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Stephen MartinesArticle by Nadine Matthews

Interview With Stephen Martines, who formerly played Nikolas Cassadine in "General Hospital", and Tony in "Guiding Light".  He is currently starring on Lifetimeís ďMonarch CoveĒ

Nadine:  Tell me about Monarch Cove.

Stephen: A woman named Bianca gets falsely accused of murdering her father and goes to prison for six years. She gets out of prison and goes back home to Monarch Cove to go about her life and start over and obviously thatís when more drama ensues and it becomes the traditional primetime soap operaósex, love, scandal, etc.

Nadine: Tell me about your character.

Stephen: Parker is the guy that comes to town and- I wonít necessarily say he destroys peopleís lives anymore because they kind of found a different direction - but he definitely stirred up a lot of trouble. He is definitely the, as you would call it, ship disturber. He is the rich guy from New Jersey. He runs the casino. He goes back to Monarch Cove in search of the family he never knew he had. Or shall I say that his father abandoned him.

Nadine: This is the first time youíre doing nighttime TV?

Stephen: Well, since Pacific Blue, this is the first nighttime series I have done.

Nadine: Do you prefer nighttime TV to daytime TV?

Stephen: Its different.  I miss daytime for a lot of reasons.

Nadine: Name one.

Stephen: The stability is one of the most alluring thing about daytime.

Nadine: Stability. Can you elaborate?

Stephen: The thing about daytime is youíre on contract, you get a weekly paycheck... you know what youíre making per month and you have the ability to make more if they work you more. Those are the perks to it. And again, youíve got stability for three or four years if youíre on contract--If you are a vital source to the show. And the thing about daytime that I really miss is the amount of work that we do.

Nadine: Really? Daytime seems like its so grueling.

Stephen:  Well, it is grueling, but I look at it this wayóitís probably one of the best training grounds that an actor could hope for. Youíre going in, knocking out twenty to thirty-five to fifty pages a day, and youíre learning the ropes of what being an actor is all about. Whether youíre repeating yourself day in day out, thatís a whole different thing. Thatís not really the issue. But when youíre sitting behind four cameras you learn a lot of technical things I think actors should learn...just basic things like hitting your mark...you [also] get to work with a lot of different caliber of talent. Especially talent such as Tony Geary, and the Genie Francises and Stephen Nichols, and people who are veterans- the Jackie Zemans- who are veterans in this industry for twenty thirty years and made a great living and great career out of it for themselves, and I was fortunate enough in my run in daytime to be able to work with those types of people, so I myself had learned quite a bit. With myself, I was always referred to as "the sponge". I took in as much as I could, as fast as I could, and in hopes that it would lead me in a different direction, and who knows whatís gonna happen five or six years from now. This show came up. I took a little bit of time off and got back to L.A. and this was my first audition I had. I ended up booking it, and it was a great experience. Being in Australia, I had a blast. I really enjoyed beingówhat I really enjoy most about primetime in my short experience is doing it is location. I love being on location. I think that was the most intriguing thing about it because it really allows you to kind of develop your character more. Even though we did utilize some of the studio space in Australia, we were on location the majority of the time, and itís neat to see the environment around you because you can kind of associate it with how your character would be, or how you would be in real life, so it was much easier than sitting in studio on a built set and trying to pretend. For instance,  just sitting in a bar allows you to really kind of play that environment and kind of use it in, I guess you could say, a method sort of way.

Nadine: Give me a concrete example of how you  are able to use the physical environment for your character. Heís a rich guy from Jersey?

Stephen: Just a small thing. I had a Porsche. When I came to Monarch Cove, my entrance on the show was off of a twelve-seater Learjet.   It was like really loud. For myself, I could never get that in a studio. When I walked off that plane, I felt like that guy. Walking off the plane and hopping into my limo that was waiting for me, and then I go to the mansion. Instead of pretending youíre in a mansion in a studio, youíre actually pulling up to it.  Itís real to see. I think for me, it was nice to have that. It was a different touch from what I was used to, so I think all actors prefer location shoots. Itís much more fun being out in the open and breathing the air and seeing the sun, than it is to be under all those lights.

