Marta del Reigo interviewed Ricky Martin for this article in Vanity Fair. There are more photos in the Spanish edition of the magazine, if you can find it in your area.
First it was the public announcement of his homosexuality. Then the announcement that he was a father through a surrogate. And then, after the media earthquake, a three-year-long silence. Now, returning in style to the Broadway stage, in the musical Evita, Ricky Martin gives us an exclusive introduction to his sons, Matteo and Valentino, and Carlos, his partner of four years.
A guy with a very 1940s New York look walks into the room. He is dressed in white, hair shaven on the nape of his neck and has a neat mustache, Clark Gable style. There are two young boys with him, blond and fair, looking at the squirrels in the garden. And there is another man, athletic and relaxed, who is keeping an eye on them. Time passes with an easy, Zen slowness.
It’s not exactly the scene one would imagine when thinking of Ricky Martin. The teenage Ricky Martin, moving on the stage like a mix between Michael Jackson and Duran Duran. Or his band, Menudo, setting off avalanches of girls all over Latin America. Or even the 20-year-old Ricky, sweaty, tattooed, and swiveling his hips in front of thousands of crazed fans. So, what should we imagine when we think of Ricky Martin? That’s the question we ask the artist himself.
“They would say to me, ‘If you have a girlfriend, don’t say so, because your fans are going to be disappointed.’ Imagine if it had been a boyfriend! This is the mentality I grew up with. I was onstage with Menudo since I was 12 years old. To us, the most successful one was the guy with the most fans. If you moved your hips and the girls screamed, you were getting it right. Who wouldn’t want to be like Elvis or Jim Morrison!”
The guy with the Clark Gable look, Ricky Martin, is actually playing a young Che Guevara in the musical Evita, which opens on Broadway this month. His sons, Matteo and Valentino, three years old, have matching haircuts. At first they hover close to their father, following him around the house. Until Carlos, the athletic guy and Ricky’s partner, manages to distract them. The three of them sit in an armchair, each with an iPad. Matteo is the more sociable one, and as soon as the camera turns on, he looks over at it with his big blue eyes. Valentino wants to go to the park. He doesn’t take his eyes off the squirrels.
Ricky has taken his sons on tour with him for a whole year. Isn’t it a little destabilizing?
“I’m the stability. With all the things that can be unstable on a tour, we really looked for structure. We traveled to four continents with my sons, very happily. All our decisions were made with their best interest in mind, from what time we woke up in the morning to what time to take off in the airplane. . . . Besides, my mother came with us.”
“You’ve had several years of catharsis after catharsis: coming out of the closet, publishing your autobiography . . . ”
“I needed to go through it. Like sitting on the psychoanalyst’s couch. I wanted to write about the stories I lived onstage and in my philanthropic work, but there was always that missing link. I was asked why I left everything and ran off to India. Why did I want to disconnect from the music world? Because I felt overwhelmed. Because all of the magazines were asking about my sexuality.”
When Ricky talks he moves his big hands, making them walk across the table. He dips his head and, above all, he moves his eyebrows. His eyebrows can be a pair of parentheses, a question mark, or a tightly knit frown. He is an actor and a dancer. He moves and twists. He smiles, modulating his voice, stretching his legs, and pulling up his bare feet. He has just come from rehearsal—six days a week, 12 hours a day—for the musical, and it shows. This is a guy who is used to being onstage.
“In your autobiography, you don’t criticize anyone. You don’t have any bitterness?”
He is quiet, looking at the ceiling. “I’ve run into malicious people, whether they didn’t like my work, my personality, or my message. They tried to trip me up, to see if I’d stumble. To the ones who mattered to me, I said, ‘I don’t like this. I want you to know that.’ But why give three paragraphs of my book to that person?”
“Who read it first?”
“Carlos. He said to me: ‘Congratulations, it’s great that you have been able to reach this level of honesty.’”
