If you have never heard of Natalie Martinez, you're not alone - DEATH RACE is her first major motion picture. Her only real exposure to the public was via prominent roles in two different (now defunct) "telenovelas" on MyNetworkTV: FASHION HOUSE and SAINTS IN SINNERS (yeah, I've never heard of those either).
But this is almost certain to change after audiences get a look at Ms. Martinez, who the producers of DEATH RACE compare favorably to Michelle Rodriguez (personally, I envision even greater mainstream exposure for Natalie). As "Case", an incarcerated murderer and navigator for Jason Statham's Jensen Ames, Martinez balances out her soft, beautiful features with a take-no-shit toughness that rivals any of the film's intimidating male characters. When my fellow journalists and myself gathered around to interview Martinez, the pleasant actress seemingly wasn't in an ass-kicking mood. (Damn... I mean, Whew!)
Natalie: Hey, we can do this Indian-style next to the pond with the ducks. Weíll have beautiful Montreal behind us. Hi, Iím Natalie.
So, how did you get this role?Natalie: I auditioned a lot. My managerís agency sent me out on the audition. Basically, I just went out, studied for the part, did the audition, then went back for the callback. Then, I met the VP of casting. Then I did the chemistry read. Then I met Scott Bernstein. Over the course of a month, it took four or five auditions.
Did you have to do some yelling?Natalie: Well, I had my own vision of her. So when I talked to Scott, one of the producers up there at Universal, we talked about my vision and we agreed on certain things. She is a certain type of character. She has to be able to hold herself up because she is in peril. That doesnít mean sheís a bad person. She killed her husband, he cheatedÖWhat could she do? You know? On things like that, we had to have the same point of view. I had to show that I could carry her. I had to learn my lines and I had to do a scene out of the movie with Jason as well. It was a scene that involved a lot of nerves and tension because I could die at any minute. It was kind of hard at times, because I didnít have the environment around me. It worked out good. They knew what they were looking for. Thatís the craziest thing about auditioning. They know what they want and we donít have any idea what we are doing. But, it worked out.
Did you spend time at a womanís correctional facility to maybe get a feel for your character?Natalie: When I was a kid, yeah. Wait, no, Iím joking. I know what you are talking about, though. No, I didnít have to. Just having the experience of where I grew up was enough. I grew up in Miami. Having that kind of hard knock life, growing up in not-so-great neighborhoods, having to battle that, knowing how to handle myself and be strong so that I wasnít taken advantage of was enough. You have to be strong in certain types of situations I believe. You canít be seen as weak, and you canít show vulnerability. That is common amongst women in prison because you canít let your guard down. You never know what is going to happen. And that happens in life too. So I didnít have to spend too much time studying it. Iím a lot more street smart than I am anything else. I think thatís what helped me get the part as well. I wasnít weak.
Can you talk a little bit about the language in the movie and how you speak? Do you talk really tough?Natalie: Basically, I do. We are in a race that is life or death so you go around this crazy course. There are booby traps, people are firing guns at you, missiles flying at your head and there is this huge eighteen-wheeler with machine guns. There are so many things, I canít even tell you about all of them. Basically, there is a lot of action. So all of the words are quick and to the point. Its like, ďPay attention!Ē There are a lot of discussions about the cars, like, ďThis is napalm oil.Ē Things like that. Its short and to the point. I only have a limited amount of time to talk because I am in a womenís prison and heís in a male facility. We only have a limited amount of time to get to know each other. Also, there is no bond with these people. You donít bond. You have to have that look and those short words where the other person knows where you are coming from. You have to understand that they are coming from the same place. Thatís where our bond kind of hits. Youíll never say, ďI love you, you love me.Ē But there is that sort of bond in the air. There is a hint of romance or at least the hope. I think our relationship is based more on hope.
What is it like to be filming inside that car?Natalie: Itís fun. Itís all raw and I donít have a seat half the time. Iím sitting on these metal beams, with just a little cushion. Its all greased up and you are dirty all of the time. Its fun because you donít have to worry about it. You donít have to worry about your nails being clean. There's no, ďOh, my God! My nails are going to be seen on TV!Ē, or anything like that. And when you are inside the car, you really feel it. Just the fact that everything is visible. There is no dashboard, so you see all of these cords and stuff. You could hit the wrong thing. You could set off this or you could set off that. Itís a lot of fun working in there.
Do they let you drive at all?Natalie: No. I donít know how to drive stick. I learned when I was about thirteen. I learned how to drive stick. But now, I donít remember how. I donít. The car is towed sometimes and Iím in it while itís moving. We havenít really gotten into the stuff where Jason is driving. He has obviously driven a lot so I trust him with his driving. If I donít, it still makes it more fun. You know?
What is the back story on your character? She went to jail for killing her husband?Natalie: Yeah. My story is that he was cheating so I killed my husband. She was just your normal average woman, married, and it just so happened that her husband was a cop. That made her ten times worse in trouble. I think she was just normal, you know? She was a hard knock. Since he was a cop, she had to deal with him not coming home at night. And things like that. I believe that he cheated, or whatnot. And, not straight away, but I killed him. I think I just blacked out and did it. I didnít mean to but I was just mad. You know? So its not like Iím an evil person, I donít believe. Shit happens.
How did it happen? Is he chopped up into little pieces?Natalie: Yeah and heís buried all over Florida. NoÖbut I do feel that way about her. And now sheís in prison. She is a young girl and she got carried away with what she did. She has to live with that. Due to circumstances, she is here. What is she going to do? Bitch and complain? No, she is just going to deal with it. Now, we have this race to go through. I am young, and the Warden finds it very easy to manipulate me. She can just throw freedom around me. Iím only twenty-five in the movie so itís basically the idea that I will do whatever it takes for me to get back out there. I donít necessarily think I belong here. But this is me now. Iím in prison, racing cars, and doing what the Warden tells me to do.
