Benito Martinez Interview – THE SHIELD

     August 7, 2008

Written by Matt Goldberg

Maybe it’s because I haven’t see “The Wire” yet but for my money, there’s no crime drama on TV quite as brilliant as “The Shield”. It’s a show that manages to shock its viewers six seasons after its debut but never with a cheap ploy. It’s the disturbing honesty and depth of the characters that continue to hammer the characters. Benito Martinez plays Councilman David Aceveda who had one of the most surprising storylines over the course of the series. Set up as the main antagonist to Michael Chiklis’ shady cop Vic Mackey, the series has seen Aceveda elected, raped, and conspire to commit murder. And yet he’s not an evil man. There are no heroes and villains on the show. Only people. We spoke with Martinez about playing the complex councilman and the show’s final season.

Was there anything you were hoping to see David accomplish before the end of the series?

Benito Martinez: Oh, that’s a good one. Wow, what I wish the audience could see more of was David out there serving the community a bit more in his political arena and how he was able to effect change that way. But, you know, it pales in comparison to what they were able to do. I lack the imagination that the writers have. I really have to say I am very satisfied and complete in the journey that David was.

What were the challenges in bringing your voice to the “The Shield” videogame?

Martinez: You know when you bring your voice to different voiceover things like video games and cartoons, and I do tons of stuff like that in voiceovers and whatnot, it’s very fun and freeing. But when you bring yourself or an image that looks exactly like you on a character it’s very constricting because you’re like that’s not how I would look when I said this line. You have to get over it kind of thing and you really have to say, do I look like that and do I move like that? When they put it all together, you are do I sound like that? It’s very odd because it’s too close to home. The fun part about doing voiceovers and all that stuff is that you’re not yourself; you’re some other looking thing and sounding thing and whatever else. So that is the biggest challenge.

You’ve been on the show for seven years and I was just curious, when it finally wraps are you looking to just do film or do you want to jump back into TV again?

Martinez: You know, we were lucky, I would love to do TV again and I’ve already done a guest spot on a couple of different shows, we were lucky to not have the bump and grind of all year long on a show, so we’re not burnt out in that regard as far as the series. It’s like we made a movie every year because we did 13 episodes for about five months. That’s generally if you have a great role in a movie you’re going to work about five months, so we made a movie every year kind of feel to it. I’m ready to do the bump and grind of a big series, long series and long hours, and stuff like that because I’m not burnt out from it. Of course, great film roles they always take you to another place. I’d love to do more of that, but I keep doing lots of voiceovers, some TV spots, and some film roles have come along, so I’m okay. I’m happy with the way it’s kind of shaping itself up. I’d love to do more theater, but that’s always a difficult thing to do for timing.

What has surprised you most about David’s transformation over the course of the series?

Martinez:When I first got the guy, got the role and everything else, I thought, and this is the fun part about taking everything from your own character’s perspective, but I thought the show was about me, and it was going to be about David’s personal life, it was going to be about his accomplishments, what a good guy he is, what a great leader he is, and I always saw the show from that angle. One side of my brain said, no, it’s not; it’s something else. The other part of me always said, it’s my story; it’s my journey. As it unfolded and the complications got thrown in there about different things for David, making misssteps and the time that David stole the kid’s bike because he thought he was doing the right thing, they showed a lot of wonderful aspects about human nature, in all the characters, but I really loved the way they played it in David because—and I said they, the writers, came up with these wonderful ideas. You never see this stuff with these well-polished political figures on TV. You never see the little quirks and the little mistakes that they make, and the little blemishes that they may have. By writing a whole show about it on ours you really get the sense of who they are, their whole life, the complete person. Yet, at the same time, we as people, in this case our characters, struggle as hell to hide those blemishes to make sure no one sees our flaws. They really did a great job, and I think they had a blast doing that.

Now that the show is entering it’s final season, how do you think The Shield has changed the nature of the crime drama?

