Yara Martinez was born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, Florida. Prior to her acting career, she practiced ballet for ten years. She began acting on television with guest-starring roles. In 2007, Martinez was cast in a supporting role in the film “The Hitcher.” She later returned to television and had a number of guest-starring and recurring roles on TV series such as “Southland,” “The Lying Game,” “Vanished,” “The Unit,” “Breakout Kings,” “Nashville,” “Criminal Minds,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Alpha House,” “Jane the Virgin,” “True Detective,” “The Tick” and “I Love Dick,” among many others, and more recently, “Deputy” and “Bull,” where she is a series regular.
Tara Karajica talks to Yara Martinez about her latest film, “Huracán,” directed by Cassius Corrigan and out in UK cinemas now, Latinx representation in entertainment, women in film and some of her most impactful roles.
What made you want to become an actress?
Yara Martinez: My great aunt was the founder of Cuba’s National Ballet and a Prima Ballerina and I grew up idolizing her. My family was also very involved in Arts, so I thought I was going to be a dancer. Then, I took an acting class at this dance program to help me with interpreting the classical characters of ballet. Once I took that acting class, I realized I wanted to be an actor and not a dancer. So, through dance, I discovered acting.
How did you get on board Huracán?
Y.M.: I grew up in Miami and the film takes place in Miami. I’m friends with Diomedes Bermudez, who is one of the producers on the film, and he reached out to me and spoke really highly of Cassius [Corrigan] and him and I have always wanted to work together, so he introduced me to Cassius through Zoom. I just really wanted to work on a project, first of all, that was in Miami, with a Miami crew and then, Cassius, the writer, director and lead was so passionate. This passion was really contagious and inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. I also wanted to support artists in Miami and film something in Miami. That was really the thing that drew me to it.
There’s a thin line between patient and doctor depicted in the film, and Isabela also has mental illness in her family, which is the main theme of the film. Can you talk about Isabela in the context of this duality?
Y.M.: Her brother suffered from mental illness and that’s something that haunts her. She’s a therapist that started using this technique called EMDR to help people with trauma and that’s what she ends up using on Cassius’s character. When he wrote the film, Cassius had worked and spoken with this therapist in Miami that actually uses EMDR, Judi Pasos, and she helped me. She spoke to me a lot about what it’s like doing that with a patient. Of course, the film takes some liberties because it’s a thriller, so the lines really do get blurred. They were initially going to get more blurred and I had a talk with Cassius and was like: “We can’t do that because that’s going to totally discredit this poor woman!” But I think he did a really good job in finding that balance. There’s a scene in the kitchen, where you kind of really don’t know where it’s going to go with me and him. And then, I think having the ghost of my brother there gives some forgiveness to everything – without giving too much away!
How did you prepare for this role, apart from talking to Judi?
Y.M.: I did not have that much time to prepare for it! The first thing was memorizing the lines and then, just talking to Judi a lot. Weirdly enough, I played a character on CSI: Miami that actually has the therapy done to her, so I was already kind of familiar with what it is that it does physically. I thought: “That’s random! Who gets to play a character that has that technique done to them and now the therapist is doing it to someone?!” I spoke to Judi a lot, relied on Cassius and did the YouTube research of seeing this done. We shot my part in ten days and I think I had five days to prep for it. And then, the emotional stuff, that’s easier for me to delve into as an actor because you can imagine having a brother with mental illness. You can imagine loss. You can imagine death. You either know it or you can imagine it.
The film is an ode to Latin American talent behind and in front of the camera in terms of representation, inclusion and diversity. And, it’s also filmed in Miami. Can you comment on that?
Y.M.: Yes, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it – just to be able to have such strong representation in front of the camera and behind it. It was amazing to be in a film in my hometown, with a crew that was so diverse, so great, so professional and so talented. And, I think Cassius and our D.o.P., Mike [McGowan], did a really amazing job capturing the feel of Miami. Usually, when people show Miami, it’s the dance clubs, the ocean drive, the mojitos… And, I really love the vast shots of Miami with people riding bikes around, really getting to see a different side of Miami and its different colors. And then, also having that representation. Everybody in front of the camera was really diverse and that was something I definitely wanted to be a part of.
What is your favorite role that you have played so far, your dream role and one that has changed you and your worldview irrevocably?
Y.M.: I think it changes constantly. My favorite role – I think I would have to say Luisa Alver from Jane the Virgin because not only was it so much fun and such a delight to play, but also such a shift in my career. My character was supposed to die and Jennie [Snyder Urman], the creator, ended up writing for me. She ended up not killing me. It was the first time that I had a female showrunner and the star was a woman. I’ve been very lucky – I’ve worked with some excellent, excellent men and showrunners, but still, having the head honchos be women provides a different energy on set that I had never experienced and that was really wonderful. And then, also seeing how the fans reacted to the character and having LGBTQ representation because Luisa’s gay. Seeing the effect that had on people and Latinas and Latinx people really, really getting to see proper representation and being able to see themselves on screen – I felt the impact that that had.
