would go anywhere they want me to go. I would go in handcuffs. I would go dressed anyway they wanted me to dress. These are two of the smartest, funniest people in the business, period. They have such great chemistry. Time will show that this was one of the great comic teams that people will remember forever.
Speaking of great comedians, you had a small part in a very ambitious six-part episode of “Louie” last year alongside Louie C.K. What was that experience like being a part of a TV show that was doing such different things no one else had really tried before?
Yeah, Louie is a special writer. He’s special because he’s not afraid to be himself and not afraid to take chances. He doesn’t write his characters to be funny. He just writes real people and puts them in funny situations. Everything is really grounded. That’s one of the things that sets him apart. He doesn’t go for the easy laugh. He goes for the truth. Sometimes the truth is pretty funny on its own.
How did you get the role in that last episode anyway?
I was sitting in my apartment in the Bronx and I got a call at 8:30 on a Friday night. It was from the associate director of “Louie.” He said, “Hey, I’m so and so from ‘Louie.’ Louie wanted you to come down and do an episode.” I didn’t believe him. I said, “Well, Louie will have to get on the phone because I really don’t know who you are.” (Laughs) So, Louie got on the phone. His voice was unmistakable. He was like, “Hi. This is Louie. I want you to come out here. We’ll get you a car. You’re going to be screaming in the rain naked. I don’t know what you’re going to be saying. Can you do it?” I was like, “Sure! Of course!” That’s exactly what happened. Next thing I know I was in a car and then on a sound stage screaming in the rain naked. That’s how these things happen. Someone says, “We need someone to do this role, but we don’t have time to audition anyone. Who can we get to scream in the rain naked?” And someone says, “Adrian Martinez.”