Nadine: Thatís interesting that you would say that. I can see where you could feel more motivated in a setting like that, but Iím wondering if itís not a bit like cheating. Usually, when actors talk about their best training ground, or the ideal training ground, they talk about theater, and there you have to really stretch yourself and pull up from deep within to create a character and to react to what the setting is supposed to be.

Stephen: I agree with that one hundred percent, but I also look at it his way; itís like being in a band onstage. You have to feed off of an audience, and if the audience is involved, and youíve captured the audience, then itís a lot easier to maintain that focus. Itís a lot easier to stay in that moment. Having been onstage and done a lot of performing with a band, thatís my thing; thatís what I thrive off of. That audience in front of me. I think the toughest thing for actors is theater-- it is a maximum training ground. And it allows you to really kind of be melodramatic because it works. You have to be big; you have to be over the top. The thing about film and television is that youíre not allowed to be really over the top, especially in primetime. Because you are very confined within a space on camera. A lot of your technique has to change in terms of being more internal, more with the eyes, very simple movements and keeping things subtle, as opposed to theater where you tend to broaden that horizon a bit and can let yourself g,o and you can be very animated. For myself, I have never really done much theater. I admire the actors that do theater because I think itís the most amazing form of art, and I think that they are definitely actors among actors. I think, too, that fear in anything you do should drive you, and for me, the fear of being onstage really drove me and would drive me to do stuff like that. I also think that every actor has his or her own way. Every actor feels different in different environments. Itís six of one and half dozen of the other.

Nadine: So the location is sort of compensation for lack of an audience? There is just a different motivation there?

Stephen: Youíre feeding off of the other talented actors. But for me, personally, what drove me the most was it was my first time in a very long time doing a series that was completely on location. And first of all, I was very driven by the fact that I had gotten into primetime. That was what I was driving toward; thatís where I wanted to be, and ultimately taking those stepping stones that you have to take in this career, in this industry. So, for me, thatís what really drove me the most. I canít really say that location made me an actor because thatís not the case.

Nadine: Thatís not what I meant at all (laugh). I get where youíre going. Who did you learn the most from at GH? And give me one specific lesson that they taught you.

Stephen: Well, Iíll say this: that thereís three people in this period in my career so far that have taught me a great deal whether it was a simple comment or whether it was just working with them or not. First and foremost,  obviously, Tony Geary. I think Tony Geary, probably in this industry, in the daytime world, he is the elite. He is such a professional. He is such a brilliant talent that when you do work with him, itís not only that you have to come prepared, but he allows you that freedom to experience what it is to be kind of spontaneous and to be in the moment and let that moment kind of take you. The thing that I learned the most from Tony was listening. When youíre an actor, and you have that eye contact, and you listen, things just click and it makes sense. And that was when I first realized thatóprobably in my fourth or fifth month on GH, when I was new, and I was green, and I was still learning the industry, and still learning how to be an actor. When I got that chance to really work with Tony Geary, and have Tony really put it straight to me, it really allowed me to trust my instincts. That was really the lesson I learned from himóto trust my instincts. The second person I would have to say would be Linda Dano. Linda Dano would always say, "Stephen, if you stay true to who you are, youíre gonna make it big".

Nadine: Thatís awesomeÖ

Stephen: Yeah, sheís an angel. The third person I would have to say is the first person I ever worked with on a movie set, and thatís Charles Durning. I did a movie called ďJusticeĒ, which is now called ďBacklashĒ. When I worked with Charles, he would kind of pull me aside on set and say, "I wanna tell you something. I know youíre new, but youíve got a lot of talent, and if you stay true to yourself, and you trust your instincts, youíre gonna do just fine". Three people whoíve had very reputable careers and done well for themselves. Just to hear a simple word of advice, or anything that would be a lesson learned from those kind of people, is something that you should take with you every day throughout your career. But I admire Tony a lot for what Iíve learned from him because predominantly a lot of my work was on that show.

Nadine: You used the phrase ďmake it bigĒ Whatís your definition of making it big? Be totally honest.

