Interview with Juan Carlos Martín

  • Why did you become an actor? How was the beginning of your career?
Well, I started playing theater when I was eight because my father used to take me to a theatre class at the cultural centre, and I kept on. When I was sixteen I formed a theatre group, we went to festivals and after a while I had my first audition for a musical and I got the role. I’ve always said there was a series of coincidences or causalities because I had an audition and I got a role, I made an audition in the Circle of Arts to do “Death of a Salesman” and I got another role, suddenly I get called to do my military service, which got in the middle of all my plans because back then it lasted two years. Finally I didn’t have to do it and I do an audition for another play where Concha Velasco sees me and hires me for “Mamá Quiero Ser Artista”, and I’ve been the last thirty years working as an actor or things related to my profession. Some years have been better than others but I’ve never had to work on anything else, and I hope it goes on like this for another thirty years. Truth is everything came in order, I don’t know what would have happened if anything got in the way.
I was lucky with the military service, having to disappear for two years after you are starting to get noticed would have been terrible, but fortunately that didn’t happen.
  • Even though you have worked on films and television, most of your career has been developed in theatre plays, can we say you prefer the stage to the screen?
I like everything, I try to have fun in every media. I’ve worked mostly on theatre and television, just on a few films, I’ve even worked on the circus and I always try to have fun. I do think theatre is the natural medium for an actor, there are no tricks, it’s you and the public. Sometimes you have help from the scenography and sometimes you don’t, so theatre is where an actor is on his own. It’s on the stage where you feel like an actor, but I can´t say what I like the most, it depends on the play, the TV show, the film, the people you work with, etc. But I always try to have fun and enjoy.
  • You also play the saxophone, you can sing, and you’ve worked on several musicals along the years.
Well, I kind of play the saxophone. I had to play it in a musical I did in Barcelona, “Mortadelo and Filemon” because I had the brilliant idea of telling the director I could play it and I ended up playing live. It was very funny, people never believed it was live music, which on one hand is great because it means it sounded good, but on the other hand is a pity because they don’t appreciate your effort. I do sing, I’ve worked on seventeen musicals, I got my first role in a musical and then I spent ten years working only on musicals. And because life is the way it is, back then I wanted to do drama, and I spent four or five years doing that and I started missing musicals. To me singing, playing the saxophone and dancing are part of my job as an actor, I believe in this profession the more you know the better.
  • Would you like to work full time in the music business sometime in the future?
No, I’ve done several musicals, I’ve sung a lot in television and I’ve done operettas, but the word “singer” is too big for me. I’d never say I’m a singer, and the same happens with “musician”, I can play the saxophone but I can’t give concerts, I’m not prepared to do that. You can never be sure, tomorrow you record a CD and who knows, I can’t really say no, but I don’t see it as an actual possibility.
For example, a long time ago I got a call from a producer I was friends with to record a CD with several other people, something for the summer. We recorded it and it worked ok in Spain, but in Mexico it was a huge hit and they wanted to put a face in the cover, they offered me to form a group but I said no, I was focused on my theatre work and didn’t see myself doing that, so other people did it. If I had said yes I might have become some sort of Ricky Martin, you never know.
  • You are also a writer and a director, how did you get started?
Writing was something I really wanted to do, but I also believe it came from the years I was with my theatre group. The first play I made with my group was a musical I wrote, back then I couldn’t make Beauty and the Beast, I couldn’t pay for the rights to make a play so I wrote the text and a friend made the music. When I worked on television I wrote my own scripts, not in series, but in other kind of programs I wrote my own material. I’ve always liked writing.
I also directed the theatre group but I believe directing is something that comes with the profession, you start to see that you can contribute a bit, that you are not worse than others, you ask yourself why not and all that you need is to find the right project. The first play I directed on a professional level was a musical for kids I also wrote, it opened on 2010 and we have been doing it for four years. The same production company asked me to do another play the following year and later I directed a musical about Elvis Presley in Barcelona, that is how I got started. It also has to do with the fact that I enjoy anything related to my work, I don’t care what it is, I enjoy everything. It’s true there is something about directing I do not like: once the play premieres, it’s no longer yours and that makes me feel somehow empty. That is something I’ve never experienced as an actor because once the director leaves is when you really start working. When you direct is the opposite, the play premieres and you don’t actually abandon the play. You still go to observe and correct things, but the play is out of your hands, is no longer yours, it belongs to the actors and as an actor sometimes I feel sad I can’t play a part, I want to do everything.
It’s also interesting because when I write a play I think how I would do it, by the end all the characters have a part from me, I could play any of the roles I write, but that’s not possible.
  • Don’t you ever think about how you would play a role? Is it hard to accept the way other actor is doing it?
Yes, it is hard to make the actors see your intention, and because I’m the one who writes the play they can’t talk about what the author meant or anything like that. It is my vision and it’s hard to make other people understand what you want, and sometimes there are moments where you are watching the play and feel like getting on the stage to say “this is how it’s done”. You can’t do that because is something I don’t want to be done to me as an actor, I want to understand why things are the way they are. When I direct I try to make the actors see why things have to be like they are, I don’t want them to do something just because they are told to, as an actor I don’t accept that and it would be unfair to do it as a director.