Ricky says Carlos’s name with a certain caution. Carlos himself moves around us cautiously—quietly, politely, keeping in the background. “I’ve never done a photo shoot like this. I am more into numbers,” he says apologetically. “I lived in Puerto Rico, and when Ricky was in Miami we saw each other often, since I’m my own boss and I organize my own time. New York was much farther.” Silence. “My great-grandparents were Asturian. I studied a semester in Madrid at icade [the business and law school at Comillas Pontifical University]. I love Spain.” Then he turns back to the twins, who are screaming, “Carlos, Carlos!”
“Do you regret the traps you set up yourself to pretend that you weren’t gay?”
Ricky takes a deep breath. “Honestly, I never needed a mask to go onstage. It was me who was there, and it was always what I felt, based on what I had learned at home, in my religion, and from society. I clung to that: ‘This is me, it has to be me.’ And if I had an encounter with someone of the same sex, I looked away.”
“Have you slept with women?”
“Yes, and I was in love with them and felt a lot of wonderful things. A lot of people said I was with women because I wanted to justify my masculinity,” he says, putting on a macho voice. “‘Look how well everything is going, with my family, the fans, the media.’”
“Being in love with a woman was a platonic feeling?
“It probably was platonic. I thought: ‘Wow! I feel so comfortable with her. This is a beautiful friendship!’ But there’s this sexist line of thinking that a man and a woman can’t be friends; they have to have something sexual. That thought is always there and it’s easy to let the guidelines you grew up with control your life.”
“And the women didn’t realize?”
“It doesn’t seem like it. There was love and passion. I don’t regret anything from the relationships that I’ve had. They taught me a lot, the men as much as the women.”
“No one ever tried to blackmail you?”
“Like go to the tabloids? No, never,” he says, his voice going very soft. “I think I’m lucky because I ran into wonderful people. It might be because I was careful and maybe I brought out feelings of loyalty and affection in my partners.”
Sixty million albums sold as a solo artist, 28 years in show business, Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, gold albums. He has sung in a band and alone; he has done musicals, theater, television shows, and movies. He has had long hair, short hair, blond hair, black hair, highlights. He has taken advice from Madonna: “Stop doing interviews, because people already know who you are.” He spent four consecutive years on tour (with “Living la Vida Loca”), and then fell into a period of inactivity and desperation. He traveled through India on a train with a Buddhist monk. He visited the victims of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, and the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He started the Ricky Martin Foundation and People for Children, to fight against the exploitation of children and child sex trafficking. And on March 29, 2010, he announced on his website: “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man.” And that day everything changed.
“When did you know that you were gay?”
“It wasn’t like one day I woke up,” he says, smacking his palms together, “and said: ‘I’m gay.’ It was a process. Little by little, with one thought following another, I found a sort of liberation.”
“The first person who knew was your mother.”
“I had friends that I shared things with, but I didn’t go into details. My mother asked me: ‘Are you in love?’ I told her yes. And she asked: ‘Are you in love with a man?’ I said yes, and we never talked about it again. It was a way of saying: ‘O.K., but Mom, don’t ask me again.’ I was 21 years old.” He had just won his first gold album.
“And your father?”
“He said to me: ‘Give me a hug, I love you and I want you to be happy.’ It was around the same age.”
“In Spain we have come a long way on this path.”
“I was lucky. Everyone has their own process of—what’s the right word?—decoding. Codes that are in the DNA. When you first go to school, at home they ask you: ‘How did it go? What’s your teacher’s name? Do you have a girlfriend?’ And if you don’t feel that way about girls? If I like boys more than girls?” He laughs.
“Did you do it for yourself or to help others?”
“The process started out of my need to be happy. And to have self-acceptance and self-respect. Like saying out loud: ‘This is me. It is part of my nature.’ Quiet, he looks at the ceiling and rubs his head. “When I came out so many people came up to me and said, ‘Thank you. For the first time I was able to give my son a hug, since he came out and said that he was gay.’ I did it for me, but it also helps others.”
“And were there were any negative reactions?”
“Just the usual fundamentalists. ‘Now Ricky is recruiting homosexuals,’ he mimics sarcastically. ‘He wants to convert people.’”
