This is an interview from September 8, 2010 with Betsy Russell and Benito Martinez from the Syfy movie Mandrake.
Question: So could you start off by just telling me a bit about your parts in the movie?
Benito Martinez: Betsy, ladies first.
Betsy Russell: Thanks Benito. I play Felicia, an Anthropologist. I study other cultures and I'm a great - another great character, a wonderful woman. And we're having a great time out there in the jungle looking for a dagger that we've been...
Benito Martinez: ...commissioned to find by me.
Betsy Russell: ...commissioned - thank you. I was looking for that word. We've been commissioned to find; so we're kind of on an expedition and very enthusiastic about it.
Benito Martinez: And my character's a billionaire who's fascinated with ancient artifacts, particularly that relate to Mayan culture or Aztec cultures. And one of the artifacts that we're looking for is this knife that's supposedly very magical. And of course as it turns out, whenever you're hunting for any of those old magical artifacts, you know, mayhem ensues and of course when you find the knife, it's been trapped inside a protective, natural guardian for ancient temples, which happens to be a mandrake tree. And once the knife is removed, we all are in fear of our lives. And we all have to band together and either survive or, in my case I eliminate certain people.
Betsy Russell: That remain nameless.
Benito Martinez: Yes it was kind of like an Indiana Jones thing, but there's an evil guy in the middle of it, chasing it down looking for it and trying to find it. I wish Max was here as well; he plays the military guy who's hired to be the escort on the expedition, who takes the archeologists and other hunters and local people to find it. Along the way we encounter local ancient tribes, people who have never seen westerners before, you know, other worldly - seemingly worldly animals and things. So it's cool. Of course Shreveport is our ancient jungle. So that was interesting.
Question: So what's been your favorite part about working on the movie?
Benito Martinez: Well I love the script. I thought the script was very intelligent and it crafted a cool story that we haven't seen before. I love doing all of the magical stuff -- blue screen and putting that together. That's very little boy of me because, "Oh look, look at the monster," and all this other stuff. And I love playing pretend that way. And of course I love working with Max Martini, who's a friend of mine. We go way back. He worked on The Unit, I worked on The Shield, and those were both created by Shawn Ryan. So a lot of wonderful elements. I wish I had opportunity to see more of Shreveport because I love working on location. Did you get to see Shreveport Betsy?
Betsy Russell: Yes, I got around a little bit.
Benito Martinez: Oh very cool.
Betsy Russell: Not too much. But my favorite part was being outdoors because I was used to working on Saw sets and we were inside for so much of - like the last five of them, that it was great to be in an outdoor setting. I wasn't quite prepared for as much of the elements as was - we encountered. But it was - it's always a great experience just to go away and to be with a bunch of new people in a new place. And they're doing a lot of movies there so there was a lot of actors and they were really welcoming. And it was just a lot of fun. I love to play a character that practically wears no makeup. It was really kind of a different role for me than I've played before. So that was very interesting. I had to speak another language, which was quite a challenge, since it was a make-believe language.
It's fun to do a movie so quickly. I mean we had a two week schedule I think, and we probably lost a couple days there. So just not really having too much time to think about, you got to look at your lines the night before, as well as I did -- hopefully I did well enough -- and just kind of wing it. And it was pretty interesting and pretty fun. I had a great time.
Question: Can you both talk about, quickly, how you got the part? I mean how you came to work on the movie?
Betsy Russell: I just got a call from my agent at - I think CineTel knew of me. I knew Paul Hertzberg, one of the guys that owns or runs CineTel. And so he had been looking for something for me for a while. And when this opportunity arose, I wasn't sure I could do it because I had Saw VI coming out and I had a lot of press I was supposed to be doing and all that. But I really did love the script and the character, and I really wanted to go for it. So yes I just wasn't sure it was going to work till the very last second, because I did - there were some things I didn't want to miss. But I got back just in the nick of time for...
Benito Martinez: Oh that's right, you were doing press conferences in the middle of it. You had to fly away.
