Michele Martin: So Many Characters in One Strong Woman

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Every so often, and far too infrequently, the world produces an actress with a face like Michele Martin's -- attractive yet versatile, able to portray just about anybody in any genre. And Michele has done just that, with performances ranging from Shakespeare on the stage to co-starring in horror/thrillers like COFFIN 2, not to mention her copious writing credits.

Michele will shortly be portraying Natalie Wood as the lead in the premiere of AVALON at the Edinburgh Fringe, opposite Sean Cronin (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM) as King Arthur. (The two meet each other as ghosts in the titular Avalon, between Heaven and Earth. Guinevere is going to be so jealous!) But before she hits the boards there, she sat down with us to talk a little bit about some of her upcoming projects -- one of which premieres on an entirely new digital platform!

You have almost as many writing credits as you do acting credits, and a lot of them are doubled up on the same projects, like ASSISTING VENUS, BLUE, and A DOLL'S HOUSE. Do you prefer to act what you write, or does it make that much difference in your approach?

It doesn't make that much of a difference. I started out in theater, so I'd done quite a bit of acting before I started writing. I was going out for very young roles -- I was 24 and I was going out for teenagers. A friend of mine who was in an acting program with me at school, he had directed me in a few shows, and we talked about these plays that we were doing. I was in London doing a play -- another play, not A DOLL'S HOUSE -- and I thought, "This would make a really good adaptation."

And I'm not a writer like a lot of other writers, I'm not a technical writer. I'm more of an actor's writer. I write more from the perspective of the actor -- the dialogue, the characters. And Charles, the person who has been working with me, Charles Huddleston, he's more of the technical writer, the story writer. So we work well together, and it just so happens that what we've written I would also be good for the role. I'm a team player, so if I wasn't, I would task someone else, but luckily it's worked out well.

That explains why when I see your writing credits, I almost persistently see Charles Huddleston listed next to you. What's the dynamic there?

We're friends -- we're very close friends. We started working together on ASSISTING VENUS. It was an idea of his since he was in school, he wanted to do this based on Sacher-Masoch's VENUS IN FURS. I wasn't that interested, really, and he wanted me to play the role. He's a director, and he started directing on STAR TREK: THE EXPERIENCE and STAR TREK in Germany.

So he had this wonderful idea, and I had not read the novella, and he brought it to me and said, "I really want you to play this role." That would be Sophia. And I see myself as a big dork, and I thought I'd be better for Maggie, the nerdy girl who has a crush on him not the sexy femme fatale dominatrix. And he said, "No, I think you can do it, because I've watched your work on stage and I think you're perfect for it."

So we got to talking, and I felt him out with that script, and we just started developing projects from there. We have a lot of the same sensibilities, the same likes in literature and work.

Audiences will also see you soon in COFFIN 2. That's a hard left turn departure from the more highbrow pieces that have been the body of your work. What attracted a nerdy girl to something in that particular genre?

Well...I've never done it. (Laughs) I almost feel like it's a rite of passage: Everyone does a horror/thriller film. What's that like?

It really surprised me, because I thought, "Oh, this is not my thing. This is not my genre. This is going to be very difficult for me." And I don't even watch films like that very much, unless it's an old Kubrick thriller, something very mindful. And this was. The title is a little bit misleading, but they had to retitle it COFFIN 2 because of the first one being such a success on Redbox. But it is a thriller, and they presented me with a really interesting character. I'm not going to give it away, but she wasn't just the girl being a victim, because I wasn't much interested in playing that kind of character.

I took that job based on the fact that I've never done something like that before, and I liked the character.

Are there any other genres you'd like to take a shot at, because I hear rumors that superhero movies are quite a hot commodity these days.

I think women are superheroes anyway.

We need more of them.

We do! We need more daily superheroes. And I love superhero movies! I loved WONDER WOMAN, and really smart, interesting superhero movies. I think, in a way, it's the first people are able to present women as strong, and strength comes in a lot of different forms. You know, I'm playing Nora in A DOLL'S HOUSE, which was considered one of the first feminist pieces. BEN KINGSLEY is in it with me, and we've talked a lot about it, and she is a superhero to me, in a way because she's just a real girl who gets married very, very young not knowing what she's gotten into, and by the time she's in her mid-twenties, in places in the United States not L.A., but, that happens -- she's stuck, and she has to be her own hero.

So I'd love to do something fun and superheroish and out there in fantasy, but I also like real-life superheroes too.

I had to laugh when reading your bio on IMDb, as the description went into your "Irish / Scottish / Jewish / Russian / Mexican-American" background. If you ever want to act in advertising, I'm sure 23&Me would love to have you!

Well, I've done modeling. And I've done Honda Scooter in Japan. I'm working with Latin America for Coca-Cola. I have a very diverse look. I have a look that could almost be... Some people see me, and it's very subjective. I can morph, which for me is wonderful as an actor, because in BLUE I'm just a red-headed all-American girl next door if you take my makeup off and change my hair.

And in EMILY -- a sci-fi television show coming out soon -- she's an android, and she's a lot of different characters. She's sort of an ORPHAN BLACK type of thing. So my ability to change looks was extremely beneficial for that character because in almost every scene she's a different form of herself. Which we all are -- it's an allegory for the fact that we become different people with different people. She's a humanoid companion, or we think, and I also play the scientist who created her, the young girl she was based on. So it's been a benefit for me to be able to fit into a lot of categories physically, the way I look.

Are you doing any of the writing on that one as well, because I can find precious little information on EMILY.

No, no... We can't really chat too much about that, but AT&T Entertainment is releasing a new platform, and they'll be announcing that soon. So when that's announced, that'll come out in a pretty big way, I think. It's going to be one of their new shows.

I've read that interviewers would do well to ask you about Shakespeare.

(Laughs) Somebody knows I'm a big fat dork! I love Shakespeare, and I've done quite a lot of it on stage. One of my next Shakespeare roles, it's a screenplay that's been adapted -- it's a modernized, post-apocalyptic steampunk adaptation of THE TEMPEST. And THE TEMPEST plays perfectly into science fiction anyway. I play Miranda, but a very different Miranda -- a stronger Miranda than we've seen. All the characters are re-envisioned. It's kind of like doing a modernization of ROMEO & JULIET in a really interesting, hip, cool way. The dialogue is almost like Tarantino dialogue, but in Shakespeare.

So it won't be done in "The King's English."

Well, it's based very closely to the play -- but it's done differently. It's performed differently.

Science fiction loves THE TEMPEST. FORBIDDEN PLANET was THE TEMPEST.

I have to see that! Everyone says that, and I haven't had the chance.