  • Lately you have worked in children’s theatre, is it hard to make plays that keep children entertained?
Yes, I’ve written and directed four or five theatre plays for kids in the last few years, as an actor I’ve only done two plays for kids in all my career and the last one was in 1988. It’s very hard, I try to write for the parents and make the scenography interesting for the kids so that the way of telling the story is attractive for the children while the humor entertains the parents, I don’t want the kids to be only ones who have fun. That is also one of my fears, kids are not shy, if they like the play they will get up and jump and if they don’t they won’t stay quiet, they will get out of the room, etc. It’s very hard to keep kid’s attention for sixty or seventy minutes, which is the usual run of a children’s spectacle. So far we have been able to do it, and we hope to keep it that way. The key is to find a balance, to create a show more or less for adults, a familiar show; I prefer that term to kid’s theatre because the ones who attend are the families, not just the kids.
  • Do you think is important to include some didactic element in a children’s play?
I believe theatre has to be fun for the kid, an adventure… if you want the child to enjoy theatre and not feel like it’s an obligation the play can’t be a continuation from school. I depends a lot on the projects, I always try not to teach per se, but to leave some kind of feeling, not a lesson, but an homage to family, friendship, mother nature, etc., depends on the plot of the play. Something interesting happened to me, the play that has been working for four years is called “Sherlock Homes y el Caso de la Risa Secuestrada” ( Sherlock and the kidnapped laugh case), I took a famous character created for adults, I wrote an adventure for him and the kids love it. Two years later I was asked to write a more didactic play and I wrote “Adión Don Colesterol” (Goodbye Mr. Cholesterol), is a fun adventure, Mr. Cholesterol wants to get inside a school to teach kids to eat unhealthy things and get fat, and a tomato and a lettuce fight him and manage to make kids eat healthy meals. What is the problem we have had with this play? That even though the play is really fun and the day it opened it worked much better than Sherlock, people read “Adiós Don Colesterol” and think is going to be a speech about eating habits and it hasn’t worked as well as “Sherlock Holmes”. If we had called it My Friend the Tomato or something else things may have been different, but because it is called “Adiós Don Colesterol” people assume it’s boring.. Then there is another market, the exquisite one, that has things like “Lorca for children” and that is ok, but Sherlock has been tagged as commercial like that is a bad thing. It’s hard to find the right balance.
  • What do you think of initiatives to bring people back to the theatre like micro-theatre? Do you believe they can work?
This October I’m going to direct a micro-theatre play and I’m really happy about it, I think is a great idea but is being abused and distorted. Nowadays any place can be used as a micro-theatre, my bathroom could be used as a micro-theatre and I don’t know if that is really helpful for theatre. There is also some kind of feedback in which the only ones who get some benefits are the theatre rooms and the actors who get to work on something, most spectacles feed themselves with friends. I appear in a play, ask you to come, you pay three or five Euros because I asked you to come, and once I run out of friends, after a month or so, the play ends (there are some exceptions that do work and can become bigger plays). My friends have paid the whole play, is like they had given me the three Euros but in this case the people in charge of the room keep one and a half. I think is a good option, but is not the solution to the problems theatre faces.
  • Few months ago you worked on the filming of “Tres Días en Pedro Bernardo”, directed by Daniel Andrés, can you talk about your role in the film?
I got a call from the director because he has been following my career for several years and wanted me to have a role in the film. I said yes and we made a very low budget film financed by the director himself, he had the support of the town but he got the money on his own. The cast is very small, several actors came only for one day but the main cast was formed by five people or so. The film is a tribute to the director’s village, Pedro Bernardo, and the story is about a film director that became really successful and years later he goes back to the village because he is going to receive an award. There he meets again with his two best friends, I’m one of them, and somehow things from the past come forward once again, jealousies, resentments… he also sees his first love… I compare it with Garci’s “Begin the Beguine”, it has that quiet environment, it doesn’t tell a big story, is about regular human beings and their behavior, their relationships.
Is not a very important role, none of them is besides the main character played by Nacho Novo, but it’s a beautiful character because it’s about how years affect a friendship, how they damage it.
  • One more question, where can we find you in the future?
I’m rehearsing a play that still has no opening date because is a personal project with Juan Carlos Plaza, he is the best theatre director, it is a very interesting play and demands a lot from an actor, we will start rehearsals the second week of September. I also have the micro-theatre play in October, I’ll probably direct a musical about the Chicken Turuleca in the Fonseca Theatre, we are negotiating it right now and will have an answer in fifteen days or so. Next March I’ll be an assistant director in a musical tribute to José Martí, the Cuban poet, that will have the collaboration of Andy García and will open on Canal, so this November we will have auditions and the rehearsals will start in January. I also have another film but I still don’t know when we will start filming, is called “Call TV” and it will be directed by Norberto Ramos, is a very funny movie and I’m sure I’ll have a great time during the filming.

Thank you for talking to us.

Almudena MP
Review: Pilar Colomo