Betsy Russell: Yes I did have - well I didn't have to actually but I really wanted to be at the Scream Awards. Yes, I really love going to the Scream Awards. It's like our (unintelligible) every year. So I did, I actually came home a couple times. Gosh, I can't even remember the other reason I came home. But I was running around a lot in those couple weeks. But that's how I got the part. And I'm really glad I ended up doing it because it was so much fun. I hope it turned out pretty well -- I heard it did. And yes, it's always great to work. So that's my story (unintelligible).
Benito Martinez: Mine was pretty lightning fast as well. I came to the project and it had already started filming. I got a call from my agent and they said, "They've been looking for you." And I said, "Well who's looking for me? What's going on?" And it was one of those roles that I thought was tailor made. They said, "I want you to fly out to Shreveport next week, do this..."
"Well hold on, let me read the script." And of course I read the script, and like I said before I was like, "Oh this is fantastic." So within one or two days we worked out, you know what - all the particulars of travel and everything else. And then I flew out there. I think I was filming the day I flew out there. I went out and got my wardrobe and just like immediately reported to set. But it was pretty fast -- it was pretty fast. You know, and we all of course made fast and furious friends. Maybe the one thing I do want to comment on is how we all had to adapt quickly. We encountered one of the craziest weather storms - weather patterns that I have ever seen.
We would show up to set, and in the middle of the it'd start raining, and then it wouldn't stop. And then we'd show up to set the next day and the same thing. We moved our set a little bit higher from the little valley floor, it would start raining again, and then we'd have to move up another couple of feet. It was amazing; the weather was just not on our side. But I think it really helped create that deep, ancient jungle feel. My hat off to Tripp Reed, the Director, who just was able to corral everything together and keep it going with the best positive attitude and you know, manufacture, create this movie.
Betsy Russell: Right, I second that. I just want to say that I agree with what he said, that the weather conditions were just - they wanted to shoot there in Shreveport at that particular time of the year I guess because it was not supposed to the be the rainy season. It just kind of backfired. And there was six inches or a foot of mud every day and mosquitoes and poison oak.
Benito Martinez: The mosquitoes were huge.
Betsy Russell: You had to spray yourself literally probably (unintelligible) times an hour -- I mean from head to toe. It's like I would take the can of spray and just spray it in my face. And people thought I was crazy. I was like, "I don't care, if I get any more mosquito bites on my face I'm going to look like I have the measles in this movie." And we were so excited that Benito came onboard, because he was the last person cast, and we were all sitting there for weeks going, "Who's going to play this part?" We were just dying to know, so we were very excited to have him onboard -- it was great.
Question: You were just talking about the mosquitoes and the rain and all of that. What was the most challenging part of making this movie?
Betsy Russell: Well, as I said in the EPK, "I didn't know if they were going to talk about this but since it's already sort of common knowledge, I thought I was going to have a stunt double, because I did notice some pretty harrowing things going on in the script." And when I got there they said, "Oh no Betsy, you don't need one." And I was like, "I don't? Is this true, I don't need one?" And so when I went to do my first - I didn't realize it was a stunt, but I guess it turned out to be kind of a stunt because things were blowing up on the side of me and I hadn't worked so much with special effects in the past really.
So these things started blowing up, but the timing was off and the guy that was running the show and timing when these - this dirt would fly up, it ended up flying up in my face. And it was the most painful ridiculous thing that I've ever experienced. And I could have definitely gotten blinded by these things that were actually cutting my face because it was such an explosion. You weren't there right? Benny you weren't there.
Benito Martinez: I wasn't. I don't know what you're talking about. Yes.
Betsy Russell: No. That happened the first couple days and I was just so shocked. And God bless Tripp Reed who said, "Keep running," because I stopped.
Benito Martinez: What a director, "We've got to get the shot, we've got to get shot."
Betsy Russell: Yes, he said, "Keep running," and I thought he was crazy. But he said that he said, "Keep running" - he had said, "Keep running," because he was afraid that if I stopped it would blow up in my face, not knowing that it had. So they were just blowing up in my face, cutting my face, cutting my body. And then I was like, "You guys have to be kidding me." And actually, Max got it on film and laughed when he was showing it to me a bunch of times.
