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Ricky Martin on Fatherhood, Activism, and His Star Turn on 'American Crime Story'


Ricky Martin on Fatherhood, Activism, and His Star Turn on 'American Crime Story'

By Jared Shapiro, Photography by Warwick Saint | September 27, 2017 | People Feature

Musical legend Ricky Martin returns to South Beach and the ‘Versace Mansion’ for the role of a lifetime, but this time as a father, fiancé and activist.


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It's one of the most anticipated TV shows of the season. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, about fashion designer Versace’s life and death in Miami Beach, recalls a time that was one of our town’s most vibrant, storied and infamous. Ricky Martin plays Versace’s longtime love, Antonio D’Amico, with scenes filmed at the iconic Casa Casuarina (aka the Versace Mansion). It was here that Versace was shot and killed by Andrew Cunanan in July 1997. At that time, Martin was years removed from the boy band Menudo and only just becoming a household name in America. That would all change less than two years later, as “Livin’ La Vida Loca” would catapult the then Miami resident to global stardom.

But the night we speak, it’s the eve of Hurricane Irma touching down in South Florida—just minutes into it swiping Martin’s childhood home of Puerto Rico. “How’s Miami?” he asks about the other place he called home for almost 15 years. I’m about to evacuate; this would be my last call before hitting the road. “It’s happening now in Puerto Rico, so I’m just waiting for news from my family,” he says. “Things are heavy. I’m glad people are moving.” The concern in his voice is obvious. This from a man who has faced his fair share of adversity throughout his lifetime. But now, amidst a new life in Los Angeles with his 9-year-old twin boys Valentino and Matteo and fiancé Jwan Yosef, fresh off his Vegas summer residency, Martin readies himself for a second phase of stardom in what will ultimately be one of the most talked-about roles and shows of the year.


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You look amazing! What’s your secret?
I don’t know—I guess good conscience. I’ve been behaving. I’m at a really good moment in my life. Professionally, last year I had a Grammy and multiple hits that came out after. Vente Ca’ Pa got more than 1.2 billion hits on YouTube, which is amazing. My kids are happy, my fiancé is amazing, and I’m working with [executive producer] Ryan Murphy on the Gianni Versace story. The sun is shinning on this side of the fence for me.

So many of Hollywood’s stars try to stop the aging with plastic surgery and fillers…
I love getting older. I’m 46 years old; I don’t want to look 36. I want to look 46. And I want to look healthy at my age. I think the issue comes when people just want to look younger. People get a little bit desperate. I just want to look good. I’m someone that represents my age.

Versace is a big entrée into Hollywood. You’ve been acting your whole life, but this is a big deal. What made you want to take on this role?
A lot of people say, ‘Oh, Ricky, you can act?’ But you know, when I left Menudo I was totally focused on my acting. I spent many years preparing for acting roles. I went to Mexico and started doing theater, then TV series in Mexico and Argentina. So for me acting has always been very important. Here I was in L.A. and I received a phone call from the one and only Ryan Murphy—I’ve had the opportunity to work with him in the past as a guest on Glee—and he said, ‘Rick, I’m working on this. Are you interested?’ And I joked, ‘Let me think about it.’ Of course I was being sarcastic. I was honored. So I started doing the research and learning everything about Gianni’s story and his legacy. To be able to work with Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz and Darren Criss, I mean, are you kidding me? We’re treating this story with a lot of respect and really serious about it. I’m so happy with the results. It’s very dramatic and powerful, but you will also see a lot of love. The love between Antonio and Gianni was a very beautiful one.

You spoke with Antonio recently?
I had the opportunity to speak to Antonio a few months ago, and I said, ‘Antonio, listen, maybe you’ve seen a couple of paparazzi shots of the actual scenes that we’re shooting, but please don’t judge the quality of it just by one picture because it could easily be taken out of context. You have to see what we’re doing, and you’re going to be so pleased with everything.’


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What was it like coming back to film in Miami?
It’s amazing. I lived in Miami for almost 15 years. For some reason I had never gone inside the Versace Mansion. But now that we were there, I understood why. Because I guess the purity of me walking in for the first time, working on this character, was of impact. The house is beautiful. They keep it as a boutique hotel, but they work very hard to maintain it as Gianni had lived there, and to be honest, I felt Gianni’s presence everywhere. I’m not trying to be spooky here, but his art and his taste is everywhere in the house. It helped us a lot.

