“Stars That Make A Difference” Benito Martinez, Board Member of the Television Academy Foundation

By Yitzi Weiner and Marco Derhy

One never knows, but I truly hope the many stories I have been part of have made some small contribution to a better world.
I had the pleasure to interview Actor Benito Martinez. Benito is on the Board of Directors of the Television Academy Foundation. Established in 1959 as the charitable arm of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation is dedicated to preserving the legacy of television while educating and inspiring those who will shape its future. Through renowned educational and outreach programs, such as The Interviews: An Oral History Project of the Television Academy Foundation, College Television Awards and Student Internship Program, the Foundation seeks to widen the circle of voices our industry represents and to create more opportunity for television to reflect all of society. For more information on the Foundation, visit TelevisionAcademy.com/Foundation.

Tell me a little about your “backstory” — where did you grow up, when and how did you get into acting?

I grew up in Albuquerque where my mom started a theater company with some other amazing artists. My whole family got drawn in at one point or another. It was fun and very community oriented. My passion, however, was working with my dad in his mariachi, so acting was more of a side thing that was a distant fourth to music, school and sports. But then I got accepted to Hollywood High School Performing Arts Magnet, so we moved out to LA and changed my trajectory.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I love to mess around off camera or off stage just to stay loose and keep my energy flowing so most of the “funny” happens then. As far “interesting”, a lot of what we tackled in American Crime really stirred up a lot of intense reactions across the board from the crew, to the critics and everyone in between. But the one story that stands out for me is when I was on The Shield and my character is sexually abused during an investigation. I did extensive research with the LA center for rape victims, spoke with psychologists and took great pains with the writers and producers to make sure we portrayed the affects of that brutality — and road back to “normalcy” — was as accurate as possible. It was brave storytelling, to be sure.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to emulate your career?

First, DON’T DO THAT! By that, I mean, sure be inspired by artists you like, but there’s only one of you so work on YOU. Study, practice, learn, fail, dust yourself off and repeat. With a little luck, a lot of perseverance and the right attitude, you’ll have an amazing journey -the destination is not as important we were made to believe.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of many theater companies that had a social conscience directive. With Playfair, I toured the U.S. for ten years doing a one person show for colleges that talked about inclusiveness and community building; with Will and Company, we were a Shakespeare troupe that focused on non-traditional casting so when the good people of Los Angeles (especially the students) saw people who looked like them on stage, they connected, they engaged. An Hispanic Hamlet? A Filipina Juliet? A black Shylock? Yes, yes and yes. We pushed the envelope and “held a mirror up to nature” and it worked marvelously! With the Educational Theater Company, we had a contract with the local school districts and worked with the Impact Program that encouraged students to get help with their problems. Our part was to put on plays that tackled subjects like gang violence, teenage pregnancy, drug addiction, peer pressure, etc. and then show these characters take responsibility for their actions and get help. Seeing the shows really empowered a lot of students.

Most recently, you can say my work with American Crime has had a part in the national conversation about hot button topics like racism, undocumented workers and human trafficking, putting a human story to the political headlines.

One never knows, but I truly hope the many stories I have been part of have made some small contribution to a better world.

Tell me about your work with the nonprofit Television Academy Foundation.

I love meeting and (hopefully) inspiring young storytellers reaching for their dreams. Right now, I’m on the committee for the College Television Awards, a Foundation event that recognizes achievement in student production while also providing crucial professional development and networking opportunities for nominees and winners. Also, I spoke recently at another of our events informing foster youth about all aspects of the industry, which was really a great experience for me, personally.

And of course, the Foundation’s annual fundraising event is the Emmys Golf Classic, which I always attend but never win — well, not yet, at least…

Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by the Foundation, or through your work there?

I think if you look just at the internship program, you’d see many success stories there because so many of the young people who get involved with the Foundation overcome a lot of obstacles just to get to us. 
 Over time we’ve had foster youth, immigrant students, and students with disabilities who have launched their careers through the Foundation’s internship program. In fact, over 1,100 interns from all over the country have graduated from the program and some of them have even become Emmy winners themselves.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

A. You’re not crazy.

B. Enjoy the journey.

C. Invest sooner.

D. Okay, you’re crazy, but that’ll serve you well

E. Really, invest sooner!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, if so why?

Hmm. I’d love to play basketball with Obama or sit in a rehearsal session with Bruno Mars or work with Meryl Streep; there can be food there, too. As for “why”, because I feel these people found their true voice, take great risks and continue to learn and grow in their profession — all qualities that I respect and admire.