But then they say, "Okay. You're okay Betsy, we're going to get a stunt double, don't worry. But go to your trailer, get cleaned up and come right back. And when I came right back, I had to jump off this ledge -- like a high dive, which I'm kind of scared to do crazy things -- and I had to jump off a high dive into a lake right after that.
So that was definitely the last stunt that I did on my own. But I was proud of myself, I have to say. So we'll see how I came through with all that. But I was proud of myself that I did it. And that was definitely the most challenging part for me; the getting blown up in my face and then jumping off that big huge high ledge into the lake, which was really scary. But I was like, "You know what? I'm just going to go for it." So that was cool. I was holding Max's hand, so that helped.
Benito Martinez: Yes I mean, we had - like Betsy said before, "We had a crazy schedule because of - we did have all the stunts." And we had helicopters flying in and we had creatures and blue screen and everything else, but we had a very short schedule. So we had to stay on top of it. And then of course we had the rain coming in. And somehow, someway, the magic of movie making; we did it. We really did it. And it really came together.
For me I guess, the most challenging part was the rain because you had to be constantly ready. As soon as the rain stopped, "Okay, take off all the plastic from all the things, you know, get on your spot and let's film it." But you know what? I loved it. And as far as stunts, you know I'm a fight guy; I grew up and I - doing the fencing, the swordplay and all that other stuff. And Max and I both have studied different types of martial arts and boxing.
And we had a big fight scene at the end of this - the movie. So we were like, you know, "Don't give me a stunt double, I want to fight him. No, no. Let me do this one. Let me do..." So we were just like little boys playing in the jungle. It was one of those fun things. Betsy, I'm sorry, I didn't know though, that explosion stuff.
Betsy Russell: I know.
Benito Martinez: Man that sounded crazy.
Betsy Russell: Yes, I was very excited afterwards that I still had my eyesight. So it gave me a whole new perspective on everything. I was very blessed...
Benito Martinez: Girl, you tough. You tough.
Betsy Russell: But the other thing too, was that I had to learn that language. But it wasn't such - it wasn't so much that I had to learn it, it's that they changed it. I had learned my little speech in this foreign, made up belief language, and then they changed it right before. I was like, "Tripp, are you kidding me?" So I actually had it written on my hand. So I don't know how that's going to turn out. Hopefully - obviously they cut away when I was looking down at my hand, but it was kind of funny. Anyway...
Question: Sounds like it was never dull.
Betsy Russell: It wasn't. Definitely not.
Benito Martinez: It wasn't. I mean, you didn't have the chance to be dull. I mean, it was just hard work in so many different ways. But very rewarding. And of course, we made sure to relax.
Betsy Russell: Yes, we did that really well.
Question: I know actors traditionally either love to work with blue screen or they hate it. I've never talked to anybody who's in between. How did you guys feel about the whole blue screen thing?
Benito Martinez: I'm in between.
Betsy Russell: I was just going to say that. I was just going to say that, "You're so in between."
Question: You just had to say it right?
Benito Martinez: I had to, I mean come on; never?
Question: No, never.
Benito Martinez: I like it. I think it's really fun. And I like putting it together. And they hide the strings and they hide the wires and everything else, and you kind of go, "Look I'm flying." So I like all of that, it's fun.
Betsy Russell: I liked it when he said he was flying. I liked it when everyone else was flying. It was a new experience -- I had never done it before. And it was fine. I mean, I'd rather be looking at someone's face and knowing exactly. It's hard enough to - for me, just to get it all working, but then to have to make believe. But I think it was - it was funny though because when somebody - we hadn't seen this creature, this Mandrake, or anything like that. We didn't know what to expect or what it was. And I don't even think we knew what was coming up necessarily when the director yelled, "It's Mandrake."
And there was a whole bunch of us in the scene and we all looked in different directions, looked at different levels. And we just instantly started cracking up -- the whole group of us -- because we didn't know, he hadn't shown us a picture, we didn't know we were supposed to look, he hadn't prepped us, and we...
Benito Martinez: Yes.
Betsy Russell: It was sort of silly. So it was fun.
Benito Martinez: Well he knew where it was, we just didn't know.
Betsy Russell: Yes and he had forgotten to tell us.
