Ricky Martin Proves His Range in “Palm Royale”

Ricky Martin will be a performer until the day he dies. Since bursting onto the scene nearly 40 years ago as one fifth of the boy band Menudo, the Puerto Rican superstar’s musical versatility and cross-cultural appeal have transformed him into one of the most recognizable solo recording artists in the world, who has sold over 70 million records and topped the charts decade after decade.

But before he was gracing international stages, Martin was actually an aspiring actor, who began his career in the Mexican theater and did a stint on ABC soap opera General Hospital in the mid-’90s. And while he was happy to “surf the wave” of his music career, Martin admits he has always longed to step into the shoes of a new character.

More than six years after delivering an Emmy-nominated performance in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, in which he lent heartbreaking humanity to his portrayal of Versace’s partner Antonio D’Amico, Martin has returned to the small screen in Palm Royale, which premieres Wednesday on Apple TV+.

Inspired by Juliet McDaniel’s novel Mr. and Mrs. American Pie and created by Abe Sylvia, the new comedy series—set in the 1960s—follows Kirsten Wiig as Maxine Simmons, a scheming social climber who moves to the colorful town of Palm Beach with her husband, Douglas (Josh Lucas), under the guise of taking care of Douglas’s ailing aunt, Norma (Carol Burnett). In reality, Maxine is hoping to leverage Norma’s connections to break into the town’s upper crust.

Martin plays Robert Diaz, a Korean War veteran and employee at the town’s premier country club, who lives in Norma’s pool house and seems to carry a fair amount of pain and repression below the surface. Robert is Norma’s “eagle eyes” at the club, Martin says—the two share a special connection, after she took care of him in a time of need.

“There is a story behind Robert about his family and his rejection, and him being rejected coming from Puerto Rico, that is very important,” Martin tells Harper’s Bazaar on a recent video call from Los Angeles. “It’s something that we will talk about in the next season, hopefully, but it’s important to [show] the need of him wanting to belong somewhere. I think that is what he sees also in Maxine, that he [initially] rejects and hates about her.”

As someone who is always looking to tell a story with an underlying message, Martin says he believes Palm Royale “will change the way you think about life in general,” in that he wants viewers to “question their lives and see how they want to change their perspective, and how important it is to be open-minded.”

“Even though [the show] is set in the ’60s, today there’s a lot of men that go through life with a lot of secrets,” he elaborates, clearly speaking from experience as a gay man. Men like Robert feel a need “to become part of the military service just to prove how tough and strong they are. So that is something that I think is important to make people think about.”

In conversation, Martin—in a stylish, open-collar black dress shirt and a pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses—still oozes the same charm and sex appeal that have defined his career. But underneath that larger-than-life persona is an artist who seems to be more comfortable with himself than ever before.

“I am 52 years old, and I think that this is only the beginning,” he says earnestly. “There is so much ahead of me, and I feel it from the bottom of my heart. My gut tells me every morning: ‘Get ready because what’s coming is only going to be better.’ ”

On the heels of wrapping up the second North American leg of his Trilogy Tour with Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull, Martin—who is planning to record new music before potentially heading back out on tour with his co-headliners in Australia, at the end of the year—opens up below about his return to acting, why he never wants to get too comfortable, and why he refuses to be pigeonholed as an entertainer.

What are you able to access creatively as an actor that you aren’t necessarily able to achieve as a recording and touring artist?

I always thought that actors can’t lie. Actors have to be honest. Actors have to be in touch with feelings and emotions. With music, I get that in the studio when I’m writing the lyrics or when I am sharing my emotions with people that translate my history into music, into words. You can record your music and go on the road and talk about your emotions and then be onstage and feel the reaction of the audience. [Music] is a little bit more personal, but there’s a level of intimacy in acting that is very powerful, and it seduces me in very powerful ways.

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Erica Parise

You’ve always spoken about the importance of being open to new experiences, and with Palm Royale, you basically took a crash course in comedy.

I walked in with a lot of humility into set every day. Yes, I’ve been able to work as an actor, study as an actor, and surround myself with amazing coaches. But are you kidding me? These are legends, and I just want to sit down and take notes [laughs], because of everything they’ve been through, everything they’ve seen, and everything that they’ve experienced through the years. Carol Burnett, are you serious? It was just beautiful. To be able to give her a hand massage in the scenes and even put makeup on her was so special. [Laughs.] It really took me to very soft emotions.

Kristen is someone that is constantly challenging herself to be better, to be stronger and to be outstanding in every scene. I just hopped into her energy, and at the end of every scene, I felt like a better actor. Laura [Dern] took me to this method acting place that I didn’t experience before. I walked on set being Robert and not waiting for [the director to call] “Action!” and that is something that I will always be thankful for.

Following Versace, you said you weren’t necessarily getting the roles you were hoping for, and you weren’t sure if that disparity had anything to do with your sexuality. Robert in Palm Royale is gay, but it’s not at the forefront of his characterization until later in the season.

He actually suffers a lot from that, and he left his home because of the need that he had to hide. Later on, he felt the need to share his identity with the people around him, but he’s really afraid. He walks into that library [in episode four] with a lot of shame, to look for those [phone] numbers [to hook up with other men], to see if he can find some sort of connection with people, but it needs to be quiet.

At this stage of your life, are you actively looking to play queer characters, or are those the kinds of parts that are being offered to you?

