Olivier Martinez on Film, Fame, and Villa Azur
By Omar Sommereyns
When Olivier Martinez appeared as a suave bookseller in Unfaithful, Adrian Lyne’s 2002 film starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, he seduced American audiences with selfassured intensity, not to mention his exotic good looks and French-inflected articulations. At the time, Martinez—who was born in Paris and studied at the prestigious French National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts—was a fast-rising star in European cinema, having won roles early in his career opposite such legends as Yves Montand in IP5: The Island of Pachyderms (1992) and Marcello Mastroianni in 1, 2, 3, Sun (1993), for which he snagged a César Award, France’s equivalent of the Oscar. His poignant portrayal of Lázaro Gómez Carriles, the close friend and, ultimately, caretaker of AIDS-stricken Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas (played by Javier Bardem), in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls (2000) also earned raves.
In the last decade, Martinez has kept busy with film work both in Europe and Stateside, experiencing the double- edged sword of fame. His personal life has been so scrutinized in his homeland that at one point he stopped speaking to the French press altogether. (He’s been involved with Mira Sorvino, Kylie Minogue, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.) Despite, or perhaps because of, the media focus, Martinez has pursued a peripatetic lifestyle, dividing downtime between France, Los Angeles, and the rest of the world, whether he’s making movies or not. If stardom has a price, it also allows the freedom to travel and choose when you work and when you don’t.
Now, at 46, Martinez is shifting into higher gear professionally with two new, vastly different films showcasing his range and versatility. He plays an 11th-century shah of Persia in The Physician (directed by German filmmaker Philipp Stoelzl and set for a 2013 release). He’s also the cyberterrorism villain of Cybergeddon, which was envisioned by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series creator Anthony E. Zuiker, and premiered on Yahoo!’s video site this past September. Besides all that, earlier this year he became engaged to Halle Berry and opened Villa Azur, a lavish, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and lounge, on South Beach, along with fellow Frenchmen Michael Martin and Jean Philippe Bernard.
During a break from filming The Physician in Germany and Morocco, we caught up with Martinez, who spoke to us about his upticking career, the nobility of boxing, and the morality of love triangles.
OCEAN DRIVE: In your first two movies, you played alongside two legendary actors: Yves Montand and Marcello Mastroianni. What was it like working with these greats so early on in your career?
OLIVIER MARTINEZ: I was in my mid-20s, and nothing could have been better. They were really nice and supportive, and it was good schooling for me on what it takes to be an actor—they led by example. And that’s not always the case on-set, but I was lucky because these two were true role models as actors and human beings. I mean, I was a beginner and these guys were the most famous actors in Europe—maybe even the world. They didn’t have any of that power-control nonsense. They were generous, genuine, and treated me with equality. Now that I think about it, every great actor I’ve worked with has had that kind of humility. It’s a sign—they don’t need to prove themselves; they just are.
Do you prefer working in American film or with the French cinema?
Well, I work all over the world, and for me it’s the same job. When I first worked with an American director, it was in 2000 with Julian Schnabel and Before Night Falls. He is very cultured about Europe, so it was more like working with a European director than an American one. And then in 2002, it was with Adrian Lyne, who is English, for Unfaithful. So I don’t really see the difference. A movie is a movie. It seems the whole concept of Hollywood or not Hollywood is mostly from people who aren’t in the business, though I may feel this way only because I travel so much and speak more than one language. I don’t necessarily feel like a foreigner when I’m in England or America or Spain because I know those countries. I’ve always been on the road— that’s been my career. And I feel comfortable being anywhere.
You’ve been busy this year with two films: Cybergeddon and The Physician.
Yeah, in Cybergeddon, I play a cyberterrorist—a supersmart, tech-savvy man who’s going to use his skills for revenge. In a way, it’s kind of a criticism of the dangers of the Internet, and of all these new media and means of communication, like what happens if it gets into the wrong hands…. But cyberterrorism between countries does exist, with spies and such—it’s a new dimension, and it has a real effect on humanity.
Did you enjoy playing the role of the villain?
Sure, but just like I enjoy playing the role of the good guy. I have no moral issues with the characters I play—I don’t judge them. I recall, during the promotional period for Unfaithful, people kept saying I was the bad guy in the movie, but I’m sorry, my character was only sleeping with a woman; that was her choice, and her husband ends up killing me, so the bad guy really is the husband. It’s very bizarre how people perceive morality sometimes. My character was drawn to a pretty woman. He just liked her. The fact that she was cheating was her problem and her husband’s problem. But people kept saying my character was bad, while I think Richard Gere [who played the husband] was the bad guy. [Laughs] Everything is relative.
