I predict I'll once again be in the minority on this one. But what the hell...
Like many others, I have been rather hesitant about embracing A Martinez's new, short term role of Ray Montez, uncle of Langston and new foe of Dorian Lord. There are those viewers who are unfamiliar and/or unaware of Martinez's work although he has been a busy fixture in prime time and daytime since the late 60's (does that man age well or what???!). I think the very first time I saw Martinez was on an episode of The White Shadow and later on The Incredible Hulk; yes, when they originally aired. In fact, Martinez was one of the busiest Latino actors in all of television during the last hurrah of the three network era, guest starring on what seemed to be every prime time show with a time slot and a broadcast signal.
Many daytime fans remember Martinez as Roy Di Luca (in a role that was not terribly well-written during his tenure there) on General Hospital. And though he has done solid work before and since that time, Martinez will always be associated with his earlier and most notably famous role of Cruz Castillo during most of Santa Barbara's storied nine year run. Martinez and co-star Marcy Walker as the internationally popular Cruz & Eden practically defined the term "supercouple" even while other soaps were awash in them. As with any well-known actor, there are bound to be certain things we expect out of that actor based on their previous work. We think we know how good they will be or won't be and prejudge their performances before we've seen a frame of film or digital video of their latest projects.
And so, whether fans were familiar with Martinez's work or not, the first few episodes featuring Ray have been met with the usual mix of puzzlement, instant like or dislike, and/or indifference. Ray's manner. His gait. And god, that accent! And - well - A MArtinez is not acting like the Cruz we all knew and loved! Like many fans, I raised an eyebrow. And the initial scenes on OLTL didn't help much. Ray's interactions with Jared and later Clint seemed a bit rushed, heavy on plot points and exposition, and failed to really gel in an organic way despite the fact that Clint's scheme to have Ray use Langston as leverage against Dorian in order to regain control of Buchanan Enterprises had been developed and set in motion for weeks. So, as much as I have been a fan of Martinez for many years, I wasn't buying Ray or Martinez's interpretation of the character. Until his first one on one scene with Dorian.
All of my doubts and resistance evaporated as Ray & Dorian had their first showdown and I found myself drawn to the screen. Martinez and Robin Strasser, in full on Cramer Woman battle gear, came out to play as actors. For the first time, Ray emerged as more than a mere plot catalyst. Martinez played Ray with steely resolve and cunning, sizing up Dorian every step of the way. One could almost see the wheels turning as Ray calculated each word to dig into Dorian's armor like the way he repeated that he was Langston's only blood relative not merely for the benefit of viewers who might have missed an episode or scene, but as a psychological weapon against her. I loved how Ray stood completely nonplussed in Dorian's living room, unaffected by the wealth around him or by Dorian throwing her weight around. But what impressed me most was the look of indignation on Ray's face when Dorian tried to talk down to him ( a defensive mechanism of her own). Ray was actually offended and one got the sense this was the moment the tide turned into the very thing about which Nora had warned Clint. It started to become personal for Ray. This was no stereotypical "matter of honor"; Ray was insulted as human being. This was brought home at the end of their confrontation when Ray interjected some curious sexual tension into the proceedings and peeled back a few more layers (of shame? regret? disappointment?) when Dorian demanded to know where he was while Langston was left alone after her parents' death.
Robin Strasser was superb in raising her own already formidable game. She communicated an almost perfect mix of Dorian's indignation, suspicion, and fear. When she asked what Ray wanted and he responded that he only wanted to raise his niece, Strasser let us in on Dorian's panic without losing control -- which was unfortunately juxtaposed against Brody's laughably predictable outburst of Ikea furniture busting rage. Nevertheless, the stakes were raised for Dorian and Strasser was superbly present in the moment in those scenes with Martinez.
Although A Martinez has reportedly finished filming, the first scenes between Dorian and Ray were loaded with text and subtext. Martinez gave a wonderfully controlled, tightly wound performance that revealed several layers to his short term character while Strasser stepped up to the plate as only she can.
In my humble opinion, this is what you get when talented performers decide not just to play the page, but actually do some honest to God acting. Without benefit of spoilers I think where this story will wind up is fairly predictable, but I've officially signed on for the ride. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
I'm still not completely sold on the accent, though...