Question: When you saw the title and you know it said, "Mandrake," what - did you have any point of reference for that? Did you know what that was at all? What you'd be dealing with?
Betsy Russell: Well tthe working title was Unearthed. So as we were filming it, we were talking about what the title was going to end up being. And at that point, I knew, we knew that there was a tree chasing us called Mandrake. A mandrake tree. "It's a mandrake, it's a mandrake." So yes, the jungle is alive. That was our line in the movie; "The jungle's alive, it's alive." Because things were moving and stuff. And the most important thing that was chasing us was this mandrake. So it made sense to me.
Benito Martinez: And historically mandrake is a magical root. I mean, they used it - because of its shape, it sometimes looked like a human being. People used to think the roots of it were, maybe it's a human tree kind of thing. I know that ancient cultures have used, you know, like boiled it down or shaved it and put it in food and there's some sort of property to it. It's referenced in Shakespeare and all these other things.
So I think just the name Mandrake - I mean, and Harry Potter, and the usual of that. There is an element to it that is otherworldly -- the look of it, the reputation behind it, kind of thing. But Betsy's exactly right; when we got the script, it was Unearthed. So that was not just Mandrake, but really all the ancient elements that controlled the forest, and protecting the ancient gods, was pretty much, as well, part of it. And so it became singular to Mandrake, but it initially became - it seemed more like unearthing the ancient culture, the ancient respect and the tribes and the plants and the other things that came along with it. But yes, a mandrake's pretty crazy huh?
Betsy Russell: Right.
Question: How do you think this film is going to stack up against other originals? Does it have elements of comedy in it or is it just a straight sci-fi thriller?
Betsy Russell: I haven't seen it. I hope there's elements of everything great. What about you Ben? Have you seen it?
Benito Martinez: Well my complete performance is comedic from beginning to end. I have the subtleties, and I get no eye. There are elements in the script that could be funny. I know that Tripp Reed has a great sense of humor about it. Again, I'm going back to the script and what it was like on the set. I think it will be very well received. I think that the people will enjoy this angle on that magic realism that is wonderful sci-fi. I don't know. I hope and think it will be well received as an original piece because the story hasn't been seen like this before.
Betsy Russell: With us playing the roles.
Question: With the whole viral media craze and the Internet going on, for people who are into that whole thing movies like this are sort of their secret love. Do you think that you'll start to get a fan base from doing this that would mirror that social media, viral media sort of thing?
Benito Martinez: That's crazy; I hope so. I think it's one of these fun things that you can - not - maybe not like a, not like a Saw, which obviously has its own locked in thing. But it's a different thing because it is a different kind of action/adventure. It's almost like a pirate's thing. So yes, I hope so. I hope it does have that explosion -- downloads and different things.
Betsy Russell: Yes, I think we - I think our characters, if they come across the way that they seemed to us when we were doing it, hopefully will be very likable. And you never know who's going to kind of hook into what aspect of each person's character or identify with what. And I heard that the special effects look amazing from one of the actors that saw it. And I heard it's pretty good. So I mean we didn't know with Saw that it was going to be anything. We just thought, "Okay this is cool, let's put it out there." But I just don't think you know who it's going to effect and how it's going to effect until it does. So let's hope for the best.
Question: Benito, how much of your character from The Shield did you bring to Mandrake? Because it sounds like they would both do anything to save their own skin.
Benito Martinez: I resemble that remark. I - very little actually. I mean the character, David Aceveda, he - yes, he would do anything to save his own skin but ultimately he's doing it for the community. Ultimately, he wants to be that figurehead that is the right guy for the right job and builds on that reputation.
This character in Mandrake is not. He's a greedy, rich SOB who will do anything to get his dagger. And really fancies himself as a modern day - I don't know, modern day warrior in so many ways. And he's looking for that ancient connection and that's why he's looking for the dagger. And he's trying to connect the roots and trying to be - somehow time travel and be that conquistador that, you know, that ruled the world. So they're a bit different. I guess they're similar in that they're arrogant -- they have an arrogance about them -- and they're similar in that they both fancy themselves as kind of tough guys in suits as it were. But I think after that, you know, they each have to stand on their own merits.
