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TV Goodness Q&A: Philip Martin, HBO’s Phil Spector [INTERVIEW + PROMO] 

Photo Credit: Richard Wright
Photo Credit: Richard Wright

What if you got the call that your first professional TV/Film gig was opposite Helen Mirren and Al Pacino?  And what if this same part was written specifically by the great David Mamet? This is what happened to Philip Martin. This Sunday, HBO is airing Phil Spector, a drama about the client/attorney relationship between legendary music producer, Phil Spector (Pacino) and Linda Kenney Baden (Mirren). Martin plays a lawyer named James Lee on Mr. Spector’s defense team.  TVGOODNESS had a chance to talk to the actor.

TVGOODNESS: Explain a little bit about the Phil Spector film and your character.

PHILIP MARTIN: The film of Phil Spector, I actually got to see it for the first time last week.  It’s a great film.  It’s very engaging and intriguing. I can say that it’s a tale of fiction. It looks at Phil Spector as a character and the mythological story of the fall from grace. I think the film is very interesting to look at people who are very high profile and geniuses in their respective field and see how that has an effect on a human being… I think it’s going to be a very engaging story for the audience.

My character, I play one of his defense attorneys, James Lee, who is Bruce Cutler’s protégé, which is Jeffrey Tambor’s character. And I work with the defense team throughout the film.  I think the great part about playing a young lawyer; [it] really gives me a chance to understand what it means to be a lawyer. They spend 99% of their time doing paperwork and discovery.  And all the linguistics of a case and reasonable doubt….it really reminded me of my training as an actor, going to NYU, going to Tisch [School of the Arts]. How we go deeply…we delve into stories of the characters, script analysis.  And I found a lot of parallels of being a lawyer and an actor.  I felt was quite fascinating.

TVGOODNESS:  You are working with Academy Award winners.  How was that for you? Were you intimidated or was it just like an advanced acting class for you?

MARTIN: (laughs)  Well being on set is definitely nothing like class. ‘Cause there, you know, you have to succeed.  But for me it really wasn’t that intimidating because of my relationship with David [Mamet] and…..I really trust David.  And I knew David was someone who knows his pace.  He had written me a part.  I know that he wouldn’t have given me anything I couldn’t handle.  Working with Helen, working with Al Pacino, and Jeffrey Tambor… Emmy nominated actors….for me I have been working on my craft since I was 16/17 and every age from that point.  I’d gone to NYU.  I had gone to Tisch.  Going to Atlantic Theater Company, you know, we had guest classes with Richard Dreyfuss, Kate Winslet and Giancarlo Esposito, from Breaking Bad.  My training really put us in contact with people who were doing the caliber of work that inspired me to keep going this path.

When I stepped on set, I met Al and I met Helen….I knew right away to go up and talk to them, to make friends with them, with Jeffrey.  We are all human beings.  For me, I just had a tremendous amount of respect for them as actors and I hope to one day achieve the level of work, the consistency of work that they have.  So when I was on set working with them, having had that craft and that training, bringing that experience, really helped me, that I had something to offer, that I can be of service.  That I can get something special to the production and for the other actors.

TVGOODNESS:  You touched on it a little bit but tell us how you got started? And what’s next for you?

MARTIN:  I got my start at UCLA arts camp put on by Judith Patterson. And there I did a monologue from All My Sons.  I really discovered my passion for acting.  And I really wanted and felt that when I was at that camp, I could do this for the rest of my life and be completely happy and fulfilled.  I really kind of had that feeling of a soul-searching type of epiphany.  It was very easy to just dedicate myself, wanting to be the best actor I could be.

I studied with Jean Shelton in San Francisco.  Someone recommended me over there. She taught Danny Glover.  She was featured on Inside the Actors Studio.  She really took me under her wing for my last two years of high school.  She usually doesn’t take anyone under 21 but she took me at 16 because of a recommendation. I trained with her for two years.  She really taught me what it meant to really be a real actor… really connect with other people; how to stop thinking about it as a character and a story.  But it being about two human beings on stage together, dealing with some problem that they are trying to find a solution together or within one another.  That was kind of my start.

It gave me a true appreciation for the gifts of storytelling for acting that inspired me to go to Tisch. To really become the best actor and artist I could be.  I wanted to be part of high-caliber projects like Phil Spector.  I always wanted to act with people like Al Pacino and Helen Mirren.  Of course my favorite growing up was Robert DeNiro. But since working with Al Pacino, I think Al Pacino is a little bit ahead now.

TVGOODNESS:  He’s your new favorite?

MARTIN:  Yeah.  So I was always inspired to work with those type of people. That’s how I’ve looked at my dedication through NYU, through Atlantic Theater Company.  Why I went to Atlantic; there are so many working actors there.  And they really make sure we have the tools and discipline to be able to have a professional career.  It really inspired me while I was at Atlantic, that I was on the right path, the purpose of meeting David, William H. Macy and Felicity (Huffman) and all the other people there who inspired me to be a team player.

In the future?  My goal is continue to be part of high-caliber projects like this, in any capacity.  Theater, I love theater. To be on an off-Broadway or Broadway production would be a gift come true. Doing television and film you lose that audience interaction. It’s really a very naked place to be, a vulnerable place to be.  And sometimes you can’t when you are in and about in LA.

Also, HBO, I would love to [do] an HBO series to be a part of their production.  I grew up on HBO as a kid watching The Sopranos, Arliss, The Larry Sanders Show.  It’s a dream to come true to have my first job in the industry to be with HBO.  Since I’ve been a kid they’ve always been my favorite network.  And I love the projects that embrace being on the cutting edge and try to newly capsulate our current state of being in America or abroad. It’s either that or a Sundance independent film.

TVGOODNESS:  One more question.  We are TVGOODNESS and we want to know your favorite shows…  

MARTIN:  My favorite shows:  I love Boardwalk Empire and I really enjoy Girls. What am I watching? I also have, not to tell HBO but I have Shameless, House of Lies, Californication on my DVR. I love Sons of Anarchy. I think Kurt Sutter [SOA creator] is very underappreciated.  The work that show does is amazing.  I have an affinity for Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Phil Spector premieres tomorrow night at 9/8c on HBO

Answers edited for continuity and space.


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