A Hollywood career held no allure for Natalie Martinez when she was growing up. Not because she figured it was out of reach, but because she had other plans. But sometimes life doesn’t give a damn about other plans. These days, she’s costarring with Hugh Jackman in Warner Brothers’ upcoming sci-fi thriller, Reminiscence, and has countless acting. credits to her name.
Splitting her time between L.A. and her native Miami, she’s on the beach on weekends, and on the set on weekdays, trading lines with famous leading men like Jake Gyllenhaal in the critically acclaimed cop drama, End of Watch and more recently the late, great Chadwick Boseman in 2016’s Message from the King.
“He was the epitome of a gentleman. Every time I was with him I’d get so happy cause he was so humble, so sweet, always so nice,” she says of Boseman, whom she knew from social gatherings and mutual friends. “We had some pretty racy scenes in Message from the King. When we shot them, he was a class act. I was super comfortable. He was always making sure everything’s okay with me. He was an actor’s actor, where I definitely felt like I got stuff out of him and vice versa. I was really fortunate to shoot with him.”
With no formal training, Natalie learned acting on the job, namely a dramatic series called Fashion House, co-starring Morgan Fairchild. On it, she played entrepreneurial designer Michelle Miller, the target of fashion maven Maria Gianni, played by Bo Derek. “We shot 65 episodes in 65 days,” she gasps. “That’s where I fell in love with acting.”
Evidently the feeling was mutual. In 2008, she landed her first feature film, Death Race, opposite Jason Statham. Two years later she played Detective Ariana Sanchez on ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7.
And when that show ended, she wore the badge of another detective, Jamie Lovato on CSI: NY. And Under the Dome, in which she played heroic Deputy Linda Esquivel, is the first of two Stephen King adaptations, including, more recently, The Stand, in which she plays would-be assassin Dayna Jurgens.
“He’s a trip!” she says of the legendary author. “I would just love to be in his head one day. I find that to be so interesting and intriguing, the things he comes up with. He’s really cool, too.”
She grew up surrounded by storytellers—five aunts on her mother’s side—and hung out in the family-owned barbershop. “I was a tomboy with banged-up knees. I was the kid drinking from the water hose. I was outside from daybreak to sunset.”
In high school she worked part-time at Miami’s Mercy Hospital and set her sights on becoming a midwife or a neonatal nurse. One day her mother noticed an open model search for the new face of Jennifer Lopez’s clothing line. Natalie wasn’t interested, but attended just to appease her. Eventually she was chosen out of roughly 6,000 entries nationwide.
She came to L.A. for a photoshoot and stayed nearly 20 years. But modeling work grew sporadic, and by 2006 she had given up and was working in a skate shop. “I definitely saw, throughout the years, that I was very fortunate to have had that start ‘cause it made doors open a lot easier,” she says, looking back. “It’s hard to get through those doors. It’s hard to stay working, period. I was 17, 18 years old when I got that. I give props to my younger self that when I had that opportunity, I really worked hard at trying to make something out of it.”
Hard work, beauty, talent and just a little bit of luck, these are the signposts of Natalie’s story, plus the fact that she can kick your ass. As a girl, she begged her mother to let her study karate, but her mother thought she was already wild enough.
“She always told me, ‘That’s the one regret I have. I should have put you in karate.’ So, I’m not a black belt, but I’m definitely trained in Muay Thai and boxing. It’s something I always wanted to do as a kid but I ended up doing it as an adult. I love how you’re constantly getting better in training, and I love the sport.”
Needless to say, she does many of her own stunts, especially the fight scenes. Sure, she’s played plenty of cops, but if you want to see her in full bad-ass mode, check out Kingdom, in which she plays an MMA fighter. “I would love to be the [first] female James Bond. That would be amazing,” she laughs when asked what her ideal role is. “Shit, make me a superhero, I’m down!”
She might not be a superhero yet, but in Hollywood she’s something bigger—a producer. She got her first credit as such on Netflix’s The I-Land, in which she plays a military veteran accused of murdering her abusive mother. While shooting on location in the Dominican Republic, she was up before dawn every morning and drove over bumpy jungle roads in the dark to an exotic beach in the middle of nowhere to begin the day’s work.
“Every single day, acting, swimming, running, it’s hot. I was so excited to wake up ‘cause I would watch the sunrise at this beach every morning and I would be so grateful to even have that,” she says, recalling a memory that took on greater poignance during the pandemic.
“My whole idea of success in this business is to continually work. That, to me, is a successful career. And I’m proud to have gone this long and stayed in the game this long through all the changes in Hollywood. So, I have such a blast. I mean, c’mon, I get to play pretend all day. This is so much fun!”