EXCLUSIVE: ‘American Crime’ Star Benito Martinez on Playing a Wide Range of Latino Characters on TV

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For most of his 15 year career in Hollywood, Benito Martinez has managed to avoid playing stereotypical Latino characters on television. Instead, the Mexican character actor has played three-dimensional Latino characters, like ambitious police Captain David Aceveda on FX’s hit show The Shield; undercover CIA agent Luis Torres on Sons of Anarchy and most recently, Republican Senator Hector Mendoza on Netflix’s hit series, House of Cards. And on his new show, ABC’s American Crime — from Oscar-winning writer John Ridley — Martinez is playing yet another complex Latino character — a dedicated single father (and widower) with a strict moral code, who’s trying to keep his two teenage kids outside of a gang environment.

With all of these great roles under his belt, we asked Martinez whether he intentionally stays away from stereotypical characters in favor of roles that depict Latinos as successful and driven, or if its just worked out that way.

“Kind of both,” Martinez tells EXCLUSIVLee.com. “Here’s the thing for me: In portraying Latino characters, if you look at our neighborhoods, we are all of those things: We’re the shopkeeper; we’re the gang member on the corner; some neighborhoods are riddled with illegal aliens; some of them {have} no illegal aliens. And {in some neighborhoods} they don’t even speak Spanish in the houseWe have all of these different elements,” explains Martinez.10991350_929274783771939_2461855510046659500_nSo what does Martinez look for in a character?

“I’m looking for the three-dimensional: What do they do when they get up in the morning? How are their relationships with other people? Because in my world, in my understanding, their relationships aren’t just confined to other Latinos in their world — they have to go to the store, they have a black neighbor, they have an Asian mailman — they live within the world. And my hope is to always show these guys in their fullness, in the world that they really live in,” he adds.

Despite all of the ambitious and successful Latinos he’s played on the small screen, Martinez says he has no problem whatsoever playing roles that may be considered “stereotypical.”

“There are times where I’ve actually tried to be the hard core cholo {and} I love that element!” Martinez says with a laugh. “I did Graceland and I played the head of a Mexican Cartel — I was this ruthless, cigar-chomping badass {and} I love playing those roles! The game for me is playing great roles and I’m very fortunate that people have relied on me to play these intricate characters and given me great arcs and I run with thatI come from the stage— from doing Hamlet and Richard III and all of these complicated characters.”

And speaking of complicated characters, Martinez says he’s having a great time playing the role of ailing single dad Alonzo Gutierrez on American Crime — a guy who has lost the love of his life.

“He lost his wife, his partner, his sounding board, his good advice council — so he’s having to figure out all of this stuff on his own and it’s a really tough world out there,” Martinez says of his character. “In my imagination, the most incredible wife ever would’ve been there with him to say, ‘Look, Alonzo, maybe you’re being a little too rough.’ But he doesn’t have that,” says Martinez.

American Crime airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC.

Photo courtesy of Facebook 

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About Author

Lee Hernandez is a writer, editor and executive producer. Lee has been the Deputy Editor of Latina Magazine; Editor of Latino Voices at the Pulitzer-Prize winning site The Huffington Post and a breaking news contributor to dozens of leading sites and magazines, including the best-in-class celebrity site PEOPLE.com; Cosmopolitan for Latinas magazine, AOL.com, The Wrap, HollywoodLife, Celebuzz, The New York Daily News and Fox News Latino.