“And what happened in Puerto Rico?”
“The hugs, the love, it was unconditional. In Puerto Rico the extreme right-wing conservatives are in power and they have tried to put a stop to a human-rights movement that is unstoppable. Love cannot be stopped by anyone,” he adds, putting on a heavy Puerto Rican accent.
Something floats around Ricky and his team. Is it love? Adoration? Unconditional giving? José is his right-hand man. He has been with him for almost 30 years. Thin and nervous, he gives orders with a smile and adds a “God willing.” Rosa, who watches his sons now, was originally his assistant, working for him since he was 12 years old. It’s the same thing with Bruno, his agent, a Majorcan who had previously worked for Madonna, and with our photographer, a friend he has known his whole life, and with the owner of the house where we took our photos today, and of course with his mother, Nereida, a smiling, peaceful woman. “I moved to Miami to be with my grandsons, and now to New York,” she says. “I love taking care of them. Soon they’ll go to [school] and talk to their friends in English, but at home we will speak Spanish.”
“This past November you received Spanish citizenship. Why did you apply for it?”
“When my sons were born, I started to look for my roots. I’m Puerto Rican, my parents also, and my native land is this wonderful little island. But in the meantime, the more answers I have to their questions, the better. We are Spanish. Martín with an accent: it’s a question of identity. My great-grandparents were Basque, Arizmendi, from the border with France.”
“The Partido Popular [Spain’s ruling conservative party] has spoken about changing the law that allows same-sex marriage.”
“Will it be that easy? There would be a worldwide movement against it. Spain has been a model for the human-rights revolution for gays and lesbians. With all the problems that need to be resolved right now, that would just increase the pain of a group of citizens who pay their taxes, and who want to create a family based on love. It can’t happen,” he says, sounding downcast. If they change the law, I can say now as a Spaniard, I would rise up and join with my community and I wouldn’t stay quiet.”
“Do you visit Spain often?”
“I have friends that are like family. More than any other place I go to Madrid, but I can say that I know Spain. I have visited 37 cities. And it’s not just that I went there on tour; I’ve sat in the corner of a square, excited, enjoying the culture, and I’ve felt as if I was at home. And at some point I will go back to stay for a while and share the country and culture with my sons.”
“And get married maybe?”
“That I still don’t know.”
He quotes a line from his book: “‘I don’t know if I have already met my true love or if we are both still getting ready for the moment when we will meet.’ Since the day I wrote that, I have experienced wonderful things with my partner. Complexity, understanding, and, at the same time, freedom, not being afraid that your partner is judging you. That is what I have found with Carlos. We’re going on four years together.”
“And his role in your family?”
“My sons scream: ‘Daddy!’ and run towards me when I get home. That’s what I imagined before I had them. For Carlos they scream: ‘Carlos!’ and run to him,” he says, acting it out. “When I started the process with my sons, Carlos wasn’t in my life. He said: ‘I’m looking for a boyfriend, not a father with a family.’ And I said to him: ‘You’ve found a grown-up, full-fledged man.’ I created a family structure and if he didn’t understand he’d ask me questions and we were on our way. He has a really strong personality. He’s nobody’s puppet.”
“What would you call your family?”
“A modern family, a complete family,” he says, gesturing. “No, I’m lying. How could I describe it as complete if it’s just starting! I think I want more kids; I just don’t know when.”
“What did you look for in a mother for your children?”
“Honestly, the physical aspect was important. I looked at photos and read profiles and considered each one, and I saw this photo and said, ‘Who is this woman? She is so angelic, so transparent.’ She speaks four languages and plays the piano. I didn’t want to know her personally, but I read an extremely thorough profile. She was perfect.”
“You never thought about adopting?”
“Many times. I went to Thailand after the tsunami to do work with my foundation and I knew a child that I wanted to adopt. But being a single gay man is a difficult combination for adoption. Doors are closed to us in many countries.”
“Now there are several celebrities who have had kids through renting a womb.”