Martinez: The nature of the crime drama? I don’t know if it will have changed it greatly, to be honest. I think that the biggest effect will be, and it’s still lasting today, is being able to produce quality work on extended cable. We kind of kicked open those doors and said that you can have quality drama on other than HBO or network. FX has continued along those lines with wonderful dramas and now the most recent one is Damages and Sons of Anarchy starting up in the fall. The Closer and Saving Grace, and the names escape me right now, but a whole slew of just wonderful shows. Is it AMC or is it A&E that just has Mad Men, you have these wonderful shows that would not be picked up on network. They just wouldn’t. I think that’s where our legacy will be made, that we were able to mine this new territory successfully and really open up a quality vein in the industry.

Are you pretty satisfied with the conclusion for the show?

Martinez: Yes, every time I talk about The Shield I kind of talk about it from three perspectives, as if I’m three people, because I’m a fan of the show. I’m in love with all the other characters and their journeys and their work. But then as an actor, I love getting this kind of rich material and having to do it. As my character, did my journey finish? On all of those levels, I have to tell you that Season 7 satisfies me completely. It’s just one of those wow moments and I just hope that everybody enjoys it as much as we enjoyed putting it together, and how proud we are with what they’re waiting to see.

Over the season, do you find that you had fun moments and difficult moments, and if so, what have been the most fun and difficult to record?

Martinez: The most difficult to record, you know I had a journey where I suffered an attack and a rape sequence and then you go through the psychological drama. What is fascinating to me is that there is a sense of guilt that that happened that I carried as an actor, and a sense of protection because you always knew that somebody might find out kind of quality that spilled over into every day life. People would see me, “Oh, wow I love that show. You’re that captain.” You kind of go, “Oh good, they didn’t remember it.” And then they go, “Oh, and you got raped!” Okay, so now you know too. You know that they know because they’re the audience, and they’ve been watching all along and stuff like that, but it was very, very difficult, and it’s one of those things that you know it furthered the journey of the character and the storyline and everything else. It wasn’t gratuitous. It made sense as far as what that world that we created was. But it was hugely, incredibly difficult, and then telling my wife, that scene was incredibly difficult, and then dealing with the prostitute and kicking … out of my life and putting the gun in her mouth, and that whole different thing. A lot of psychological stuff happened, and you had to journey through this mine field and separate yourself as the actor and the character, but you know you’ve really got to go there. So those things were incredibly difficult.

All in all the fun things that I take with me, the most memorable, it felt like the best theater troupe that you’d ever seen. We kind of traveled along this road, we may not have left from town to town, but we went all over this town, the best neighborhoods to the worst—mostly the worst and back again to our lovely barn. We were supportive of each other. We’d stand in the wings and watch the others shine when it was their moment. We knew when to be the spear-carrier and when to take our big soliloquy center stage. It was fantastic in that regard. I look around, and I go, that I’ll miss. That was the most pleasurable part of it. Lastly, not only the wonderful actors I worked with, but the incredible directors and writers that we had a chance to dance with along the way. They always came with enthusiasm and high expectations. You can’t beat that. It wasn’t just a regular job. It was something special. We knew it, and they knew it, and it always felt that way.

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Are we going to see like a definitive closure to Terry’s death by the time the season ends?

Martinez: Oh, I’d like to answer that but as with all things there are still huge arguments on whether or not that was a good thing or a bad thing that Vic Mackey did. I don’t want to answer that in a way that might hedge somebody’s perspective of what’s about to come, but we do deal with it in a major way. I’ll say that.

It’s one of those things that I kind of go, well, if I tell you, you’re not going to be happy, because you’re going to expect something …, all it is that there are some things that do get closed and some things that don’t. You’ll be surprised at the things that do get closed, and you’ll be surprised at the things that don’t. I think you’ll be satisfied in the whole arc of all the characters and their collision course that started seven years ago and how we are spiraling away from that and continuing to move away from that big bang. We’re affected, we’ve changed; all of us have gone through a growth. I’m so close to saying things I probably shouldn’t. I hope that answers that question.

A couple of the show’s directors have said that “The Shield” finale is what “The Sopranos” finale should have been. Would you agree with that?

