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Headlinesn > Entertainment > Ricky Martin is livin’ the good life back in front of the camera in ‘Palm Royale’
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Ricky Martin is livin’ the good life back in front of the camera in ‘Palm Royale’

Ricky Martin doesn’t know why it has taken him so long to return to acting. Maybe he was waiting for the right story to tell after his Emmy-nominated turn as Versace’s partner, Antonio D’Amico, in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” in 2018. Maybe Hollywood was still struggling to see him beyond his sexuality.

Whatever the reason, the Puerto Rican superstar is hoping that his starring role in Apple TV+’s “Palm Royale” — in which he holds his own opposite comedy royalty Carol Burnett and royalty-in-the-making Kristen Wiig and Alison Janney — will mark the start of a new chapter in his career. In the new, ’60s-set comedy series, Martin plays Robert Diaz, a Korean War veteran who works as the eagle-eyed employee of the show’s exclusive country club and the caretaker of Burnett’s high-society doyenne, Norma Dellacorte.

Although initially presented as a wary gatekeeper of the club that Wiig’s character, Maxine, is attempting to join, Robert has his own history of feeling like an outsider. Martin adeptly plays Robert’s emotional and sexual repression, which stems from the rejection he experienced from his family in Puerto Rico and the tragic loss of a male lover who served with him in the war. “He doesn’t want to fall in love with anybody because whoever he falls in love with gets hurt or dies,” Martin says on a recent video call.

All these details are gradually revealed over the course of the 10-episode first season, which was by design. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of homophobia out there, and I think it was written in a way that is like, ‘Let’s make [the audience] fall in love with him so that whenever he’s completely vulnerable and open about who he really is, oh, my God, we cannot hate him,’” Martin says. “His nature is so pure and so innocent at the same time, and he’s been badly hurt. I think it was so wonderful that it took us seven episodes to actually really see more of his colors.”

Martin remembers the first time, at age 15, that he was in front of a camera and heard a director call “action,” but even all these years later, he still considers himself new to the craft. “I am just understanding that as an actor, you don’t lie and you just become that person.”

Speaking vividly about tapping into the fear and vulnerability that Robert experiences when coming out to his new friends in “Palm Royale,” he has a tendency to slip into the first person. “I think I am more comfortable with my own skin, and that level of maturity allows me to tell more stories with more honesty,” he says.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Martin was a self-described film buff. He counts “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “About Last Night” among his all-time favorite coming-of-age stories. The first film that left an impression on him, however, was “Saturday Night Fever.” (“I didn’t know what I was, but I felt things when I saw John Travolta on camera. I think he was my first crush,” he says with a boyish grin.) As he got older, he found himself drawn to the intensity of “The Godfather,” “Scarface” and “Star Wars” — a fictional universe that he still hopes to join one day. In the ’90s, he became obsessed with all things Pedro Almodóvar.

The summer before starting his freshman year at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1990, Martin went to Mexico to watch a play produced by a friend, who told him to stay and replace one of the actors in the musical production. Having spent most of his adolescence performing as one-fifth of the boy band Menudo, Martin accepted the offer, reasoning that he could always go back to school one day. (He didn’t.) That theater role eventually led to Martin’s first roles on Mexican television and his first solo record deal, which, in turn, led to him being cast as the lusciously long-haired, often-shirtless Miguel Morez in “General Hospital.”

It was during his time on the ABC daytime soap that Martin began to reckon with his own sexuality after having fallen in love with — and having his heart broken by — a man for the first time. He credits executive producer Wendy Riche and co-star Lilly Melgar, in particular, for protecting him and helping him find his bearings as an actor in a new language.

“I remember I had to buy a book that was called ‘The Slang Dictionary’ for me to understand a little bit what the scenes were about,” he recalls with a laugh, “but I would do it all over again.”

Ricky Martin stars with Laura Dern in “Palm Royale”

(Erica Parise / Apple TV+)

Martin is quick to push back on any suggestion that he has been typecast as a gay man: “I’m happy to go wherever the wind takes me, but I’m also very happy to play heterosexual parts. I don’t have a problem with that.”

But at a time when LGBTQ+ rights continue to be under attack, Martin is aware that depictions of queer life remain a vital reflection of society. “We are decision makers, we’re trendsetters and we are part of life, so I think more [queer] stories need to be told. And if I could do them all, I would do them all,” he says. “But I know there’s a lot of great LGBTQ+ actors and actresses that are ready to work and hungry for the opportunity.”

For his part, Martin is still waiting to sink his teeth into the role of a juicy, downright evil antagonist. “I want to touch on something as important as mental health. I’ve always told my agent, ‘Let’s find that script where I have to shave my eyebrows, and I have to change physically in order for me to be comfortable with a character’ — and we’re working on it. If you see paparazzi pictures of me with no eyebrows, you know what’s going on,” he says, laughing. But he also has aspirations of leveraging his star power to write, direct and produce his own content.

While he awaits word about a potential second season of “Palm Royale” — creator Abe Sylvia has already confirmed that, if renewed, Robert will survive the finale’s big cliffhanger — Martin reveals that he is planning to shoot a “very powerful” (but as yet unannounced) project early next year that could involve some music.

After wrapping up the most recent leg of his Trilogy tour with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias, Martin says he has been working on “reviving” some of his old hits with new arrangements and collaborations, but he has yet to “lock myself in the studio” and begin working on his next album.

“I went through so much last year — I went through a divorce, I changed managers, I went through family issues. Right now, I’m in such a great place, and I just want to keep it simple and have fun with my kids, enjoy me being single and all that good stuff,” he says. “I guess it’s now all about the input in order for me to be able to go into the studio and work on the output.”

Now 52, Martin has been famous for most of his life. That kind of global attention — not to mention the adrenaline rush of performing in front of tens of thousands of fans — can be disorienting. Martin admits he has had to develop a thick skin to weather intense scrutiny about his personal life.

“Not to compare [myself], but I look at Elvis and Jim Morrison. We see people that are not with us anymore that are legends, and they needed that pill to soothe the pain,” says Martin, who considers himself “very, very lucky” to have the grounding force of family and friends who have known him for decades.

In conversation, Martin still radiates the same irresistible mix of charm and sex appeal that have defined his career. But beneath that larger-than-life persona is an artist determined to show that his best years are still ahead of him, especially since he believes the gay community tends to consider anyone over 30 old: “I’m going to change that way of thinking. Just hold on tight. This is only the beginning.”

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