Stephen: As actors, we all have that pipe dream. That dream of being the next Tom Cruise, or the next Johnny Depp. When I got into this business, I used to always joke around that I was gonna be the next Tom Cruise. First and foremost, heís the most untouchable movie star of our generation. Heís the biggest thing there is.  Ultimately, I think for me, what would be making it big-- just having longevity and being able to do what I love to do for an extended amount of time, and make a great living at it, and be happy. For me, Iím thrilled with that level of success. If you really want to take the next step, for me my pipe dream is to be that guy-- to be the next big movie star. Do I think Iím capable of doing it? I think so, absolutely. I think Iím talented enough, I think I have the drive. But in this business, you need a shot and that doesnít lie in our hands. Itís kind of eerie to think that our careers are based on somebody eloeís opinion. But who knows?

Nadine: Well, you do sound driven enough to do it. Tell me about those first few days on GH. You were a recast for Tyler Christopher--pretty big shoes to fill-- and given the track record in daytime for recasts, tell me what was the predominant feeling that you were having and what were you telling yourself in order to deal with it.

Stephen: First of all, in the past, there have been a few articles where [my opinions about Tyler] were misconstrued. I have never had anything bad to say about Tyler. I think Tyler is and always has done a phenomenal job. When I walked into that character, I was petrified. The only thing I knew was that my mom watched that show since I was two years old, so for me, that was scary in itself. Here I am walking on the show, and Iím looking at Tony Geary and Genie Francis, and Stephen Nichols and Mary Beth Evans. And not only on my first day did I work with those people, but I had to do four shows. And the four shows consisted of about one hundred pages of dialogue, and I had never done anything like that in my life! On top of that, I had two love scenes with Mary Beth Evans, so I was a little nervous. I think that every few minutes, I was turning to the camera and saying, "Whatís my line?"  I was all over the place, and to be absolutely honest with you, I was all over the place on that show for a good four or five months. I felt like I wasnít really focused, but I felt I was doing okay. But my work wasnít really what I was capable of. When I hit that six month mark, I felt very comfortable in what I was doing. I just really started to kind of  put the ego aside and let the head shrink up a little bit because I was twenty-three, I was a kid.

Nadine: What sustained you? What kept you from falling apart? What were you telling  yourself?

Stephen: I donít know. Wendy Riche was very supportive of me, and she always kind of stood by me. Herself and Mark Teschneróthey always trusted that I could always do better and that I was going to be okay, and that really allowed me to push myself. I started to watch the show, and I could see where I needed to change and where I needed to commit more. I think it all happened once I got a love interest on the show and Gia started doing really well on the show. The writing was there; the support was there. They loved the characters; they loved the couple. I donít think they expected our couple to take off as well as we did.

Nadine: I loved you guys!

Stephen: Thank you. We had a good time!

Nadine: Is there any particular scene that you remember from your time there that stands outówhere you said ďWow, I did a really good job on this", or "I really like the way this scene was written". Anything that stands out?

Stephen: I had a really really good time playing that evil Nikolas when he drugged Elizabeth and did it all for Gia. On the yacht, when he was telling her what it was all for. Why he did what he did. I think that whole week of that show was probably my favorite time there being on the show in four years. I had a really good time during that storyline, and it was nice to kind of branch out and do something a little bit different from what the characters normally did. I would have to say that whole week was pretty moving for me.

Nadine: What do you do in your free time?

Stephen: In my free time I used to play a lot of golf, but I havenít played in a long time. I guess Iím pretty much a homebody. Itís been really weird coming back [from Australia]. Coming back to your life after having being gone for so long.

Nadine: So you guys have wrapped filming for Monarch Cove?

Stephen: Yes. We finished about eight weeks ago. I got back here about six and a half weeks ago. For me, itís just been about really relaxing and getting ready for pilot season, and I have already tested for a couple of pilots. Unfortunately, they didnít pan out, but itís been fairly busy since Iíve gotten back. Iím kind of gearing up and ready to hit the pavement again. But in my free time, to be honest, I really donít do all that much. Iím pretty much a homebody. I try to stay away from the Hollywood scene. Iíve done it. Iím older now, and itís not really for me- the partying. Iím not a big partier.

Nadine: So what do you do at home? Do you watch TV, do you read?

Stephen: I play a little guitar, I watch TVÖ

Nadine: Youíre a musician. Whoís your favorite musician, whatís your favorite song?

