CigarAdvisor: Tell us a little about your past.
Eric Martinez: I grew up in Pittsburgh and New Mexico, and it was pretty rough. I lived with a foster family in Pittsburg and went through some severe mental and physical abuse. I learned from an early age to not be a victim of my circumstances, and it was hard at times to convince myself that I would ever get out of that situation alive. I knew that if I just kept praying and stayed strong I would be OK. Like they say, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” I know everyone has a story, but I have yet to meet someone with a story like mine; not that mine is worse than others, mind you.
Recently I was reunited with my biological father. He’s a drilling consultant for oilrigs all over the world, and he’s been telling me about my family history. My Great-great grandmother was the Lt. Colonel for Pancho Villa. I also have family in Mexico who are millionaires.
I have a new book coming out called “Relentless” The Eric Martinez Story, that will detail everything that I have dealt with in my past. It’s all in the book.
E.M.: I had this undying belief in myself and still do to this day. I prayed a lot and understood that no matter what was taken from me, they couldn’t take my heart. One of the things I always tell my I Got Your Back boys when I’m training them, and the audiences I speak to is “heart.” Heart is what keeps you going when you’re tired, when your mind and body want to quit, when people doubt you or talk bad about you. Talent can be taught but not heart, and you have to be accountable for your own path. The pain of the journey is already there, so don’t ever quit.
Mentally, acting is a tough business. It can play with your mind by making you feel like you’re on the top of the world, or make you feel worthless. You have to stay balanced and always remember where you came from. Auditioning for a part and not knowing if you nailed it or screwed-up is gut-wrenching. I have been blessed with a few of these opportunities, and it’s awesome when you get the call saying that “so-and-so” wants you without an audition. But more often you work for hours, days, and years for that one audition that takes three minutes in a room with people that have stone-cold poker faces, and you get 30 seconds to prove you’re good enough to get a part that could change your life. As an actor it’s what you go thru daily.
What inspired you to create the “I Got Your Back” campaign?
E.M.: I am a celebrity ambassador to several organizations all over the world that deal with bullying and domestic violence, but I always wanted one of my own. When I’m speaking to kids I always say, “I got your back” at the end of my speeches. It just struck me to start my own campaign and name it “I Got Your Back.” It started locally, then before I knew it, it went national, and now we’re global. I teamed up with MMACK10 Fight Gear. They do a lot of IGYB gear for me and my fans. We give bracelets out with MMACK10 and IGYB on them to the students. It’s my way of saying “thank you” for all of the support I’ve received over the years on Bullying and Domestic Violence.
You began seeking a career in music, yet you eventually became an actor. If you could do it all over again, which would you choose, and why?
E.M. Probably acting, because it’s something I have always wanted to do. When I started in the business there weren’t a lot of movie opportunities in New Mexico, so, I went with music, which helped me get my foot in the door of the entertainment business. Through music I met so many people that have had a positive effect on my career, including many others whom I can still call on today. It’s been a crazy ride, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Both industries demand a lot, and if you’re not willing to give everything you got everyday, do something else.
What was your first public speaking engagement and what was it like?
E.M. My first was in Washington, D.C. for LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. Founded in 1929, it is the oldest and most widely respected Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. There were some small gigs where I would talk for 3-5 minutes about what I did in the music business, but it felt empty, like I was just there to fill time for the principle speaker.
In Washington I realized that I had a story to tell. It was funny because when I was backstage the LULAC director asked me, “Do you have any notes prepared? What are you going to talk about?” I said “Um? No. Was I supposed to have something prepared?” She literally turned white! Here I am, about to go on stage. CNN, ABC World News Tonight, and NBC are there, plus 2000 people in the crowd, and I have no idea what I’m going to say. So I went out there, spoke from my heart, and told my story for the next hour. There were tears, laughter and silence. Afterwards, Hillary Clinton — she was a U.S. Senator at that time — came up to me and said, “That was one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard.” I almost fell to the floor! After that I never looked back. I began to get bookings all over the country speaking on motivation and following your dreams, and it hasn’t stopped since.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
E.M. There are so many people who have inspired and helped me that it’s hard to say. When I’m tired or feeling like I want to quit, I would have to say it’s my family. I think about giving them a better life and something to look forward to. My career has taken me around the world and given them opportunities they never would have had. When you take the focus off of you and realize that everything is meant for a much bigger purpose, you begin to realize that you don’t have that much time; that today is never again going to repeat itself. Most people never achieve their dreams because they are afraid of everything! Swing for the fences even if you miss, at least you can always say I gave it 200%.
