story / Jessica Rounds
photos / Joshua Shultz
He’s a 21-year-old actor, drives a Mercedes, and fits all requisites to be a teenage heartthrob. It’s a potentially insufferable combination that regularly douses Hollywood with infamy. Yet, when I met Graham Patrick Martin at the Oaks Gourmet Café in Hollywood, he stuck his hand out brightly and seemed more interested in putting me at ease than posturing about his thespian kudos- of which there have been quite a few.
Summer camp, age 8, was the scene of the acting bug bite… he’d followed his older sister to French Woods in upstate NY, intent on horseback riding and water sports, and ended up auditioning for a role in a play. Hard to imagine that he’d be moving to Los Angeles as a teenager to play Bill Engvall’s son on The Bill Engvall Show. “I played the brother of Jennifer Lawrence,” he says of the recent Oscar winner. Then adds with a big grin: “Some people have heard of her… she’s doing all right for herself. I think she’ll make it… I keep rooting for her.”
From there it was Two and a Half Men for several seasons, through the replacement of Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen by Ashton Kutcher. With an earnest shrug, Martin explains that few know exactly what went down, including him. “People always want to know the scoop – even my friends. And really, there was no scoop. We all just continued to show up and know our lines.”
More likely, Martin is less interested in gossip than he is in working hard, and his passionate, professional approach to acting earned him a lead in the sparse and provocative indie film Somewhere Slow, opposite Jessalyn Gilsig (Glee, Vikings), as a teenage Mormon runaway and her much younger love interest. After a few weeks filming in an intimate cabin in Rhode Island with Gilsig and the director, Martin proved that he could successfully make the transition from sitcoms to film. “That was my first role that fit what I had been training to do since I was 12. I was terrified that I might fuck it up…but I learned so much and realized I can do what I love and I don’t have to be afraid of it.”
Two months later, he guest starred as a teen prostitute on the season finale of TNT’s most popular scripted series, The Closer – a role which transitioned into a series regular on the spinoff Major Crimes, opposite Oscar-nominated actress Mary McDonnell. Looking at the clean-cut, friendly face in front of me, it’s hard to imagine him portraying the grittier side of life. “Funny enough, while on the set of The Closer, I asked Kevin Bacon how he researched for a similar role. He talked to prostitutes and customers in the Village in NYC. I didn’t want to do that here in LA, because I didn’t want anyone to think I was profiting from their struggle. But I did watch documentaries and interviews. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like, but I try to portray it as accurately as possible.”
That approach was key playing Anna Nicole Smith’s son Daniel in the Lifetime movie The Anna Nicole Smith Story, which will air in June. The film stars a well known cast, including Martin Landau, Virginia Madsen, Adam Goldberg, and Cary Elwes. That was the first time he had ever portrayed a real person, and he watched every interview he could get his hands on. On the controversy surrounding that family, Martin says, “People judge so easily because it’s a celebrity socialite woman, but at the end of the day, the goal is to understand why they were who they were, and get in touch with the human side of them as opposed to the superficial projection.”
Martin just wrapped Bukowski, an adaption of the hard-drinking writer’s semi-autobiographical novel “Ham on Rye”, directed by James Franco. He plays Baldy, Bukowski’s high school best friend, and describes the set’s work environment as one of the most fun and focused he’s experienced to date. “Franco is fascinating – a true actor’s director, always willing to give feedback and discuss scenes.”
With a passion for acting, film and artists that resonates, Martin is also lighthearted about the industry and keeps his head above the proverbial water. “You should do what you’re doing because you love it, otherwise the pressure can lead to a lot of things, like drugs and alcohol or a mental breakdown. I have a lot of fun – I’m a fan of being a detective of humans – exploring a human being. The minute I stop getting a high off of that, I’ll stop.”
Something tells me he won’t be stopping anytime soon, fortunately. Just when I am positive Martin could not be any more endearing, he explains that he has to run because he’s taking his mom to the see the Rolling Stones for a latent Mother’s Day celebration. Of course.