Monday, December 5, 2016

Detroit actor relishes role, respects his character in 'Wild Faith'

 Born and raised in the Motor City, the Southfield Lathrup High School and Eastern Michigan University alum, also takes the responsibility of playing 'John,' an African-American fighting in the Civil War with the 102nd Michigan (later U.S.) Colored Troops, very seriously. And with proud reverence.

    "I am so honored to be part of a film and storyline that has been so carefully sculpted," enthused Martez, who was a late starter in fulfilling his love for acting.

    "I've had the passion (for acting-improv-writing) since an early age, but just didn't act on it (pun intended) until college, where I studied improv and was encouraged by my professors to see where performance would take me," he added.

    Perseverance and studying his craft at the Redbud Theater in Ann Arbor has paid off for Martez. While methodically moving his career forward, step-by-step, Martez earned a featured extra role in an episode of Detroit 1-8-7 (with Michael Imperioli of Sopranos fame), as well as a powerful turn in the short film 'Perspective' (as a muslim Iman, 'Akbar').

     For now, the imposing, but gentle 6-foot-3 actor, who earned the role of 'John' in 'Wild Faith' over several others who auditioned, continues his pursuit in winning new roles in Michigan productions. Making the Collective Development Inc. film (billed as an interracial 'Little House On the Prairie'), that much more special considering the location and subject matter.

     'John' is a 1st Sgt. in the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops (formerly known as the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry and whose ranks were filled with many fugitive slaves who were ferried back from Canada, where they fled, to serve the Union).

    The 1st Michigan Colored Infantry was formed in Detroit and mobilized for service in Feb., 1864. While not as well known as the 54thMassachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment as depicted in the 1989 movie 'Glory,' the Michigan unit was every bit as battle-tested.

    Said Geoff Blair, treasurer of the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops (Re-enactors group) based in Michigan, who will be in the flashback battle scenes in the movie, "During its entire military service, the 102nd never lost an engagement against the enemy and they never retreated or ran from the field, which was a major misconception of the day concerning how black soldiers would perform under fire."

    He added, "From all historical accounts, the 102nd performed admirably."

    "I've played drug dealers (getting killed in Detroit 1-8-7) and other 'stereotypical roles' for African-Americans, so this is a huge opportunity for me to grow as an actor,'" explained Martez. "John is a husband (to fellow Detroit actress Lisa Lauren Smith as 'Haddie'), a father (to Xylia Jenkins as 'Grace') and friend to fellow soldier and Michigander, 'Emmett' (Shane Hagadorn), a white 1st Lieutenant in the 102nd (colored units were strictly commanded by white officers).

    "John is a strong, proud man, but one whose spirit represents everything it means to be an American, despite the color of a person's skin, and despite the darkness of this period in our history. I haven't been this excited over a role, in such a touching story of humanity, in a while," smiled Martez.

    Principal photography on 'Wild Faith' was completed last month at several locales in Michigan - including Hastings, Coldwater, Dowling, Woodland and Grand Ledge.

    Joining these flashback Civil War battle scenes, and opposing the Federals in an intense skirmish/firefight, is a large contingent of the 12th South Carolina/4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry (re-enactor group), based in Lansing, but with members covering the entire state and beyond.

     "Our various members have participated in the filming of 'Glory,' 'Gettysburg,' 'Gods and Generals,' as well as smaller documentaries for the History Channel," said Ben Cwayna (Captain/Commanding Officer of the military company of the 12th South Carolina/4th Michigan).

    Considered one the best Civil War Confederate re-enactor groups in the country by their peers, Cwayna summed up the unit's feeling on the film quite succinctly.

    "We're pumped! Not only is it a wonderful film and opportunity, it's being shot in our own backyard!"

    'Wild Faith' is written by DJ Perry and directed by Jesse Low.

    It will be released in fall 2017.

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