Actress and 2001 St. Mary’s University graduate Vanessa Martínez, 32, earned her first movie role in the 1996 Academy Award-nominated film Lone Star directed and written by John Sayles and starring Chris Cooper and Matthew McConaughey. Sayles would become an instrumental part of her career, casting her twice more for the dramas Limbo in 1999 and Casa de los Babys in 2003.
After earning a few TV roles in shows including ER, Castle, and Grey’s Anatomy, Martínez landed a role in the 2011 sports drama Warrior. The film stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as Tommy and Brendan Conlon, two estranged brothers fighting in the same Mixed Martial Arts tournament. In the film, Martínez plays Pilar Fernández, the widow of a U.S. solider who served with Tommy in the Middle East.
During an interview with me, Martínez, who now lives in Los Angeles, talked about the beauty behind a film like Warrior and how a great screenplay makes all the difference in the world to an actress like her.
How did you get involved with this film?
I did it the traditional way and went in for an audition. I got a call back and met with the director (Gavin O’Connor). It’s a beautiful part. I think it’s nice to play a character that happens to be Latina as opposed to the other way around. I got the chance to read the script when I went into the audition. I hadn’t read a script like that in a very long time. It was very exciting because I grew up watching Rocky and fighting movies. It was really an honor to be a part of this movie.
One of the things that surprised me about Warrior is that you really don’t have to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts to enjoy the film. Did you know much about MMA before landing this role?
No, I did not actually. Like you just said, what’s great about the movie is that it hits so many demographics. You don’t have to be an MMA fan. You don’t have to be a guy to like the movie. We just had the premiere in L.A. and I heard the movie actually scored higher with female audiences than it did with male audiences. I think it’s fascinating they ended up with a chick flick without knowing it.
Your character has some very emotional scenes. What did you have to do to get into that mindset?
I always say that when the writing is good, the work is done for me. I just have to be present and listen. In this case, I thought the writing was excellent. Even though the role was small, it was really well developed. It was easy to just show up and do my job.
In most fight films, there is always a good guy and a bad guy battling it out, but in Warrior it’s a little different. It’s hard to decide who to root for. Did you feel the same way when you read the script?
You know, I think what’s so beautiful about this film is that you’re rooting for both of them for very different reasons. I think that’s what’s so unique about this film. I didn’t go in choosing one man over the other. I think that’s why the last fight is so wonderful. You really feel every punch.
How were you emotionally when you saw the film for the first time?
I was a mess. I couldn’t breathe after watching the scene in the hotel room between Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. I haven’t seen a scene that beautiful in a really long time. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience when I left the theater.
What are you looking for when it comes to future roles?
As an actor you want to play characters with depth and emotion. At the end of the day, I just want to be able to do good work. I would love to be a part of wonderful projects. The opportunity to work is always something to look forward to. It’s a passion that doesn’t go away overnight. Even when it’s really tough, you can’t lose sight of your goals and what you want to accomplish. Hopefully, I’ll land roles I can be proud of.