Question: Betsy, what can fans expect from the special effects on Mandrake, in terms of the Tree Monster thing?
Betsy Russell: I was all ready to answer the question that you just asked Benito. Okay. The special effects; because it's the - there's - I think, from what I've heard because I haven't seen it, and obviously you can't really see it on the page, you just - you're sort of imagining things. So I don't know the answer. I think that they're going to be really great, I hear. And I hope that people love, you know this mandrake and - even though it's killing things and stuff like that, it's got its reasons and got a heart and all that. So yes, I think it's got a lot of cool elements in it, if it's converted.
Question: So when you filmed those scenes was it all blue screen? Or was there somebody in a suit chasing you guys? Like how did that work?
Betsy Russell: There was sometimes for myself there was sort of a branch kind of embracing me.
Benito Martinez: It's comical to watch how it comes together sometimes. There's a guy standing there with a tennis ball at the end of a stick going, "Now follow this. Look up."
Betsy Russell: Yes, exactly.
Benito Martinez: "Now they grab you." And there's nothing there. Other times they put a robe around you.
Betsy Russell: I had to also run from things that just weren't there. I mean sometimes there was a creature chasing me, a real - you know, one of the actors all dressed up and stuff chasing me. And I had to run backwards and fall backwards and other stuff that I'm just - you know, I was like, "Wow." But yes, it's just - I don't know how to explain it because it was really - it was a year ago, wasn't it? It was a while ago. So I'm trying to remember. It was quite the experience though, with the special effects. But not too much of it. You know, we just did the best we could. That's all.
Question: When you filmed the movie were you strict with the script or did you improvise a lot of the scenes? And which which did you find harder?
Benito Martinez: For me I just read the words and I stuck to the script. I didn't have an opportunity, really, to improvise.
Betsy Russell: I was lucky if I could just stick to the script and remember the lines and get the language down and have the earplugs in and try to say the things at the right time. Because there was the shooting; you know how that is. And Benito, I think I jumped over you lines a few times.
It's just trying to get it all out there and be natural and be real and have all these different things happening at the same time. So I might have improvised without really meaning to. But I tried to stick to the script and get it out. So that's basically how that worked -- without getting rained on too much. Or having (unintelligible) the last time we were rained on.
Question: Is there an ultimate dream role you have? Or maybe somebody specific that you would want to work with in the future?
Betsy Russell: Liam Neeson.
Benito Martinez: That's a good question. I would love to do a remake of Requiem for a Heavyweight. Anthony Quinn is my favorite actor. And I just look to what he's done in the past and think about different things and how I could do it or adjust it for me. I'd love to work with George Clooney or - I wonder what that guy - I can't think of his name. This is - and Andy Garcia. I mean those guys are fantastic and they do amazing projects.
Betsy Russell: I'd like to work with Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone -- any great director. Okay, I'll take decent. I'll take a decent director. And I have worked with a lot of fabulous, fabulous directors and great people. And you know, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant -- I think he's funny. Yes, I'm not too picky, one of those wouldn't be too bad. Benito, I'd like to work with him again. He's a great actor.
Benito Martinez: It was fun. I understand. We had a good time. Well when we do Mandrake 2, I have to come back to the - oh, I can't give a spoiler. Do we survive? Do they survive the jungle? Tune in and find out.
Question: Benito, can you talk a bit about like working on the X-Files and Firefly?
Benito Martinez: Oh, my pleasure. I was fortunate, when I saw the X-Files it was one of the best shows out there. And I was like, "Oh, I've got to get on this. I've got to get on this." And I got on there as an orderly. And I got to work with one of the leads - Shelly. And they had just - it was the first episode they did moving from Canada. And so it was a new situation for everybody.
And I just, I hit it off with her, I hit it off with the crew and everybody else. And it was just one of those things where you're like, "Oh my God, pinch me. I cannot believe I'm working on the X-Files." So that was fantastic. But it was very, very top secret. I couldn't - you know, the script, you had to make sure you signed your name for the script and all this other stuff. So that was cool, it was neat.
