Growing up a chubby kid in the San Francisco, Philip Martin never imagined he’d share the screen with two Oscar-winning actors. Yet, it’s exactly what the Salvadoran, Spanish, Irish and Scottish actor does in HBO’s Phil Spector, which premieres this Sunday at 9pm ET. The film follows the 2007 murder trial against producer Spector (Al Pacino) for allegedly shooting actress Lana Clarkson. Helen Mirren portrays defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden and acclaimed playwright David Mamet is the film’s writer and director. Enough star power for your first major role? We would say so.
Below, the up-and-coming actor tells Latina.com about Phil Spector and learning enough legalese for his role.
Tell us about your role in Phil Spector.
I play James Lee, a defense lawyer on Spector’s defense team. Specifically, I’m Bruce Cutler’s (Jeffery Tambor) protégé and his understudy. Of course Helen Mirren leads the defense team, so I get to be part of the whole brain trust of the Phil Spector defense.
When it was going on, did you follow the case?
Specifically with the case, I definitely did my research and delved into it a little bit. The cool part about it was that I was able to talk to my friends who are litigators and defense lawyers, and I got to understand the whole process of the legal system and the law. It was great to be able to play a character and be part of a project that helped me learn more about how our legal system works here in America.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you shadow some of your friends?
I shadowed my friend who’s a litigator. I shadowed him for a day - he gave me the process of what he goes through for a trial, like how much time you spend discovering, how 99 percent of it is paperwork. I got to spend time with a defense lawyer of his friend who had joined the firm. I really got to see his perspective, because he has done a lot of pro bono work, and I got to hear his words and what kind of attitudes and principles help him do his job. It was very, very helpful. I also watched all of David Mamet’s films, and lawyer films, and The Verdict, and coached with it, read the script thirteen to fifteen times… I just really delved into the character to really understand what it’s like to be a human being in the law profession dealing with these cases, trying to figure out what it is that drives James to keep waking up every morning, especially as a young lawyer. The amount of humility and years of work all lawyers have to go through early in their careers just to get to the point where they can actually stand up in court and deliberate and defend their client—I related it to acting, because acting is a lot of work. I’ve been working on my craft for ten years to be able to get to this point. I’m very grateful to be part of a project like this.
You mentioned pupusas as some of your favorite Salvadoran food. It must have been tough growing up with pupusas and not be overweight, right?
[Laughs] Just a little. The thing that’s great about my Hispanic heritage in total is the passion that we have as people. It’s undeniably very unique. I think I developed that passion from my mother. My mother was very passionate about raising kids and the family-first mentality. It really had a hold on me on really developing that passion for my craft and developing that passion for life in general. I also love the music, the people…the passion is just an overriding theme. My mom’s upbringing definitely played a big part on me developing my passion to the point where I could focus it and start to develop a career.
Phil Spector premieres on HBO on March 24 at 9 pm EST.