Stephen: Thatís something that can be argued with a lot of people because I am a big Bon Jovi fan. My music is very derivative of what Bon Jovi has done, and I am a rocker at heart, so when I write, I write in a wayóI wonít say itís depressing, but itís very mellow in the sense of what I feel and what goes on in my head, and the scattered thoughts that I do have. A lot of it is derivative of the pain you have in your childhood. That sort of thing. So for me, one of my favorite songs, I always sing it in karaoke. Itís one of my favorite songs ever, itís ďWanted Dead or AliveĒ by Bon Jovi.  I think itís a favorite for a lot of people, but for me I donít know, why I love it so much, but when Iím on stage and I get the chance to sing it, I go into my own little zone, and Iím in my world, and I just thoroughly enjoy  this song.

Nadine: Yeah. That song, there is just so much of an opportunity to be dramatic and channel all these different feelings. We are just about done. Do you have any favorite TV shows?

Stephen: Monarch Cove, come on.

Nadine:  Besides that one! (laughing)

Stephen: I love ďHouseĒ. Iíve gotten into ďHouseĒ a little bit.

Nadine: So you enjoy that complex type of character?

Stephen: Yeah. Itís  really weird since we havenít gotten a chance to see a lot of shows since weíve been gone. When we got back, there was ďStudio 60 on Sunset BoulevardĒ that was airing, and then a couple of other new shows that were airing that we knew nothing about.

Nadine: Well, you were literally on the other side of the world!

Stephen: Yeah. It was very Americanized there, but they didnít have a lot of good television, I must say. But coming back, it was kind of neat to see a couple of shows that I hadnít seen yet. I started watching ďHouseĒ, and Iíve been a huge fan of that show. I think the work among the actors is phenomenal and the writing is brilliant. Itís just a great show.

Nadine: Actually, how long have you been playing guitar, or did you just start? Do you write songs as well, or do you just play guitar?

Stephen:  I do write all my stuff, but I picked up a guitar about my second year on GH, and Iím like, "Oh, I play guitar" (laughs) I canít play a thing. I didnít know what I was doing then. Itís just been in the past couple of years that I really kind of started to spend a little more time on it. Iím okay. I know a lot of chords. In music, you only need three or four chords, and you can write 250,000 songs. Like many country artists, they use four chords and they write everything. But for me, I kind of strum, and use it as a leverage for me to write down some lyrics here and there, and utilize it for that source, and once I get a band back together, I will get some guys that are much better guitar players than me.

Nadine: When you write, do you do it systematically, or is it just in every day life something will hit you and you write some lines down and flesh them out later?

Stephen: Yeah, pretty much itís very sporadic. I mean, it can be at any time. I know one song I recorded about a year and a half ago, called, ďThrough The NightĒ, that stemmed from a nightmare I had while I was living in NYC on Guiding Light. I woke up at three in the morning, and I said, you know what, I got this idea for this song, so I just wrote the lyrics almost poetically, and I brought it into my producer, and I had a whole vision of this song of where I wanted it to go, and what I wanted it to sound like. We put it together in forty-five minutes and had it recorded and mastered within a day, and the song is amazing. I think if it hit the radio, it would do very well.

Nadine: Are you trying to get it on the radio?

Stephen: I would love to, but that part of the industry is just so, not only sketchy itís justóI donít want to play the game too much. I would love to shop it, I would love to re-record it, I would love to be in the studio, but if it happens, great, if it doesnítÖ  The greatest thing about what we do is you can write, direct, star, sing, act, dance-- itís all open to you if youíre persistent enough, and truth be told, if you have the connections to do it. For me, I donít want to be one of those artists who, looking Latin, and being half-Latin, I donít want to be the pop singer who is up on stage dancing and singing. Thatís just not me. I want to be the front man of a rock band, and when a label is ready for me to do that, then Iím for it. When I was shopping before, and working with other producers, it was like they all wanted me to be a pop singer, and it just wasnít me, and I donít feel like I should change who I am, or what I like as a singer, to fit that mold. And I know what itís for. I know itís marketing, and advertising, and where they can make the most money. It makes perfect sense to me, but Iím waiting for that time- and I think itís close- to where the old rock phase comes back. I think it will happen. I would love to see eighties rock come back. Growing up in the eighties was the most fun. I had a good time with the music... so if it happens thatís great. So if you know anybody out there who can help me with a record deal, Iím all for it.

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