“I didn’t rent a womb. That’s a term that conservative fundamentalists are using. I borrowed a womb. I didn’t pay for it. I would give my life to the woman who helped me bring my sons into the world. She did it out of the desire to help.”
“So that’s to say, the woman who gave birth to your sons is not the same one who donated her eggs.”
“No. I asked her why she did it. She said, ‘I love being pregnant, but my husband and I already have our kids. Besides, he loves me more when I’m pregnant.’ She laughed and continued: ‘When I give birth and deliver a child for someone who can’t have kids, it is in that moment that I find myself closest to God.’ That’s when I broke down, thinking, ‘How could this be wrong?’ Many religious people protest, but surrogacy happens on several occasions in the Bible.”
“When your sons ask you about their mother, what will you tell them?”
“I’m your father and your mother. All families are different. There are families without fathers and some without mothers. There’s nothing to feel bad about. Many great leaders grew up without fathers or mothers, Obama, Clinton. . . . I’ll tell them the truth. I’ll show them pictures of her.”
“And when they ask you about sex?”
“It’s a difficult question for any father, how babies are born.” In the background, we can hear the kids, who have come back from a quick trip to the park. “I’ll answer them truthfully. When a child asks you a question, they already know the answer.”
“Did that happen to you?”
“Yes, and the answer was not what I was hoping for. I was disappointed. I was 10 or 11 years old. They told me the story about the birds and the bees,” he says, dropping into a kindergarten teacher’s singsong.
There was once an upper-middle-class couple in Puerto Rico with a son who wanted to be a star. He sang into a spoon as if it were a microphone and he danced. His grandfather wrote poetry and his grandmother was a painter and sculptor. She was a determined woman, who went to Boston to study and got divorced later in life. The parents of the boy also got divorced, when he was two years old, and started new lives with other partners and children. The son grew up between the two families and his divorced grandparents, and one day his father asked him if he wanted to be in a commercial. The boy was successful and starred in other commercials. At 12 years old he goes to an audition for the teenage band Menudo. He is successful again and stays with the group for five years in a sort of endless tour, and one day his father says to him: “Damn the day you joined Menudo. That was the day I lost my son.”
“What have you learned from fatherhood?”
“Everything is different, right down to the way I drive my car. I speed less, thinking, ‘If I’m not here to take care of my sons, what would happen to them?’ My life is much more structured. Now I wake up at seven, I wake them up, we have breakfast together, we brush our teeth, and I go to work, and when I come back home I give them a bath. Before, I would go out with my work friends to the movies or to a bar, although I don’t drink. I’ve learned what’s important: to keep the child inside alive and play hide-and-seek. There are also difficult times and it can be overwhelming.”
“Do you worry that your sons are in front of the cameras?”
“Sometimes. ‘Why are the paparazzi taking photos of me? What nerve!’ I stop worrying when I accept that this is my life. I’ve been in this business for 25 years and my sons were born into it and that’s the hand I’ve been dealt. It’s part of my karma.”
“What do you do when you see the photographers headed your way?”
“Nothing. Otherwise, I would start a fight. I say: ‘Look, a camera,’ and I laugh naturally.”
“What values are you instilling in them?”
“Unconditional love.” He listens to his sons’ voices calling him. “But at the same time, discipline, because it is part of the way things are, and they need it.”
“Are you an intuitive dad or a by-the-book dad?”
“I’m an artist, a very passionate and compulsive artist,” he answers, adopting a mysterious tone. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Fortunately I have people around me that have different personalities and help me balance my passion. And children help you put the brakes on.”
“After Evita, will you return to music?”
“I don’t think I’m going to lock myself in a recording studio right away. My book opened an interesting door. I have a lot of anecdotes on my computer that can be turned into a script or maybe a movie.”
“It seems like everything is going well for you. Is there ever a bad moment?”
“Now I don’t spend so much time in my own head. I was able to clear my head with the book.” He twists around in his chair as the boys’ shouts get louder and louder. “I’m sorry, I have to go. They’re calling me . . . ”
For the original report go to http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2012/04/ricky-martin-kids-sons-parter