How did you get into smoking cigars?
E.M. I started smoking cigars a few years ago, and have been hooked ever since. There’s just something about cigar smoking that’s sophisticated and gives you swag. The first time I smoked a cigar was at this spot in Albuquerque, NM that sold cigars. I didn’t know what cigar to choose, so I just picked from the batch they had. All my boys were avid smokers and I didn’t want to be left out. I was inhaling heavily, gagging, and ended up sick as a dog. I thought to myself “This is not hip and swag at all!! My damn eyes are burning, my chest hurts and my mouth taste like crap!” One friend said, “Eric, don’t rush it! A cigar is meant to last and enjoy. This is not a race to the finish. Enjoy the smell, the burn. And whatever you do, don’t inhale!” I’m still a rookie in the cigar world but I am earning my stripes in every city I visit.
My favorites are the ACID Blondie, Gurkhas, Alec Bradleys, Cohibas, Camachos, and a few others. To me, a good cigar and some brandy, now that’s #BIGBOYMOVES. Now everywhere I go I hit-up a cigar shop. It’s easy to see how you can smoke 5-6 cigars a day, too. I go to smoke shops now and stay for hours. I really like flavored cigars, but there are others I’ve tried that gave me headaches, so now I stick to the milder smokes.
I also have my own little humidor. It only holds about six cigars, but it was a gift and I plan to keep it as my travel one, then upgrade to a larger box. I smoke 3-4 cigars a week now.
What was your first speaking role in a movie?
E.M. Love Lies Bleeding with Christian Slater. What an amazing experience. Christian was such a cool guy and extremely helpful. Jenna Dewan (wife of actor Channing Tatum) was also in the movie and in one scene I had to grab her by the throat. (That was strange.) I also squared-off with Brian Gerathy from Jarhead. It was way cool to be able to hold my own with that kind of cast, not to mention seeing myself in the trailer and getting the calls from my friends saying they had seen me on TV!
How much would you say the abuse of your past has played a role in your approach to acting, if any?
E.M. I would say a lot, not just in acting, but also in life. I would never wish what I went thru on my worst enemy. Most of the parts I am called on to play are bad guys: killers and henchmen type roles. Recently I played a serial killer. At first I wasn’t too comfortable, but I reached into a place that I have kept locked for a long time to pull it off. Even then I didn’t go too far into that “place,” mostly because if I allowed myself to visit that place more often, I wouldn’t be here today. I would be in a world of violence, prison, abuse, and drugs. Most people who meet me or hear me speak never realize that I am one step away from that life, and they have no idea how hard each day is to not allow myself to be that angry, vengeful person again. It would be so much easier to use my past as an excuse to harm others and allow myself to be extremely dangerous and scary.
I believe you have the ability to make choices in life regardless of how you feel, or if you feel that you’ve been dealt a bad hand in life. So many people I come across do that and it always astonishes me that they blame society or their upbringing as a reason to go and shoot up a school or a movie theatre. It may sound corny and a little funny, but it’s like the line that Bruce Banner says in The Avengers when he’s talking to Romanov (Scarlett Johansen) “That’s my secret for controlling my anger…I’m always angry.” I feel the same way, but I’ve learned to control my worst fears and channel that anger into something constructive. I use that anger to drive me, to inspire my performances, and to help others realize that your past does not and will not dictate your future unless you allow it to.
In what ways have you seen “I Got Your Back” paying-off?
E.M. Well more than anything it’s been something that I started from scratch and have been able to see the growth everyday on my Facebook and Twitter pages. But awareness is the most important thing. The ability to reach kids across the country and say, “I Got Your Back” is powerful. I have had administrators across the country tell me the campaign has brought the students closer and helped them to be accountable for their surroundings and what’s going on.