Walk into an audition looking like Natalie Martinez and you can expect to get typecast as the “hot chick.” Martinez, however, became a much rarer bird in Hollywood: the hot chick who kicks some serious ass.
“MMA has been a passion of mine for years,” says the 31-year-old Cuban-American. “People hire me for physical roles, and I love playing them.”
No character has captured Martinez’s prowess in the ring quite like MMA fighter Alicia Mendez in the second season of Kingdom, a DirecTV drama set in the L.A. cage-fighting scene. “This was a show I really wanted to be a part of,” she says. “I get to fight all day!”
Kingdom follows a string of high-adrenaline film roles alongside action royalty, including Jason Statham (Death Race), Mark Wahlberg (Broken City), and Ryan Reynolds in last summer’s Self/less. It’s all the more remarkable considering she got her start as a pretty face—at 24, she was hired as the spokesmodel for JLo’s clothing line.
It was only a matter of time before that fiery side came out: As the first generation of her family to be born in the States, Martinez has a strong connection to her Latin roots. “I do Cuban meals, I speak Spanish…,” she says. “Growing up around strong Latina women, it’s what I know. Strength is attractive—I love a woman who comes out on top.”