Ultimately it was your career that took you out of Miami.
I moved to NYC because I was offered my role in [Broadway’s] Evita. It was at a time when my kids were starting school. After a couple of years, I got an opportunity to do a show in Australia, so I moved there. It’s one of those situations where you make plans and then someone up there—God—will tell you, ‘You make plans, but I will take care of the rest.’ We lived in Australia on and off for three years. Then, [after being] on the road for 2.5 years, finally I thought it was time for me to land somewhere. That was right when I started dating [my fiancé] Jwan. And I said, ‘We’re going to live together, where do you want to do this? Ever been to L.A.?’ [I was] also thinking of the possibility of me working as an actor. So we rented a house in L.A. He loved it and I always loved L.A., so we decided to make this our home. But Miami will always be there. I still have property there, and I go back four to five times a year.

How did you know Jwan was the one and you were ready to settle down?
I love what I feel when I’m in a relationship. I was single for two and a half years, so I had fun. I was a single man out of the closet and I said, ‘Let’s have a good time.’ And then I met Jwan, and from the moment we shook hands for the first time, I knew this was special. He felt the same thing, and then everything was so organic. You cannot force things, and when things are very evident you just have to go with the flow and enjoy and help the inevitable in this case.


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I’m going to be that annoying person—any wedding plans yet?
Life is beautiful. We started planning our wedding while I was doing Versace, while I was doing my residency in Las Vegas and while I was recording some singles in the studio, all the while my fiancé was working and doing private shows and events. Planning a wedding is super overwhelming. We want to do it right, hopefully next spring. We’ll do the three-day event as I call it. And we still don’t know where we will do it, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico or in Sweden, where my fiancé is from, or in Spain, where I am also from. Right now we’re just dealing with the invitations and everything. We also have to deal with the fact that most of my fiancé’s family is from Syria. So maybe they won’t be able to come into this country. So we might consider doing it in Stockholm or in Spain. We don’t know yet, but it’s going to be a great event. And people will be talking about it. We’re a modern family, and I think people need to see, and I want to normalize the beauty of our family. That’s why I’m making it public and I am going to share my wedding with the world.

What’s it like at home—being a dad, with your kids.
My life is very simple. My kids are homeschooled. I’m obsessed with our home and I don’t want to leave our house. It’s a very beautiful home, and we have an amazing life. We’re so busy. When I’m not here, I go to do shows around the world. We are still moving around but always heading back home. This is good for me and good for my family. And that’s what really matters at the end of the day. My kids are amazing; they love martial arts. What is normal? A lot of people say, ‘Hey, Rick, your kids need stability.’ And I [tell them], ‘I am their stability.’ If I’m not around, they feel weird and unstable. And when we schedule them two weeks in the same place, they say, ‘Dad, okay, where are we going? Let’s go, let’s get moving.’ They were born on the road, and this is our reality and we have the life of a circus family. We move from one place to another, and that’s how we roll. Everyone says, ‘Kids need to hang out with others kids,’ and I’m like, ‘We have other kids!’ This is the United Nations in this house. We see friends in different parts of the world every time we go somewhere. I wish I had my kids’ life!


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Tell us about the Ricky Martin Foundation.
I started working and fighting human trafficking a little more than 10 years ago when a colleague of mine invited me to India. He was building this orphanage, and back then I was looking for any excuse to go to India. So I hopped on a plane, and from the airport he took me to the slums ‘to rescue girls.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, “rescue girls”?’ Unfortunately most of the girls in the slums are forced into prostitution and pornography. I began studying about human trafficking. I didn’t even know that this crime had a name. So I went to Washington and I talked to Congress and I started my activism. It’s incredibly important to bring this subject to the table. This is modern-day slavery. There are more sex slaves than ever in the history of the world. Finally I was able to build a holistic center in Puerto Rico for youth that could become victims of exploitation. We are giving them the tools to not fall prey to child trafficking.


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With so many careers and causes and roles, who is Ricky Martin?
First and foremost I am a father. My role as a father is the one that I’m obsessed with. Every decision I make in my career or in my personal life is based on the well-being of my kids. I want to be remembered as someone who has worked since 12 years old, and I’m relentless and I don’t stop and I’m passionate about the things I do. I am someone who loves justice, and that’s why I get infatuated with my philanthropic work and my foundation, because if I have the power to reach masses of people with my music and my concerts and talk about things that really matter—in this case, human trafficking—then that is something I think people need to know about. I’m someone who takes advantage of my career to touch many people in many ways, not only in my music but also trying to create some consciousness about this horrible crime. I’m someone who lives freely.