Rising Star Juliana Aidén Martinez Talks ‘Griselda’ And The Power Of Womanhood

March 12, 2024

Juliana Aidén Martinez, dressed in an elegant black turtleneck, poses confidently with her hand on her hip. The striking golden earrings add a touch of opulence to her outfit, complementing her self-assured demeanor against a plain white background.

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

Juliana Aidén Martinez has been nothing short of busy since the release of Netflix’s Griselda earlier this year. 

Martinez, a Hillman Grad Rising Voice and Yale Drama graduate portrays June Hawkins, the real-life Miami detective responsible for hunting down the infamous Griselda Blanco, queenpin of the Miami drug scene in the 80’s and 90’s. 

Detective Hawkins herself informed Martinez’s breakout performance. What the actress learned from their conversations was not only the strength in femininity but the endurance and sheer necessity. “[June] believed she was powerful because she was a woman,” says Martinez. 

What I learned from my conversation with Juliana is at its core, Griselda is about womanhood in the face of oppression. More implicitly, I learned that Juliana is a passionate force, undoubtedly destined for distinction.  

In between self-tapes, the Miami native talked me through the audition process, dissected my favorite scenes from Griselda, and took a moment for manifestation. 

Read the Full Interview Below: 

Landing the Role: 

Juliana Aidén Martinez: I graduated from [Yale Drama] school in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. In my very first audition right out of school, I auditioned with the Griselda casting director, Rachel Tenner. In 2021, I auditioned for Griselda and I didn't hear anything. I had let it go into the universe when they came back to me and said, ‘We rewrote everything, can you please read this for us again?’ I taped it and sent it out as I was finishing Hillman Grad, which is this mentorship with Lena Waithe.

I had a 15-minute phone call [with the director] and I felt like it didn't go well. He couldn't get a grasp on me. I told my reps, ‘Listen, I'm going to LA for the Hillman Grad showcase. Tell him to meet me in person in LA. I'm going to be there for a week, whenever he wants, and he'll get to know if I'm right for this part.’ We met last minute for coffee and talked for an hour, and I was like, ‘Okay, I got the part.’

Exploring Griselda: A Closer Look at Two Standout Scenes:

Jeremy Whitaker: Two monumental scenes struck me personally when watching Griselda. The first was when June and her partner were interviewing their criminal informant in a Miami bar, forcing June to belittle herself to get information from him. Tell me about your character’s thought process in this scene.

JAM: The first scene you're talking about is the first time I hear about a female Narco and where June finally gets validation. One of the things specific to a conversation with June was she would say that in a lot of [the job], she would have to read people and navigate a situation to get intel. She didn't care about other people's perception of her, if it was to get intel, she was going to do it. There was this kind of matter-of-factness and tempo and rhythm to her that I remember when we were doing that scene. 

In my conversations with her, I remember her saying she would have to tell her male colleagues if they were going to interview someone, ‘Just pretend that I'm stupid and get this intel,’ which I thought was so fascinating that they had to use that type of tactic to solicit information. The essence I got from June is that it was never a devaluation of her. She never took it personally. It was just, ‘I see how you operate and I'm going to use it to my advantage.’

JW: More of the observer.

JAM: I thought that was an empowering thing for her because, in the end, she was going to get what she wanted at the mercy of someone else's egos, prejudices, and biases. One of the things I love the most about June is that she believed she was powerful because she was a woman. She would tell me things like, 'Oh, they were going to assimilate to me. I was not going to assimilate to the men.' It was very important to me because she has this kind of tomboy energy to her, but at the same time, there's a solid femininity in her. ‘I am a woman and you're going to take me as a woman.’ That's why she's dressed femininely on purpose. 

JW: I think the costuming spoke for itself and told that story.

JAM: She was like, ‘I am going to catch this woman and I'm going to be dressed as a woman.’ So many times in media I see those types of roles in which there's somewhat of a portrayal of 'I have to become a man' to do this. So much of my conversation with her was, 'No, my identity was going to be my superpower to catch her.'

JW: She did this because she is a woman above all.

JAM: And her being a Latino woman and those stereotypes that we go against. In this scene, all of those people were Latino and yet she uses her identity as a woman and how she's reading this person to be like, ‘I don't care what you think. Go to him, say I'm hysterical, and get your intel.’ And she ends up being right at the end.