I am just open to any role. I’m open to roles that will create an impact [on] people listening and watching. I don’t care if it’s a queer character or a straight character. I’m sure any other actors won’t mind. The other day, they asked me, “Ricky, are you concerned that you might be typecast as a gay man?” And I’m like, “Wait, hold on a second. Do you ask Brad Pitt if he’s afraid of being typecast as a straight man? Don’t go there, because it’s completely unnecessary.”

You clearly understand the business side of the music industry, so it seems like only a matter of time until you are producing your own TV or film projects. With your kind of name recognition, I feel like the onus is actually on you to champion the stories you want to tell.

I agree. This is something that in the future I want to be a part of, but you have to be able to touch every base in the industry in order for you to be able to later on produce and be part of a creative process such as writing. It’s something that is on the horizon, but not yet. I need to find myself in this space in order for me to jump to the next step. … But I have already been offered some very beautiful projects with me as a producer, and I’m really looking forward to that.

2024 is a big milestone in the timeline of your music career. This July marks 40 years since you joined Menudo. This month marks 25 years since “Livin’ la Vida Loca” and your groundbreaking Spanish-language performance of “The Cup of Life.” What do you think has been the key to your longevity?

My first day onstage was July 10, 1984, and it’s one of those things that I guess there has to be a dharmic approach to this, in order for you to find peace. [I always ask myself]: Why me and not others? I am very lucky to say that I’ve always been surrounded by an amazing group of people—people that tell me yes when I need to hear a yes, and people that say, “No, you are wrong” when I need to hear it.

I can only tell you what I’ve done that has allowed me to be where I’m at today—and for sure, it takes a village. I’m in front of the camera, but behind me, there are people that hold me … and lift me up when I’m feeling down and celebrate with me when I’m on the top. I believe in not giving up, even though it’s been rough. Yes, there’ve been a lot of moments of glory, but there’ve been a lot of moments of disappointment where you go, “Oh, this is it? Is this how it’s going to end?” You go, “No, no, you gotta keep pushing through.” And then you keep counting decades! [Laughs.] It’s already been four decades!

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Phillip Faraone//Getty Images

You’ve gone through a lot personally in the last year, including a divorce, but you seem as happy and as creatively fulfilled as you’ve ever been. How would you define this chapter of your life?

I can only appreciate the highs if I acknowledge the lows, and I cannot forget that it’s been tough at times. That is rocket fuel for me to create in my mind what I want, what I need, in order for me to be satisfied with life. But then again, oh my God, I always want more, and I don’t take no for an answer. So, yes, I want to be in front of the cameras, and I want to hear “Action!” many times. I want to go back into theater and feel the energy of the crowd … and for them to leave the theater as better people. How is that going to happen? I don’t know. Maybe [I’ll do it] three, four years from now, because it usually takes five years to put a theatrical show together, but we’ll see what happens.

Of course, music will always be there. I need music. I need to walk onstage, and I need to feel people dancing to my music. I need to feel people romanticizing over my ballads. I need to be an entertainer. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I think I’m going to die in front of the camera or onstage. I want to be 90 and hear “Action!” and be 90 and probably sit down on a stool with a great symphony behind me and hopefully be singing. [Laughs.]

Your twin boys will turn 16 this year. When you look back at the last 15 years of your life, which have largely been on the road, are you happy with the balance that you’ve found between fatherhood and career? Have you felt fulfilled in all the areas of your life at the same time, or have you learned with time that there is always a trade-off?

This morning, I was getting ready to come here. It was seven in the morning, and I had four children running around the house. Two of them were crying because they did not want to go to school. And I’m like, “Wow, this is life. In a couple of hours, I’m going to be in front of a camera talking about work and being vulnerable and exposed about my feelings, because I’m going to be talking about acting.”

One [part of my life] feeds the other. I could not imagine myself today without those four beautiful souls that are inspiring me every day to be a better person and to be better at what I do. The balance has been beautiful, but it’s been a divine source of light, of inspiration, of information that makes me choose properly what needs to happen and what needs to be done, in order for me to be in a great place, in order for them to be in a great place. So they came at a perfect time in my life, and I only feel gratitude at this point. It’s incredible.

Whenever I talk to actors and filmmakers, they often say that it’s the feeling of “I don’t think I can do this, so I have to do it” that drives them. There’s a healthy amount of fear that I think you need to have to continue growing. What kind of role does fear play in the decisions you make now?

Give me that fear! Of course, I want that fear. I read the other day that Robert De Niro said, “There’s nothing more beautiful than the excitement that you feel when you finish a script that you like, and there’s nothing more amazing than the humility that you feel when you walk on set to put life into that script.” So you need humility. He calls it humility. I call it fear. [Laughs.]

You always need to feel uncomfortable because that will make you go to a better place. When you get too comfortable, life is too easy, and there’s no spark, and the gunpowder will not be lit, as I see it. I love being uncomfortable. I walk onstage every day, but those four minutes before performing, there’s such a rush and an adrenaline, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. If something is going to be good, it’s going to be in front of 20,000 people. And if something goes wrong, it’s also in front of 20,000 people! So, damn, it just makes you feel alive.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Palm Royale premieres with its first three episodes on March 20 on Apple TV+. A new episode will premiere every Wednesday after that through May 8.

Lettermark

Max Gao is a freelance entertainment and sports journalist based in Toronto. He has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NBC News, Sports Illustrated, The Daily Beast, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Men’s Health, Teen Vogue and W Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @MaxJGao.