How about The Physician?
I play the shah of Persia. It’s a period movie, and it’s fun because I get to dress in clothes that I’d never wear in real life, obviously. [Laughs] Also, I get to work with Ben Kingsley and Stellan Skarsgård, and when you work with that caliber of actor, things are so much simpler. You just have to listen, connect, and breathe, and everything comes quite naturally. I’ve definitely worked with my share of great actors, and it’s been a pleasure.
You come from a family of professional boxers. Your father was a champ, and you wanted to become a boxer, too. Why?
Boxing is the “noble art”—that’s the name of the game. It’s savage, but with rules, discipline, and a high sense of morality. At times, it seems like society has no morality, so I’ve always liked boxing because it’s hard, it’s violent, but it’s honest.
What was your best punch?
I had a good left hook—but keep that a secret. [Laughs]
Let’s talk about Miami. What’s your impression of the city?
Miami is a lot of things. It’s everything from Spring Break parties (which I don’t partake in, by the way) to the art world. It’s South Beach and also quieter neighborhoods with old houses and nice greenery—a sanctuary where you can read books and avoid the parties. It’s a bit like the French Riviera, too, but with a Latin American flavor. It’s a very rich place, and there are people from all over the world, so it’s a mixed culture, which I like a lot. There’s always something happening.
You recently opened Villa Azur here on South Beach. Why a restaurant and why Miami?
My friend Michael Martin and I thought it would be great to create a real French restaurant, with French people working there, real French food, and give the Miami crowd the opportunity to take a short trip to France. The challenge was to make it genuine. It’s not unusual for actors to open a restaurant. It’s a good way to represent yourself and where you’re from, and Villa Azur is definitely representing my country—I guarantee it. The menu is Mediterranean, so there’s a bit of Italy in there, too, but you’ll see such typical South of France dishes as bouillabaisse, like your grandmother would make in Marseille. The chef himself is from Nice.
Do you consider yourself a gastronome or foodie?
I completely associate food with pleasure. For me, to eat, even a sandwich, it has to be really good, and I have to get some pleasure from the taste. That’s where your culture starts—good taste, good flavors, everything starts there. Like putting good gas in your car, good food starts you off, and when you can taste a variety of foods, you get to internalize many different perceptive qualities, and everything is related after that. You are what you eat.
Who are some of your favorite chefs? And are you a fan of José Andrés? He also recently opened a restaurant, The Bazaar, at the SLS Hotel South Beach.
He’s a great chef. I have some recipes from his cookbook that I’ve been trying out at home. I have Spanish background on one side of my family, and I grew up with Spanish/Moroccan food at home, so I love that stuff. It reminds me of childhood. I also love [French chef] Marc Veyrat. He’s probably my favorite chef. I ate at one of his restaurants 15 years ago, and I still remember that meal to this day. It may have been the best meal of my life. But I enjoy cooking, especially when I have time. If I’m alone at home, I’m not going to starve; I’m going to eat quite well.
Going back to film, what’s your take on fame, on being a movie star?
That whole notion of movie stars, it doesn’t come from actors themselves. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m a movie star!” Maybe if a fan or someone comes up to you and tells you you’re a movie star, you say, “Okay, fine.” But that’s not my goal in life, even more so now with all those reality shows and the Internet, where so many people can be considered “stars.” To be famous doesn’t really represent anything, and it’s rather tacky to consider yourself famous. In a world where most people want to appear, I want to disappear a little bit…. I like to have some distance with everything. And if people don’t recognize me on the street, it’s even better. That isn’t where my ego is.
It’s been two decades since you entered the film industry. What have you learned since then?
I’d like to quote Georges Braque, the French artist, because he said it best: “With age, art and life become one.”
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Hopefully in a nice place near the ocean. My ocean is the Mediterranean, so somewhere there, near Corsica, or in the south of Spain, or Morocco. That’s where I’d be happiest.
Photography by Jack Guy
Styling by Jordan Johnson and Jill Lincoln for Rachel Zoe Studio at The Wall Group
Grooming by Georgie Eisdell at Exclusive Artists Management for La Mer