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Rough Gem
Rough Gem

Rough Gem

Actress Natalie Martinez is a knockout of a different variety. By Leonie Cooper. Photographed by Rene Vaile

The actress Natalie Martinez is a bit of a vintage bombshell: waves of luscious dark brown hair, full pout, a curvaceous figure, and a love of old school Hollywood cool. So when she says “I’m a guy’s girl,” it’s easy to misunderstand her point. But as she kicks back into a leather couch in a bright Hollywood photo studio, dressed casually in jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers, the fast-talking 28-year-old clarifies: “I do guy things. I box. I like to shoot guns. I do Muay Thai—it’s like boxing, but with elbows. I’ve sparred before, but I gotta be careful because of work—I can’t really show up on set with a bloody nose!”

Considering her career thus far, it might not be that bad. The Miami native has made a name for herself in action films like 2008’s Death Race and last year’s End of Watch, and this month she appears in Broken City, which tells the story of an ex-cop, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is called upon by the mayor to do an important favour. Martinez plays Wahlberg’s long-term, movie-star girlfriend—a role that wasn’t too much of a stretch for her. “What’s hard is when I have to step outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “A lot of the emotional scenes I do, those are where I have to really focus and let myself be vulnerable. Mark helped me a lot. He really stepped in there and was completely selfless.”

Broken City was partially shot in New Orleans, and Martinez fell head over heels for the city. She stayed in the middle of the French Quarter, took in as many live jazz shows as she could, and dined at Mr. B’s Bistro. “I ate there all the time! The shrimp and grits are just amazing and their baked oysters are phenomenal,” she beams, remembering her favourite eats at the iconic restaurant. She even got a French bulldog while in the Big Easy and named him Nola in tribute. The pooch joined Moose, her English bulldog, and both now live with her in her one-bedroom home in the Hollywood Hills.

Growing up, Martinez wanted to be a vet or a neo-natal nurse, but in high school she started modelling and at 18 was picked to be the face for Jennifer Lopez’s clothing line. She “fell into” acting in 2006 after her former model booker called up and begged her to audition for a role on a telenovela called Fashion House. She wasn’t keen on continuing a career in the entertainment industry, but got the role and, working alongside veterans Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild, shot 65 episodes in 65 days. She surprised herself with how much she actually enjoyed it. “You have to be very vulnerable, and I don’t think I was very comfortable with that in the beginning… [but] I liked the set-up,” she says. “I liked what I did every day. I liked how I grew.”

Since then, Martinez has taken on a number of law-and-order roles, from playing the wife of Michael Pena’s cop character in End of Watch to portraying detectives on CSI: NY and the short-lived Detroit 1-8-7, and to her current role as an investigator’s girlfriend in Broken City. “I’ve actually done ride-alongs,” she says, recalling fraught drives through Detroit in the back of a police car. “Some of them have been crazy. You grow an appreciation for what cops do, simply because the things that they go through throughout the day—like the verbal abuse. The things they see….”

Martinez might have proven her mettle in the contemporary police genre, but she says she’s now keen to tackle a period picture. “I would love to do a 1970s piece—that’d be a lot of fun. Or a 1960s hippie,” she says, eyes flashing. “I would love to be a gypsy!”