Martinez: I’ll say this about The Sopranos finale, I think they did a brilliant job of creating a finale that people will talk about for the rest of TV history. I think that’s what their goal was. For us, we did something different. We started out; we made a book. I always compare it to a book. We had rich characters, some died along the way, but when you finish a good book you know that you’ve got closure, at least in some parts. You know you have some hope maybe for somebody or one of the characters in the future. That’s what we did; we wrote a good book, and it has a nice final chapter.

Can you talk a little bit about filming the final episodes or maybe the last few days on the set what the mood was like, and just kind of how people were, I guess, just coming to terms with the fact that this was kind of the end of the series?

Martinez: We have such a large cast that we were doing little bits and pieces, I’m talking about the last couple of episodes, that we kind of were seeing each other in the hallways and in passing, going “Did you finish your last scene on this? Oh, wow, we’ve only got one more episode.” We started realizing about this ending only towards the very end. Then, this being a business, we got a shocking reminder when the writers went on strike. We got our final script like the Friday before the Monday the writers went on strike. We read it. We had the table read. We all sat there. We read it. We cried. We had a great time, and we looked around and said, “This is fantastic. I hope this strike doesn’t happen.”

Monday started and our leader, Shawn Ryan, was gone, the guy who has always been there as a support and a wonderful guide, so that last episode was hard. But, on the other side of that, we had Clark Johnson, who directed the pilot for us and we were by that point a very well oiled machine. We were doing it to the best of our quality, there was just a sadness because some people were unemployed and some people were fighting this well deserved battle about their rights and their contracts and stuff like that.

So, it was murky waters to say the least. On the last couple of days we ran long, so we had a wrap party before we actually finished filming. We finished filming on a Monday, but we had the wrap party the Saturday before. There were little bits of stuttering to an end, not a big ending for us as far as filming and putting down the cameras, and walking away and saying “Well, that’s it.” It really helped ease the blow because it was very emotional for most of us to put these characters to bed and to finish this journey, and to do it in the middle of a strike, and our boss was one of the guys leading the strike. It was hard. It was tough. We really had to lean on each other a lot and the director a lot and the crew a lot. It was very effecting. That’s kind of the tone of what it was like getting that last script during the last two episodes. We never really ended with a big tah-dah. It was more like we’re done now, and the whole city was shut down. It was like, Okay, now the waiting is over. The strike is over. It’s going to come out in September. So, now we’re all coming back out of the woodwork going, “Hey, how have you been? I’m dying to see what happens.” I don’t know, kind of like that.

Do you feel like it was really the right time to end the show? It seems like it was really going strong. I’m not sure why the decision was made to end it, but do you feel like it’s really the time to kind of wrap up and close out on the story?

Martinez: Easily the show could have gone two more seasons, we had plenty of material left. We had plenty of story, and characters, and richness, and the writers still had barely scratched the surface of most of the stories they wanted to pitch. There is always room to grow when you have characters this rich. However, when we got to about the third or fourth season we all talked about it and said it would be good not to peter out like NYPD Blue did. It kind of kept going and ended somewhere. We knew that we wanted the chance to have an ending, especially Shawn, the creator, he said, “If we’re going to have an ending, let me know the season before you cancel us and I’ll make sure that’s our ending season.”

When we started the season, we were like oh come on, this can’t be the last. Then the scripts started coming in, and we started getting these scripts with closure. We went, oh, this is good. We thought, yes, it feels right. It is time to close this and move on. So a little bit of both, we didn’t want to but then we realized it’s better for the show, a better choice than to let it linger a little bit longer.

Are David and Vic still in alliance at the beginning of Season 7 and how do you hope that will play out?

Martinez: Yes, they’re still in alliance, but it gets very complicated very fast. David and Vic are always two sides to the same coin because they want their own mission accomplished. They want the other one to serve them. They’re always at odds going, “I’ll help you but you’ve got to take care of my thing.” True to form, these two guys say, “Yes, we’re going to help each other out. Oh, by the way, let’s do my thing first.” They go, “Okay, but let’s do this thing first and then your thing.” We do that fast. It falls apart real quick, wheels fall off, and mayhem ensues. Yes, we do start off together, but we don’t last together very long.

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