Late in the fall of 1999, the British film ELIZABETH, starring Cate Blanchett in her breakthrough role, was released to great critical acclaim. I couldn’t believe reviewers and critics touted a film that was so clearly flawed (can anyone say “the 180-rule” or “screen direction”). And, the hyperbole surrounding Blanchett accelerated as awards season grew closer. Echoes of “the best acting of the year” were everywhere. Blanchett was fine, but for me it was another example of that stiff-upper-lip style of acting that Hollywood has been enamored with since Charles Laughton won the Oscar for The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1934. As I reflected on America’s Anglophilia, I pondered what I thought might be the best acting of the year. It did not take me long to figure it out: It was A Martinez and Jacklyn Zemon in an episode of the ABC soap opera GENERAL HOSPITAL.
The storyline was one of those “returned from the dead” plots that soaps are so fond of. In this episode, longtime character Bobbie Spencer, played by Zemon, is strolling along the docks of Port Charles when she accidentally runs into Roy DiLucca, her beau from two decades earlier who had died in her arms. DiLucca was played by Martinez, who was not the actor who originated the character. It was the type of ridiculous narrative context that you can only find on soaps. But, what could have been an occasion for exaggerated theatrics was a moving scene of emotional depth. There was little if any dialogue as the two soap-opera veterans expressed an emotional trajectory of shock, the pain of loss and the reawakening of love in a matter of seconds. The scene transcended the absurd storyline because the emotions were relatable to anyone who has ever lost a spouse—or, parent, or friend, or child—and wished so hard for them to return.
Martinez was not new to soaps; in the mid-1980s, he starred on NBC’s Santa Barbara as one-half of a super-couple with Marcy Walker, Cruz Castillo and Eden Capwell. I know what you are thinking: Why am I writing about a soap-opera actor on FilmStruck, a streaming service devoted to high-end film fare? My answer would be: Don’t be so snobby. Not only is A Martinez a gifted actor, but you can learn a lot about the entertainment business when you look closely at the career of a performer like Martinez.