If you haven’t heard of Karrie Martin yet, don’t worry. You’ll be seeing a lot more of her soon. The undeniably adorable fresh talent is the lead in the new Netflix dramedy Gentefied, produced by America Ferrera and featuring a predominantly Latinx cast.
Though Martin doesn’t fall on the queer side of the fence in real life, in Gentefied, the Louisiana native plays a young, artsy Latina lesbian living in East Los Angeles, trying to navigate her way through a world that doesn’t necessarily represent or support her.
The show centers on Martin’s character, Ana Morales, and her male cousins who have come together to save their grandfather’s popular Boyle Heights taco shop amid the neighborhood’s journey toward gentrification.
“Being from New Orleans, [it] has such an insanely rich culture. And when you go into like L.A., like [downtown] Los Angeles…it’s just such a melting pot of people,” Martin explains of getting to know her character’s environment. “But I feel like going into Boyle Heights and working in Boyle Heights, and being around the people—oh my gosh, this is where the culture is!”
When she’s discussing her personally and socially significant new role, Martin’s excitement is palpable.
“You know, it’s so funny how full circle things come, and I feel like in this industry it’s always about…that one opportunity—that one door needs to open to kind of change your life,” she says of landing the role of Ana. Martin explains that she had auditioned for a “very big project” for the same casting agency last year. Ultimately, Martin didn’t win that role, but she did win the hearts of those at the agency.
Martin’s savvy in the casting process isn’t just pure intuition.
She previously enjoyed a successful career as a casting agent and was instrumental in casting notable projects like Creed II, Bad Boys for Life, and Eddie Murphy’s most recent comeback vehicle, Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name.
Born and raised in New Orleans to Honduran immigrant parents, Martin admits that after getting the part she wasn’t as worried about playing a lesbian as she was about coming off authentically as a Latina raised in the barrios of East L.A.
Photography by Leslie Alejandro
“When I got the role, [my worries] had nothing to do with the fact that she was queer,” she explains. “It was more to do with the fact that…I don’t know if I have that East L.A. swag.”
Martin later had an epiphany of sorts, realizing the only way to give her character the authenticity she deserved was to inject as much of herself into the role as possible.
“When I got booked,” she says, “the producers told me, ‘Thank you for being yourself.’ And that’s what I think changed everything for me, just in how I was going to approach this character. I need to mold myself into Ana, and Ana needs to mold herself into Karrie.”
Martin also says being herself helped to build a closer bond with castmates: “The boys [who play her cousins] had all been cast, our grandfather had been cast, and I was the last one to be cast—but it was all so meant to be,” she says emphatically. “When I met [them], I actually didn’t know that they had already been cast, so I just went into the audition like, ‘Hey, nice to meet y’all!’ It was so crazy how instant it was.”
On playing a queer character for the first time, Martin says it was easier than she had anticipated.
“It came very naturally,” she confesses with a laugh. “Learning to empathize with your characters and finding that beautiful thing that you relate to, I feel like that’s just—I keep saying and repeating it—but I feel as though that’s the most important aspect of it. Everything else just comes so easily. My partner [played by Julissa Calderon] in the story made it easy as well.”
“And the show, gosh, it is so beautifully brown,” she adds of the predominantly Latinx cast and diverse crew. “One of my sisters came to set one day, and when I got off set she said, ‘I want to be Ana…I didn’t even see you in that character, I just saw her, and she’s so strong and she’s so sure of herself, even in the midst of the chaos of life,’ which is what this show so beautifully depicts.”
Not one to sit still during downtime, Martin and one of her sisters (she has two, and one brother) recently started their own clothing line, Martin Ave—from which a portion of proceeds benefit rural villages and small towns in their parents’ homeland of Honduras through a partnership with Humanity and Hope United Foundation. We especially love their “Hola, y’all” T-shirt that cleverly sums up Martin’s bubbly personality and unique perspective as a Latina raised in the American South.
Certainly, Martin says, seeing such amazing and strong women working behind the scenes has had a profound impact on her and the direction of her own career. She says she hopes to produce one day, too.
Martin admits she is a total “fangirl” when it comes to actress-turned-showrunner Ferrera and says it was exciting to be able to see her work: “She is so intuitive and intelligent and with it. [She] gives great feedback. I learned so much. I hope to be able to inspire others that way as well.”
Gentefied premieres on Neflix tomorrow, February 21.