JW: The second scene is after June tells Griselda that her sons have been killed, June walks out of the prison with a heavy pause and breathes a deep sigh. What was June thinking at this moment? Was it relief?

JAM: There is a true conflict in that scene. Especially because I felt so much of June as the character, is a constantly contained struggle in which she can't allow her emotions to come out because, as she said, her colleagues would then deem her a hysterical woman. So there's this kind of pressure and containment that happens throughout the show. Even towards the end in those last scenes with Griselda in which June’s giving this news about her son, there's this conflict of empathy, ‘I would never want a mother to go through that.’

There's finally this release of pressure and expectation that happens at the end, and I feel like June is victorious and free of this need to prove that she's right, this need to catch her. Towards the end, even when she's talking to Griselda, there's this conflict, but also ‘You chose your path and I chose mine’, and I'm going to give you the greatest power I can give to another human being, which is for them to feel the experience of their own decisions and their own actions.

JW: June was not overjoyed to share the information that Griselda’s sons were killed. She’s also a mother and she can relate to Griselda in that capacity.

JAM: There's not a relishing in another human being suffering. I think that was a reason June wanted to be in law enforcement, to be a homicide detective. She wanted to stop injustice and suffering, even in someone like Griselda where she thought her actions were evil. In talking about [Griselda] with me, never did June say, she’s an evil woman and she deserved everything.

JW: Wow.

JAM: She was like, Griselda grew up as a child of war in Colombia. She saw inhumane acts of violence in front of her when she was five years old. That does something to a person. Yet she's killing people, she has to be stopped, but she's still a human being.

JW: What do you hope that the viewers take away from the show?

JAM: My executive producer, Eric Newman, said that June makes the case that the oppressed don't always become the oppressor. You see June navigate specific circumstances which you can call male-dominated and oppressive environments, in which she's constantly being underestimated, but she never ends up becoming the bully. She ends up using that to be true to herself and to stick to her principles and values. I believe she's the real victor at the end of the story because she makes a case for personal liberation.

Behind the Scenes with A Miami Native:

JW: You were brought up in Miami, so this was close to home. Was the show filmed there?

JAM: It was not, unfortunately, because with the show taking place in the seventies and eighties, a lot of that architecture in Miami at the time, such as the Mutiny Hotel, no longer exists. So they had to rebuild that specific architecture and we shot in exterior locations throughout Los Angeles. Our DP is from Miami, our AD was from Miami, so they were very intent on honoring the character of Miami in our show.

JW: I fully thought it was filmed on location in Miami.

JAM: They were very intent on it. My parents lived in Miami in the eighties and nineties. They lived in that period when our show was taking place, and they worked in the banks in downtown Miami. So they remembered. I grew up with them telling me stories of what was happening. I remember my parents watching [Griselda] with me in the living room, and they were like, ‘Oh my God, I remember going to that mall Burdines, I remember going there to grab my coffee.’ So I think they did a good job capturing the hallmarks of that time.

JW: Did your parents like it?

JAM: They did!

More Juliana Aidén Martinez:

JW: What makes you feel confident when dressing for the red carpet or styling yourself for an ordinary day?

JAM: Recently, my freckles make me feel confident. They're a unique thing about me in the sense that I used to hate them as a kid and now I love them and they're like my crown of, what do they say, freckles are angel kisses? So I'm always like, yes, I'm just kissed by the angels today. I just feel beautiful in knowing that they’re a feature I love now.

In terms of what I wear, I always tell people to keep me natural. Let me feel in my element, and I want to wear the dress, I don't want the dress to wear me. Whatever it is, if I'm just kinesthetically flowing with the dress, I'm going to feel amazing in it.

JW: Let’s manifest for a moment. Is there any actor or director that you're hoping to work with in the future?

JAM: Oscar Isaac. He's from Miami. I would love to work with him. David O. Russell, Steve McQueen.

JW: That's a good list, and you've already checked off Sophia Vergara.

JAM: Sophia was a manifestation of mine and Andrés Baiz, the director, was a manifestation too. 

JW: You’re an online mystery, all I know about you is that you’re a Cancer. Wait Gemini? 

JAM: Oh my god, no. Let’s clear this up. I am not a Gemini. As human beings do, I was like, what are the people saying on the online thing? And then I was like, ‘Wait, I'm not a Gemini. I was not born in this year.’ I think at one point something said, I was born in New York. I was not born in New York. So, this is us clearing it up. I am a Taurus. 

JW: More mystery!