Exclusive interview with actor A Martinez star of Far Haven, Longmire, and more.

An ‘A’ for Effort—A Martinez Brings a Unique Quality to Every Role He Plays
By Henry C. Parke

“You know I was not their first choice, right?” In 1971, when he read for the part of Cimarron, the “mistake of nature” who would join John Wayne and ten other lads in The Cowboys, A Martinez was hopeful. “I tried out, and they said ‘no.’ My agent said, ‘Sorry.’ And then he called me a week later. ‘Hey, the kid they cast can’t ride the horse!’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, this is gonna happen!’ Then he calls me again. ‘No, they gave it to another kid, so you didn’t get it twice.’ And [then] that kid got thrown in jail, so they gave it to me. So, I always remembered that, even though that was a great break for me, it was not like they were falling all over themselves to gimme that.”

In September of 2022, I was speaking with A Martinez in the stable at Mescal, the Western movie town just outside of Tucson, where he was playing a blacksmith with a mysterious past in Far Haven—a new Western from Imagicomm Entertainment and INSP Films.. And it was nice for him to be back in Tucson, where his film career began.

A Martinez in Far HavenGrowing up in Glendale, California, A was 12 when he entered a talent contest at the Hollywood Bowl. “I did a Harry Belafonte song, and my mom sewed me a satin Harry Belafonte shirt. And I won. My teacher put on abbreviated versions of Broadway musicals. In seventh grade I was cast as the Prince in The King and I. At the end, the King is dying upstage, tended by Anna, and the Prince is downstage telling the kingdom, the audience, that there’s going to be more justice in the kingdom. At the end of this play, there’s silence, and I’m thinking, uh-oh, that’s bad. And then boom, the place erupted! The feeling of that, I’ll never forget. And then my Uncle Eddy, the baddest-ass guy I knew, came backstage. I could tell that he’d been crying, and I thought, holy cow, I did something to make a man like that feel that: that was where the hook went in.”

His first film role came in 1968. “I was in a UCLA acting class. We did improvisations called jumps. Somebody wants something, and (you) won’t give it to him, so now you have conflict, drama. The day that casting director Fred Roos was up in the rafters watching, three of my classmates jumped me, so he got to see me work a lot. Afterwards he says, ‘Hey, there’s a director making this movie and looking for someone like you.’ I’m thinking, this can’t be real. But it was: Maury Dexter was directing The Young Animals, with Tom Nardini (Jackson Two-Bears in Cat Ballou) and Patty McCormack—she was the Bad Seed when she was a little girl.”

While American International Pictures promoted it as a hot-rod/juvenile delinquent picture, the Tucson-filmed movie was about Mexican-American high schoolers trying to get a racist coach fired. “I loved doing it. All the people were good in it, and so few went on to do anything else. It seems ridiculous that I was lucky enough to actually get traction off of this. But I did.”

Over the next three years, Martinez appeared on adventure shows like Mannix, Ironsides, Mission: Impossible, and Westerns like The Outcasts and Bonanza. Then he was cast in The Cowboys. “My dad had two favorites: Cantinflas, the Mexican comedian, and John Wayne, so we’d see every John Wayne movie at the drive-in. We boys would always fall asleep on the way home. So, they made us wear our pajamas. Now you’re in the movie, but you’ve got to go into the snack bar, in pajamas; you’re praying nobody from school sees you. I gotta say, when I met John Wayne, I just felt like a little kid in my pajamas. Because he’s so much bigger than life. He was nice to me. He was big.”

A Martinez doesn’t make his confident—or arrogant—entrance in The Cowboys for nearly a half hour. To be hired, each boy must stay on a rogue horse named Crazy Alice for a count of ten. A’s control of the horse leaves the other boys stunned. But A was no equestrian. “I didn’t know from horses, but I spent six weeks with Red Burns. He had coached a lot of movie stars. He was wise. Had a lot of things to say beyond the work, to sort of get your mind right. When we went on location, my character did not start for the first two weeks, so I was out there with Red Burns and my horse, and I got dialed in real good.”