I’ve had so many roles. One of the first films, which I was way too young to watch, but I was like: “Wow! I want to do that!” was Sybil. It’s horrible! My mom let me watch that when I was really young. She has thirteen multiple personalities and it’s horrible what her mom does to her, but as young kid, I was like: “I want to play someone with all those personalities!” because as a kid I wanted to be a bunch of different people. But recently, I have just finished watching Lovecraft Country. Oh my Gosh! It’s unbelievable! The roles for all the women on that show are just unbelievable, so a dream role would be something I never thought I’d be into – the horror, sci-fi genre. And, any Almodóvar woman. I would love, love, love to be any Almodóvar woman.
I would say Luisa, not so much that the character changed me, but the experience changed me, just seeing how a character and a TV show can have such a positive effect on people. Because when I started acting, it was essentially because I wanted to feel less alone, to make other people feel less alone, and to feel the human connection. But that can get really lost when you’re just like: “I want to make a living.” All of that, all of a sudden, becomes survival: “Am I going to be an actor? Am I not?” And you forget about that – not that you forget, but the more immediate need is being able to make a living, so having that journey and not even knowing if you’re going to work and then getting to be part of this amazing show and also getting to see that Art can still have an effect on people, that Art can really make us feel less alone, that Art is necessary. That experience, more than the Luisa character, really changed me and made me feel more confident as an actor in this industry.
Do you manage to dissociate yourself from your own persona in order to play someone else?
Y.M.: No, I kind of use myself more. For some things, obviously, you use imagination, but I always try to find an “as if.” I kind of break down the character: “This is the situation. What’s it like as if it were me dealing with… ?” I find something in my life or something through my imagination that would make me connect to the character and the situation that they’re in. I don’t get away from me entirely. I try to find what things are similar with the character and then, I just use my imagination to connect to the character, to fill in the gaps, but it’s never one or the other; it’s kind of a hybrid.
There has been so much talk about women in film in the last three years. What is your take on the matter? Do you see any change?
Y.M.: You’re right! There’s been so much talk about women in film in the last three years, but women have been around and working in film forever! But in the last three years, they’re like: “Oh! There are women!” I’m very excited about it. I think it’s a necessary conversation. I will say that I think that one of the things that I’ve noticed in my life is that I started getting more work and better roles when I was in my thirties, which in my twenties I was really terrified. I thought for sure I wasn’t going to be working past thirty because in Hollywood, that’s it, you’re done and especially if you didn’t have a break. And then, the fact that there are more women – not enough – behind the camera, showrunning, involved as executives, I think I owe a lot of my career to it because I don’t think that would’ve happened twenty years ago. I would’ve had a career, but the fact that there are more women in charge allows for more opportunities for women in front of the camera that are older. I have a lot of hope and faith that more women will get into more empowering positions and I think that’ll just provide more diversity in front of the camera, which is necessary, and better storytelling, better sets…
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and someone that you would love to work with? And, a favorite film by a female filmmaker?
Y.M.: Yes! I love Andrea Arnold and I worked with her briefly on I Love Dick, but not enough. I would absolutely love to work on a film with Andrea Arnold, a film that she writes and directs. I know that she did Big Little Lies, but something that’s purely her vision. And, I think I would have to say, honestly, the dream would be to work with a female filmmaker whose story it is, where there’s no studio or anything that would get in the way of their vision, so I guess someone that’s allowed to really explore their vision. Andrea Arnold would be an absolute dream to be able to be an instrument for her work. And then, the film called Girl Friends by Claudia Weill in which Melanie Mayron stars. She was actually one of the directors on Jane the Virgin. It’s about this young woman trying to live her best life in 1970s’ New York. I keep thinking about this film because it feels almost like it’s done today and it’s a story that completely resonated with me. I think people think of Woody Allen when they think of this humor, and this is, in my opinion, way better and I’m just surprised people don’t know it. I can’t recommend it enough!
Times are uncertain right now, but are you working on something for when times are better?
Y.M.: I’m actually working now. I’m in New York, shooting the TV show Bull. I’m a series regular now. I was going on a hike in Los Angeles and Glenn [Gordon Caron], the showrunner, called me and asked me if I would do it and I was like: “Of course!” It’s so crazy to be during Covid and to get a job offer. I was very grateful. The set is super safe. Production’s doing an amazing job and they’re obviously following protocol. They’ve been really on top of it, so I’m grateful and just excited to be working.