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May 30, 2011

Martinez upbeat despite ‘All My Children’ ending

DALTON — J.R. Martinez isn’t old enough to have been part of “All My Children” since the beginning.

After all, the soap opera made its television debut on Jan. 5, 1970. At 27 years of age, Martinez is 14 years the show’s junior.

However, Martinez will be with the venerable daytime drama at the end.

Last month, ABC officials announced the network was canceling the soap opera along with “One Life to Live,” which has been on television for 40 years. The shows will be replaced by two lifestyle programs titled “The Chew” and “The Revolution.”

On “All My Children,” Martinez, a 2002 Dalton High School graduate who himself was seriously injured in Iraq, plays Brot Monroe, a wounded Army veteran who suffered serious injuries during a deployment to the Middle Eastern country.

“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” Martinez said this week from his home in Los Angeles. “It gives me pride to know that I’m too young to be there from day one, but I’m young enough and able to say I was there when it finally wraps. I’m going to be a part of that historic moment. It’s going to be an unbelievable honor to be able to see so many people’s great careers get wrapped up on the show.”

Martinez arrived in Dalton in 2001, having moved here with his family from Hope, Ark., the summer before his senior year. He joined the football team, became a starter on special teams and contributed to the Catamounts’ run to the state title game. After high school, Martinez joined the Army.

His life changed during deployment to Iraq that began in February 2003. Two months later, the left front tire of a Humvee Martinez was driving hit a land mine. The explosion caused severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body and disfigured his face. Martinez endured 34 months in the hospital and 32 surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.

But Martinez persevered. He became a motivational speaker and shared his story with scores of fellow wounded veterans throughout the country.

Then in 2008, Martinez landed a role on “All My Children.” His aspirations to appear on a soap opera date to May 2003 while he was confined to a hospital bed recovering from his war injuries. His mother, Maria Zavala, stayed by his bedside and watched hours upon hours of English and Spanish language soap operas. Martinez was unable to change the channel. But he slowly began enjoying the melodramatic shows, so much so that he joked with his mother that one day he would be on a soap opera.

He originally thought he would be on the show for three months. When the show has its final episode this fall, Martinez’ tenure on “All My Children” will have reached almost three years. Not bad for a guy with zero acting experience.

“What can I say?” Martinez said. “I’ve legitimately had my school, my acting classes, on an amazing stage and probably one of the best stages to learn on. I’ve spoken to a lot of actors and a lot of past actors and everyone agrees about how the best place to learn to become an actor is in the soap opera world because it’s so fast and there is so much new material so often. You have to continuously stay on top of it.”

Martinez said news of the show’s cancellation wasn’t a complete shock. The cast and crew had heard rumors that executives were considering ending the show.

Despite losing a job and a role that allows him to tell his story to millions, Martinez remains upbeat about the future. He plans to increase his speaking engagements. Since the filming schedule for a soap opera is hectic, Martinez found booking speaking gigs months in advance difficult. Although he misses the comfort food of the South and the people of his adopted hometown — including his mother — he will remain in Los Angeles.

Martinez has taken up writing, developed a love for poetry and hopes to have several books published. He wants to parlay his affinity for poetry into songwriting. And since he has a foot in the door because of his experiences on “All My Children,” he hasn’t ruled out continuing his acting career.

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