What is the job of a navigator?Natalie: Basically, we keep the driver focused. He has so much to concentrate on. There are so many tricks, booby traps and things he has to stay be aware of. There are so many things to look out for. Weíve got the napalm, weíve got the oil, weíve got the Nitrous. Something might happen to the gun or somebody needs to talk to Coach. There are so many things that are going on. We are light weight because we are all women. Itís also for the ratings. This race is being televised on the web. So, with that, our job is basically ratings. Because our outfit is all boobs and short tops. This is for the movie and for the web. Its that and the fact that we are light weight. We donít compromise their racing skills or how slow they can go. Itís basically about that. You know? We go through the switches, fix things and look out. Four eyes are better than two. I can look all around while he is focusing on driving. I can tell him that someone is coming up on his back. I know the road just as much as he does. Itís just another mind to tell him to take this short cut or to go through here. He is also new, so it helps out with him. He is just thrown into this race.
In the original, the navigators disrobed. Do you have to do that as well?Natalie: No. I do at one point get undressed, but I have another shirt on underneath my clothes. So I never show anything. Yeah, thereís no nudity.
Do you get in a fight with any of the other navigators?Natalie: No, there is so much going on. You get off that bus, you walk to these cars and you donít know if you are ever going to get out again. I donít think thereís enough time to fight with these girls later. Weíre not friends. We donít talk. We just do what we have to do. That is the theme. Do what you gotta do. Kill or be killed. Because thatís how it goes. On-screen, we havenít fought. Nor off-screen either.
Outside of Joan Allen and Jason, who did you have the most scenes with?Natalie: I didnít have many scenes with Joan, actually. But I had a lot of scenes with the Monster Crew. Ian McShane, Jacob Vargas, and Fred Koehler. That was the whole crew. And me and Jason Statham. I had a lot of scenes with them. I had some with Pachenko, which is Max Ryan. We just exchanged looks. The same thing with Tyrese, just while I was in the car. But I did most of my talking scenes amongst the Monster Crew.
What is Ian McShane like to work with?Natalie: Amazing. I mean, he is so cool. He tells so many stories, which is a lot of fun. And he knows his shit. He knows what to do. Weíll be doing stuff, and heíll give little hints. Heíll say, ďYou look really good over here.Ē So, of course, Iím going to go over there. Its true, it makes a lot of sense sometimes. That kind of stuff just puts it all together. He shared his ideas with us, and he was really, really welcoming. We hung out and we went to dinner. Me, him, and the whole crew. We hung out. He was a real joy to work with. Heís a kid. Heís great. I have nothing but good things to say about him. I liked him a lot.
What is it like working with Paul Anderson?Natalie: Paul is awesome. Paul knows what he wants, which is really cool. Because you feel sure of it. I can go up to him and ask him anything. The fact that you can do that makes your job a lot easier. If you have any views about your characters, or anything you think, you can always ask him. Thatís the really great thing about working with Paul. Also, I just love watching him work. Heíll walk but heís not walking. He is off somewhere in race land and you can just tell. I think that is awesome because this is his baby and he cares about it. Anything anybody has to say or contribute, he listens to it and he understands. He gets it. I like that. I think he is great to work with.
Does he put you in a lot of scary situations?Natalie: No. He definitely says that he is going to scare me and I am waiting for it. But I like the speed. And I like the ejector seat. I did that, and I came back to him and asked if it could go faster. He told me, ďYes!Ē So, itís fun. There arenít too many things that scare me. Iím looking forward to being scared, though. I think Iím getting in a car today or tomorrow and I will be coming out of the window. Iíll be holstered by these things and it will be while Iím racing. I like that though.
Have you ever been into cars?Natalie: Yes. I never got too crazy about them but I like muscle cars a lot. My dream car is a í69 Barracuda but that was when I was fifteen. That was something me and my dad had in common. I like big trucks and stuff. I know some things. I can change my own tire and battery and I can change my oil. I like cars.
What sort of training or prep work did you have to do?Natalie: I did a lot of Google-ing. I needed to know what napalm was and what all of these other words were. I spent some time with everybody showing me the cars. Like sitting in the Monster. That was going to be my home for awhile. I needed to know where everything was. I had to practice with the belts because they were race belts. There are all of these buckles, and all of these trick ways to do it. Then there was also training to stay fit. As far as anything having to do with the movie, I was just basically looking things up to understand what they were. Things about the race and especially about the car. I needed to know the function of certain things. Thatís pretty much it.
Do we get to see you kill your husband on screen?Natalie: No, but that would have been fun, though. No, we didnít shoot anything. Thatís just a back story to get a feel for it.
You didnít act it out in your bedroom, alone, at night?Natalie: No, my boyfriend is still alive. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He is still alive and well. He hasnít cheated.
Are there going to be some graphic death scenes in the film?Natalie: Oh yeah, there is a lot! There are some pretty cool ones, too. I donít want to say too much about them but you do see a lot of blood. The scars are amazing. I was touching this one guyís scars and they felt real. Itís really gnarly. Itís very graphic. Youíll have some good stuff to watch.
Do you see yourself doing more action movies in the future?Natalie: I love action stuff. Oh yeah. Anything that gets the adrenaline going and makes you more hands on with it. I like that. I like the fact that I get dirty and get to touch things. And race and the wind. You donít have to worry about anything. Itís just in the moment. I like that aspect. I like the action. Its fun.