But the big surprise for me was Firefly. I got called to play this pirate and I went, "Great, fantastic." And I started reading through the script. And I'm kind of peppered throughout, but I'm like - look I mean, "I'm a pirate." I mean, that was good. And as it turns out, you know space pirates stealing a ship and all this other stuff. It was, you know, pretty straight forward. But after it came out I could not believe the amount of attention that I got from it. The - I mean people called me from all over the country, they were huge fans of mine now because I was on this wonderful show that was like no other. So those - that - those two and Star Trek -- I did Star Trek: The Next Generation as Ensign Salazar -- have probably given me the biggest cult followings as far as individual projects that like, I never expected people even knew or that I was in those things.
The funny story on Firefly is that I ruined it for my cousin. He - huge fan of the show, he's watching it religiously, and I show up and he goes, "No, no. You can't be on that show. This is in space, this is another - oh no."
Question: Rhere's this whole, you know now, this 3D craze going on in Hollywood. What would you guys think about if you had the opportunity to do another movie like this, or any other working with 3D and all that.
Benito Martinez: Betsy, what do you think? Don't you think this would have been a great 3D movie?
Betsy Russell: Why not. I think it's great. Saw's coming out in 3D. I don't know if you knew that or not. And so we did just shoot it in 3D so I have a lot of experience with this. And I think it was the first horror movie really shot on 3D, not - we're not converting it.
Benito Martinez: Oh wow.
Betsy Russell: And I would watch it in playback on the big screen with the big TV screen with the glasses and wow, is it just really cool. So I think it's going to be bigger and better than it has been. I know we weren't sure about shooting Saw in 3D and I think Lionsgate and the producers just decided to go for it and end the series with a bang. So it took a lot longer for every setup -- hours and hours -- and the cameras were huge and you really had to factor in everything. And it was quite interesting and the opposite of Mandrake which was moving so quickly.
And it was really something very different for a lot of us. Nobody had taken that long, I don't think ever, to setup a shot before. So it was great though and I think it's going to turn out great. And I think that people that like 3D go to the 3D movies and maybe some that hadn't in the past will like Saw in 3D. And it's something that you either like it or you don't. I've heard people say, "Oh I can't go see 3D, it gives me a headache." You know, but some movies are just sort of meant for that. Look at Avatar and stuff. So I think it's the new generation; why not give them - give the people what they want and...
Benito Martinez: Yes. I think it's not a matter of if, I think it's a matter of when. Shows like this, like Mandrake, that had the action and the tentacles of a tree leaping out or knives being thrown or people running through forests and explosions happening -- that would look really, really cool. And I think that as they're exploring more and more different television - or more and more the different types of televisions, you know. And I know that some people can get a 3D experience in the House.
So I think something like this is going to be just, it's you know, you're going to have the option in the future, more and more to either "Oh Mandrake tonight on 3D or on your regular viewing." You know, it's going to be that because it's going to be that kind of experience. I think right now what they're doing in Hollywood with a lot of these films that weren't made for 3D, or they're putting this 3D thing on it, I think that they're realizing that you can't really, you know fudge it. You have to make a 3D movie. You have to plan for it and that's going to be better than, "Hey look it's - it could be a 3D watch."
Betsy Russell: It really does make you feel when you watch it and it's shot that way, it made me feel that I was in the scene, but I was in that room with those actors in that, you know, with those characters inside that room. So yes, I'm dying to see Saw in 3D - I mean not dying to see it, but you know what I mean -- I'm excited.
Benito Martinez: I'm dying to see it. Oh my god. Well think about it Betsy, I mean we have spears being thrown and knives and explosions and tentacles -- all this stuff could leap out, it would have been amazing. Let's do it again.
Betsy Russell: Yes, let's do it again and now the movie will make so much money because everyone's going to be dying and clamoring for another one. We're going to have to shoot the next one.
Benito Martinez: We have to do it in 3D. We have to.
Betsy Russell: Sure. Yes.
Question: What got the two of you started in acting in the first place?
