Badass Actor, Julian Elijah Martinez, Wu-Tang: An American Saga

Julian Elijah Martinez, co-star of Hulu’s ‘Wu-Tang: An American Saga’, talks balancing acting and Boxing, and how being a former teacher, allowed him to pay it forward.

Hopefully, five years from now, I wake up and can still call myself an artist and place one foot in front of the other.

– Julian Elijah Martinez

How is your approach different as an actor when you’re doing film versus when you’re on the Broadway stage? 

Julian Elijah Martinez: The approach is the same. Your goal is the same — truth within the given circumstances. The only difference is the medium and the scale. 

Broadway: You’re playing to 1,000 eyes. 

Film: You’re only playing to 1, and that’s the camera. You still have to do all the work you’ve learned in acting class: you have to connect to your partners, and you have to listen. 

I often equate stage as going to the gym. You’re there every day: stretching, working, trying things. Each night on stage can be radically different, and that’s welcomed. If something doesn’t work, no worries, you grab tomorrow – or try it again. The more you act in a play, the deeper it becomes. It enriches like fine wine. You have a lot of control over your character’s story. 

Film is like being at a race. You either win or don’t. You either nail it, or you don’t. You’re not the pen but the ink. Your job is to provide as many colors as you can for the editor to choose from. The editor controls the arch of the character as you give the different paths for them to choose from.  You have to be prepared, warmed up, and ready for the sprint the moment they call, “Action!”

Julian Elijah Martinez. Photography: Harvey Jackson, III

You’re a former NYFA teacher, which is great that you got to work with students on their craft. Describe what it was like being a teacher while working as an actor.

Julian Elijah Martinez: The best way to learn something is to try to teach it. It forces you to articulate aspects of your craft that you often don’t think about. I’m also under the thought that a good teacher is someone who DOES or someone who DID, not someone who CAN’T. 

I learn watching students as much as I do on set or in a rehearsal room. Some of the most creative moments I’ve witnessed have been in the classroom away from the stakes that come from working in a professional arena. I’ve been blessed with amazing teachers in my life. I hope that as a teacher, I can be a pivot of positivity for a student the way my teachers have been for me.

Julian Elijah Martinez. Photography: Harvey Jackson, III

You’re also a fitness enthusiast. How do you incorporate being a boxing instructor into your schedule when you’re filming?

Julian Elijah Martinez: I tend to put Boxing on the back burner when I’m in performance. When I’m working on set, the gig tends to consume my thoughts. I used to think that being tired was a mindset, and I could work my side job, train, and be a performer at the same time. The burnout was good. I was “working.”

But consequently, that lead me to some scary experiences that were a direct result of this burnout. I’ve lost my voice during notable performances, overslept and missed appointments, gotten sick when I needed to be at my full health. So ultimately, my new philosophy is to work smarter, not harder. So when I’m performing, I don’t work as an instructor. But when I’m on hiatus, I instruct, which tends to be my zen. 

That said, Boxing is amazing because it’s all about relaxation. When you’re tense, you’re sort of dead in the water. You can’t think you can’t see; you can’t listen to your opponent. Boxing is about the efficiently of movement. How to get your fist from point A to point B with the less amount of tension. 

Relaxation gives you speed, and it gives you power – the same is valid for acting. Anxiety is death for a performer. Every time I train, I’m reminded that I must relax as much as possible, connect to my breath, and see out of my eyes.

Where would you like to see your career go in the next five years?

Julian Elijah Martinez: This career is hard, and everything in this world is designed to tell you to quit. Hopefully, five years from now, I wake up and can still call myself an artist and place one foot in front of the other. I do the best work I can do and still have a few transcendent moments along the way.

Julian Elijah Martinez Cover

Julian Ejijah Martinez
Julian Elijah Martinez

Julian Elijah Martinez was photographed by Harvey Jackson (@_harvey_jackson) wearing Uniqlo (@uniqlousa) and Levi’s (@levis).

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