Actor and Army veteran J.R. Martínez says whenever he tries something new, his goal is to do everything he can to excel in it.
This positive mentality could be the key to his success as one of the contestants on this season’s reality show “Dancing with the Stars.” Martínez, who stars in the daytime soap opera “All My Children” as Iraq War veteran Brot Monroe, was teamed up with dancing sensation Karina Smirnoff and has become a fan favorite after only two weeks.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Martínez joined the U.S. Army straight out of high school in 2002. The following year, he was injured in Iraq when the Humvee he was driving hit a landmine. Martínez, who was 19 at the time, suffered severe burns to more than 40 percent of this body.
After his recovery, Martínez became a motivational speaker and in 2008 heard about an opportunity to audition for a role in “All My Children.” The role was only supposed to be featured for three months, but lasted three years until the soap opera went off the air this month after more than 40 years.
During an exclusive interview with me, Martínez, 28, talked about his talent as a dancer and the time he spent in the military.
“Dancing with the Stars” airs live Monday and Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on ABC.
What made you want to be a part of this reality show?
My fans from “All My Children” kept saying I would be great on the show. I always entertained the idea, but I never pursued it. Finally, I asked a couple of producer friends of mine and they said it would be a great opportunity. So, a call was made and a meeting was set up and in August I was told I was going to be part of the cast.
What kind of dancer were you before the show?
(Laughs) I have a little bit of rhythm. I’m not necessarily a dancer, but I can bust out a few moves from time to time. Now they’re asking me to bust out moves for a good minute and a half, which I’ve never done before. I think I have a good base to work with. Now, it’s about building on that base and creating something solid.
We’ve seen in past seasons how dancing can take a physical toll on contestants. This must feel like a different kind of boot camp for you.
(Laughs) It does feel like that. I know as the season progresses it’s going to get more difficult. It’s like basic training. Basic training was three months for me and “Dancing with the Stars” is going to be three months. I just have to remember that it’s going to end one day.
We hear so much about soldiers that are suffering from PTSD these days. Did you experience that?
I wasn’t in Iraq long enough to develop any symptoms and if I did what really helped me was the fact that I was talking about it. I spoke to people about my story. I wasn’t keeping it in and it wasn’t eating me up inside. I think that’s what really helped me. I think that’s the place where a lot of veterans need to get to. It can help them in so many ways.
You graduated from high school in 2002 and joined the military soon after. How much did 9/11 play a part in that decision?
It played a part. I’m not going to say it was the whole reason why I decided to join the military. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to grow up and learn about life and be independent. You gain so many things in the military you can apply to your life. It’s like anything in this world: there’s good and bad to it. You just have to find the good and create the good.
Which of your fellow contestants do you think is going to give you the most competition? I think Ricki Lake could be tough since she starred in the original “Hairspray.”
(Laughs) Yeah, but she’s really downplaying that whole “Hairspray” thing. She’s saying she can’t move that way anymore. She’s trying to make us think she doesn’t have those moves anymore, so I’m not going to buy into that. I think Hope Solo and David Arquette could be great. I think Kristin Cavallari has some moves, too. Everyone is a competitor, so I have to watch everyone.