Betsy Russell: Well I started wanting to be an actress when I was about 8 years old, when I saw myself on some video that my mom had shot. And I was like, "Oh that looks like fun," and "I look cute up there." I swear I remember thinking that, "Oh I look pretty good." And my mom - I have an autistic sister, but severely autistic, she was one of the first diagnosed. She's older than I am and my mom was very unhappy. And it was very tough having somebody live with you that is that severely, you know, in very bad shape, close to death all the time. And my life was very - yes, it was very unusual; we had a lot of people living with us to take care of her around the clock. And because my mother was unhappy a lot, I would kind of break into these, you know, I love Lucy modes. I knew every character and - or I was pretending to be Cher from the Sonny and Cher show or Marlo Thomas.
And I found that that was really a way to cheer her up by playing these other characters and doing these little skits and she'd laugh and she'd say I was so talented and I was so brilliant. And so I remember thinking wow, I like making people laugh and making people happy. And I really almost felt it was that - my responsibility to cheer her up. So I made a decision when I was a little girl that I wanted to be an actress and didn't end up following through with it till the day after high school graduation. I mean I was in high school plays and I took courses, I was in shows down there. But I knew that San Diego wasn't the place to really be a kid actress. So I also made a decision just to wait till I was out of high school and then headed up here to LA and started working. So I was very, very lucky and very passionate and devoted to my craft. I've been doing it for a long time.
Benito Martinez: I wanted to be an actress when I was a little boy as well. It's been very difficult for me.
No, as a child my father had a mariachi group and he said, "You know, if you learn this instrument you can join the group with me." So I started learning about 7-8 years old. And so I joined his mariachi. And then my mom wanted to take acting lessons at the local university, University of Albuquerque, which is where I'm from. And the classes were at night. My father also did his own record distribution business, so he would always be traveling selling records.
And so in lieu of a babysitter, my mom would take us to the theater and we'd watch her classes and we'd watch her you know, rehearse and all that other stuff. So it was a natural segue for the director to say, "Hey, you know, you want your kids in the plays too?" So we kind of all started doing theater as well.
But it wasn't really my thing, you know I was doing the music, I was in marching band and jazz band and the mariachi with my father, and that was really my thing. But then I'd do another play over time, or another play over time and then my mom heard about this - like a Fame high school in Hollywood, California. Well okay, so I applied and I got accepted. So I went - we moved out here, I went to Hollywood High. Spent one year, graduated. I got an agent by Christmas time of my senior year and started working the day after I graduated.
And I hated Hollywood because my whole thing was about theater and I wasn't doing theater work, I was you know, going out for film auditions. And I was just - I just did not get it. So I applied for drama school in Europe and I got accepted to LAMDA, and I did a three-year course there -- which for a non-American is very, very rare. So I did three years at the best drama school in the world, you know, and I came back and thought you know, "I'll be the next Raul Julia and I'll be the star of stage and screen." And everybody's going, "What? What's LAMDA?" I'm like, "What? How can you say that kind of thing?"
So I immediately - not immediately. What I did was I sought out and became a member of theater companies. And I happened to land with two fantastic ones. One was the Educational Theater Company and e had contracts to write and direct and perform shows that were social - about you know, social issues -- aids, or avoiding gangs or teenage pregnancy -- things like that but you know, that were amazing shows. And we took them into the schools, it was part of the Impact program which was to help kids find good counseling for what they need. The shows were amazing. They weren't preachery, they weren't over the top, they weren't vulgar -- they were just well done shows. And we had that - we had the contract for a long time.
The other theater company I was a member of -- and still occasionally help direct for -- is (Ruin) Company, which was a Shakespearian theater company. And I was able to use all my fencing training that I learned from drama school and my Shakespearian training and all this other stuff. And I was helping direct and I was starring; I did Hamlet. And I did all these wonderful things, and we did that on main stage productions in downtown Los Angeles. So I was doing those two for a long, long time and making a decent living and you know, being picky about the films I was doing -- I did Outbreak, I did Mi Familia, I did you know, a handful of different shows like the sci-fi shows and X-Files and stuff like that.
