Philip Martin debuts in HBO’s ‘Phil Spector’ (Exclusive Interview)
By Michael Aaron Gallagher of StayFamous.Net
When HBO recently premiered the made-for-television movie, Phil Spector, a fictional portrayal of the legendary music producer’s first murder trial, one actor was making his major debut alongside an all-star cast that included Al Pacino, Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor. For Philip Martin, who got his start as a classically-trained theater actor, this was his first big opportunity to translate his knowledge of the craft to the small screen.
Born in San Francisco, California and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Philip is a graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. After working with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet (who wrote and directed the film) at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City, Philip was offered the role as James Lee, a member of Spector’s defense team.
In a recent interview with StayFamous.Net, Philip talked about the training that shaped him as an actor, the HBO project Phil Spector and what it was like working with the legendary cast of iconic actors.
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What made you want to become an actor?”
Philip Martin: “… I think for me, I was kind of an overweight, chubby kid – a little bit of a trouble maker – and the only thing I found solace in was sitting in a theater watching a movie and seeing two characters connect. I realized from watching a lot of films that whatever my current life situation was, it could always change and be different. That inspired me at first and I didn’t really realize that I wanted to be an actor, but as soon as I went on stage the first time, it felt so organic and real and natural. Other people – teachers, principals who knew me for getting in trouble, really embraced me and came up to me and said, ‘I think this is your niche, you need to follow it.’ And I went to UCLA Arts Camp. When I went there, I did this scene for All My Sons for this casting director and after I was done he looked up and down his arms and turns over to the other students and says, ‘Now that’s goosebumps.’ At that moment, at the UCLA Arts Camp, I really knew that I had something to give. It filled me with a sense of purpose. That’s really when I knew I wanted to be an actor.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What were some of your first acting jobs?”
Philip Martin: “Well, this is my first debut professionally. So I’m actually quite grateful and I owe a debt of gratitude to David [Mamet] for giving me this opportunity. I studied with Jean Shelton in San Francisco, who taught Danny Glover for two years, from 16 to 18. I can’t thank her enough for giving me my start in acting and understanding the craft and really treating it with a sense of respect… And then I went to NYU’s Tisch [school], and over there I did three years of training at Atlantic Theater Company, which of course was started by David Mamet and William H. Macy. They really just taught us how to stretch ourselves. We had guest classes with Kate Winslet and Richard Dreyfuss, Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad and films like Ali. They really put us in that environment of wanting to work and knowing that it’s very tangible. All we really had to do was be dedicated and find that sense of artistry inside of ourselves, through the work.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What do you think you’ve learned from the theater that you’ve been able to take into your work on screen?”
Philip Martin: “I think the main thing that I’ve learned from theater is … more than anything, how important it is that storytelling is for the audience. It’s something I’ve learned from David. It’s all about the audience. The show is for the audience…. So my goal is either to entertain or to engage, depending on whether it’s a comedy or drama. Really, that, first and foremost, as a performer has helped me translate to the screen – that it’s not about me. Yes, I’ve got to do my work and create my character, and really be able to be active and play my action… but most of all, at the end of the day, I’m there for the audience and to be of service to the audience. When you’re on stage, you feel that gratification right away. And being able to translate that to my screen work has been very, very helpful.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Tell me a little bit about the Phil Spector movie. What’s it about and what character do you play?”
Philip Martin: “Phil Spector’s story is a tale of fiction… about the famous music producer, who produced the Beatles’ albums, the ‘Let it Be’ album, their last album, songs like ‘Imagine’… he kind of discovered Tina Turner and produced her first works. It’s about the murder trial. My character is James Lee and I’m on the defense team. I’m specifically Bruce Cutler’s protégé.”
“David, throughout the process when he was writing it, kept telling me, ‘Hey, I’m writing something for you.’ Finally, one day after Jiu jitsu class, he comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Phil, would you like to do this thing I’m doing for HBO?’ Of course, I’m balled over in excitement from my head to my toes. I just stayed really calm and collected. I said, ‘Yeah sure, I would love to do it.’”
“…Then when I got the script, to really look at the law profession, really fascinates me as an actor. To really research and to go into details of what drives a human being to want to go into the law profession, because it’s very difficult, you spend so much time, 99 percent of it is paperwork, and you spend so much time understanding how to word things, the language of things, how to create perspective for the jury. That is probably the most fascinating thing about playing James.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “I’m sure you’ve had a lot of people ask you about working with Al Pacino, Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor. How well did you get to know them?”
Philip Martin: “Well, I got to know Jeffrey Tambor really well, and he’s just kind of taken me under his wing, really encouraged me as an artist and an actor. Helen, I got to know really well, because, of course, we were on in a lot of scenes together. Helen was the most professional, loving actress that I’ve ever met. Her relationship, the way she conducts herself on set – she is able to go from one scene to the next with a complete utter mastery and command of her part and what she’s doing on screen. It really taught me, as a young actor, how I want to conduct myself on-screen and off-screen.”
“… You know the thing I learned about from Al [Pacino] was about really getting into your character and really getting into your craft. The most important thing when he was on set was to make sure that he could bring the essence of the character he was creating everywhere.”
“The best thing that we talked about… we were talking backstage, Jeffrey, Al and myself about the theater and about movies that they love… They were talking about the best movie they ever saw… this movie called Dear Hunter. And to know that that’s one of my favorite movies too, to see these two artists, who love the craft and love films and love theater just like I do, knowing that that’s the center of all these high-caliber people, really gave me motivation to continue to work as a professional to hone my craft and to return back to the basics. Because that’s what fuels you to have that drive to keep on going in this tough line of work.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What’s next for you? Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?”
Philip Martin: “Well, right now, I’m open to see what the next opportunity is. I would love to do Off-Broadway or Broadway theater. I think that would be the ultimate gift coming out of this project, to really get back to stage and to find that vulnerability and that connection with the audience. I would love to work with HBO again. I mean they were just a class act, from the top down. And especially as a newcomer, they really treated me like family. To work with them has always been a goal since I was a kid, so for it to be my first job, it’s like a dream come true. Or I would love to work on some Sundance independent films, or a supporting role in a studio feature. Because I think that would be another way to get me to stretch and to be of service in another capacity.”
For more information on the Phil Spector movie, visit www.hbo.com/movies/phil-spector/index.html.
Philip Martin debuts in HBO’s ‘Phil Spector’ (Exclusive Interview)
Copyright 2013 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
Photographs by Richard Wright
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