A Martinez in The Cowboys“To be around those actors! [From] Colleen Dewhurst, I learned the power of silence. You’d say something, and she’d size you up, especially if it was a wound. She’d spin it into something else and come back. She took her time. And Roscoe Lee Brown, and Bruce (Dern) in particular. He was the first guy I ever saw take the words off the page and turn it into something else, that’s not the script. I’m looking at (Director Mark) Rydell, and he’s just loving it. ‘Let’s do another take!’ The lesson is, they’re paying you to deliver an unforgettable character. That’s more important than the words on the page.

He got along with all the other cowboys, particularly Robert Carradine, who’s still a good friend. “Twenty years ago, Bobby and I did a pilot with his brother David [Carradine], called Martian Law. I was playing Marshal Dillon on Mars, but it never got off the ground.”

Since The Cowboys, Martinez has worked steadily in a wide range of movies and TV series, including nearly 1,500 episodes of the daytime drama Santa Barbara. “That was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. It’s like live theater, except it’s every day a new script.” He had a major role in the Centennial miniseries. And there were the Western shows: Starbird and Sweet William, Kung Fu, McCloud, Nakia, Joe Panther, The Young Pioneers, Born to the Wild, Shoot the Sun Down.

Shoot the Sun Down was a wonderful experience. Christopher Walken, Jeffrey Lewis, and Margot Kidder. And Sacheen Littlefeather. After she refused Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf she was blackballed. But David Leeds, the director, wanted her in the movie. She played my sister, and that was her last role, so that was pretty special.”

A and Gary Farmer (Reservation Dogs) starred as a pair of Cheyenne off to bail out A’s framed sister in the high-spirited, largely Native Powwow Highway. “I’ve had the privilege of working with geniuses occasionally, and Gary Farmer is all of that. [Director] Jonathan Wacks spent 10 years trying to get it set up. A story about poor Indians, who wants to see that? George Harrison, [one of] the Beatles, did. ‘Here’s the money; go make it.’ An amazing experience.”

Of course, the role A is most identified with is Native activist and casino operator Jacob Nighthorse, whom he played for six seasons on Longmire. And for the first time, he worked alongside an actor he describes as “this shadow of mine,” Lou Diamond Phillips. When the Ritchie Valens movie, La Bamba, was announced. “My agent says, ‘I can’t even get you up for that. Lou Diamond Phillips is gonna play him.’” Then there’s A’s favorite musical. “Lou’s done The King and I on stage—a lot of times.” A may have gritted his teeth when they finally met in Santa Fe. “Lou goes, ‘Hey man, here’s the cool gym. You should join. You play pool? [In the script] you gotta play pool with Robert Taylor the first day. Let’s go play some pool, get you ready. Hey, [Longmire author] Craig Johnson is doing a bookstore appearance. You want to come?’” Lou gives A a big build-up to the fans, “Then he has me sign books. Then, ‘Hey Craig, we should invite A to dinner.’ I went to the last dinner we did together as a cast. Lou said, ‘Will you say grace, A?’ That’s Lou.”

A Martinez in Christmas On The RangeHow would A describe Jacob Nighthorse? “He’s on fire. Nighthorse was taken into foster care and has respect for the woman that raised him, but he’s radicalized, he’s educated, trained as a lawyer, he’s brave. He feels there’s been this massive injustice that has yet to be addressed. A great character, great man. And I love that they let him stick around. He wasn’t supposed to, but they saw something early on, I think between Rob [Taylor]. and me.”

The lead in Far Haven, the film A was making in Mescal, is Bailey Chase. He was Deputy Branch Connally on Longmire. A is also a regular in the second season of AMC’s Dark Winds, as Sheriff Gordo Sena to Zahn McClarnon’s Joe Leaphorn. They’d already done two movies, a couple of Queen of the Souths, and 15 episodes of Longmire together. A Martinez just seems to bring qualities to a show that make people want to bring him back.


About Henry C. Parke

Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based screenwriter and wannabe cowboy Henry C. Parke has been Film Editor for True West since 2015 and has written Henry’s “Western Round-up,” the online report on Western film production, since 2010. His screenwriting credits include Speedtrap (1977) and Double Cross (1994). He’s the first writer welcomed into the Western Writers of America for his work in electronic media. He’s done audio commentary on a fistful of Spaghetti and domestic Westerns, and he’s got a saddle-bag full of Western scripts.