But all the while, I fell in love and got married. And when the second child came along we thought, "These theater companies are really not going to cut it for all these hungry mouths." Like there was a whole bunch -- there's four of us. So I resigned from the theater company. By two months later I was working on the set of NYPD Blue, a couple of months later I'm at a an audition for a pilot called The Barn and another movie called New Suit. I booked both of them, and The Barn turned into The Shield. And I did The Shield for seven seasons. So it was theater, some films and everything else, and then the media transition to television and of course now doing features and everything else. But it was one of those things; I didn't mean to be an actor, but acting was a passion that I had that I was able to see the world and perform all over the world and do all these other things, and still incorporate all my music and all my other skills that I'd learned along the way. So it was pretty crazy. I'm a victim -- I am a victim.
Question: What's the thing that's most different between European teaching for theater and over here?
Benito Martinez: You're not judged if you're doing theater and then doing television and then doing movie. You're considered a working actor because you're working as an actor. And you can do fringe theater and you can do - it's - it is the respect for the craft and the integrity of what it is. So if you're doing fringe and the play you're doing - this is my experience in London. You're doing a fringe a piece and your character is simply just the guy who's holding the doorknob and kind of, you know a hunchback, but you don't say any words or anything else, you still get the same respect and praise for the integrity of your work and your commitment to your project as you would be if you were the lead actor, you know, in Cyrano de Bergerac.
You're no less no matter what you're doing. And I think that was distilled in me in my drama school training. That meant a lot to me -- that still does to this very day. You know, and I'm able to do voiceovers and stage work and film and television and wide variety of different characters because I love to do it; not because of the perception of, "Oh he's doing a play, he must not be doing a movie," which is what happens in LA sometimes.
It varies, you know. I think it varies from around the country. I think in Chicago there's a very big, respected theater community. I think some parts of Miami have it, New York obviously, parts of Texas. And I have to say, you know it's growing in Los Angeles, but it hasn't felt that way.
Question: Would either of you ever be interested in writing or directing?
Benito Martinez: Would you ever be a director Betsy?
Betsy Russell: Oh myself? You know what, I do consider myself very creative, so I would never say never. And I think I could put a - I could do anything well that I put my mind to. So why not?
Benito Martinez: Yes, I like directing -- I really do. But it's a whole different mindset. Because you're part parent, you're part creator, you're part villain, you're part, you know cobbler, I mean you have to do all of these different elements and then be able to make a decision.
When you're the actor you can be very selfish. You can be very into you and your perspective and your perspective - your angle only. So it's a very, very different animal. I love to write, but I'm a great collaborator because I like - I act out the scenes. I act them out; you know, I'm the old lady talking to the little boy. I'm both those people. And I enjoy that when I write. But I do need the collaboration because my mind just keeps, as you probably noticed, it just wanders and wanders and wanders. I do - but I enjoy all aspects of that.
Betsy Russell: Yes, I would definitely consider writing though. In fact that's - I come from a family of writers. And I'm actually - I do have a first draft of a book that I've written. And I have many ideas for TV and movies. And it - you know, it just would have to be somebody sitting me down saying, "I want to write with you," and you know, tell me - I'm not good at making myself, just sitting down - sit down and do it every day.
But if I had somebody to do it with, I think I could really come out with some great things. And my favorite is comedy so I would love to end up doing a comedy or writing a comedy or being any part of a comedy series or a movie someday. I'd love - did a play called It's Just Sexier in LA not too long ago, a comedy. It was sold out all the time. It was the most fun I've ever had. I loved it.
Question: Do either of you have any other projects coming up, besides what you've mentioned?
Betsy Russell: Yes I have a movie called Chain Letter coming out in October -- I think it's going to be on October 1 -- and Mandrake, and Saw 3D coming out.
Benito Martinez: Let's see, I have Lies in Plain Sight, which is coming out next month. That's with me and Rosie Perez. It's a family drama and that'll be on Lifetime television. I also am moving practically back to New Mexico; I'm starring on a feature called Bless Me (Uthima). It will be starting in - next month. And I'll be filming that through, I think January. And that's based on the book by Rudy Anaya - Rudoso Anaya who's a native New Mexican who basically wrote about his childhood. And just a story about a little boy who looks up to his elders, and what it's like to grow up in this rural, very cold, very sometimes harsh community -- just by the elements. Very beautiful well wrote story. So we got the green light and we're going to go do our film in New Mexico. So those are the immediate things coming out.
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