Franklin Free Press
Although she appears in two network television shows and is an experienced film actress, Sonequa Martin-Green was nervous as she walked on stage at Russellville High School Auditorium Saturday evening.
After all, she was the guest of honor in her hometown.
The 2003 RHS graduate was honored with a Red Carpet Night on the very stage she appeared in high school theater productions.
“It’s truly special and means so much to me to be home,” Martin-Green said. “It makes my heart warm to come home and think about my uncle [Larry Freeman] doing all this and everyone wanting to take the time to come.
“It’s almost too much to take in. I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the people I grew up with. To see them in these circumstances is nothing short of amazing. God is good.”
Martin-Green, a 2007 theater graduate of the University of Alabama, is a regular on AMC’s The Walking Dead and has a recurring role on ABC’s Once Upon A Time. Her meteoric ascent as an actress took off when she was cast for the lead of Toe To Toe, a 2009 critically-acclaimed independent film that was honored at the Sundance Film Festival.
“That role really caused everything to happen in my career,” Martin-Green said. “The movie was accepted at Sundance as one of the top films of the festival. I got a lot of press for my role, and everything resulted from that.”
When she auditioned for the film, Martin-Green did not initially receive the role. Another actress was cast, and it wasn’t until March of 2008 that film producers went another direction and turned back to the Russellville native.
“When they cast someone else, I was sad because I knew that role was mine,” Martin-Green said. “But you have to learn how to adapt. I then got the call that spring, and they said the role was open. That was just divine intervention, how that happened.”
Landing that role was one in a stream of fortuitous events that helped build the young actress’s career. Some might attribute the good fortune to luck. Martin-Green knows there is another source guiding her career.
“I can’t see how anyone could see it any other way. God was there even before I fully understood His presence and strategy in my life,” Martin-Green said. “Every piece of success I’ve had is only because He gave it to me. I truly believe that. Even back to high school, I did plays and knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I had no idea about how to go about it.”
Martin-Green is the daughter of Charles and Vera Martin of Russellville. She has one sister, Nikisha, and three half-sisters. Unlike many actors, the rising star didn’t grow up wanting to be on stage. In fact, in the first of many life-changing events, if Martin-Green had not paid attention to the voice on the RHS loudspeaker one morning, her career might never have started.
“They came on and said they were looking for people to audition for a play that was to be shown at the Thespian Festival in the Shoals,” Martin-Green said. “It sounded like fun, so I went. I knew I wouldn’t have to act in front of my friends and be embarrassed. I got the lead and soon it dawned on me [that] this is what I was supposed to do and wanted to do professionally.
“I felt a special satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness I’d never felt before on that stage.”
Stephanie Bean, long-time youth director at First Baptist Church College Avenue, recalled Sonequa’s enjoyment of taking part in church youth productions.
“She always volunteered to take a part in church plays,” Bean said. “I always thought she was a little shy, but she was really great on stage. Sonequa really enjoyed it.”
Martin-Green would go on to act in RHS plays each year under the direction of former drama director Susan DeArman. When she decided to attend Alabama and major in theater, the toughest sell for Martin-Green was with mom and dad.
“It was interesting [when I told them],” she said. “My mother was always very supportive. My parents have always given us free reign to make decisions for our lives. I came home that day very goal-oriented and decisive and said, ‘I want to be an actor, and I’m going to school to study that.’
“They were like, ‘Okay, if that’s what you feel like you should do.’ My dad wasn’t sure, and he thought I should at least double-major in something to have a Plan B.”
Her first professional acting job came in 2005 when Martin-Green was cast in Blue Jacket, an outdoor play in Ohio, where she spent all summer and returned the following year to reprise the role. As Martin-Green neared graduation, her mind was set on moving to Los Angeles to pursue television and movie opportunities. The University of Alabama holds an annual showcase for graduates in New York City for auditions in front of agents, directors, managers and other industry heavyweights. Martin first decided not to attend because it was in New York, but a persistent professor, Seth Panitch, the director of Alabama’s theater program, repeatedly urged her to reconsider.
“He was placed in my path by God. I realize that and have thanked him over the years,” she said. “We still keep in touch and talk about the business. I often tell him if he hadn’t convinced me to move to New York I don’t know what would have happened to my career.”
That decision led Martin-Green to the movie role, and subsequent opportunities rolled in, including a part in a 2008 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
“That was definitely a benchmark,” Martin-Green said. “We had a big party, and all my friends knew about the show. It means a lot when people can actually see what you’re doing. It was big for everyone to see me on a network show, especially my parents, to see I was actually doing something and this was working.”
She also recorded a commercial for Good Morning America, had guest appearances in Army Wives, The Good Wife and Gossip Girl. She met her husband, Kenric Green, when they both auditioned for a play in 2009. Green, a Southern California native, moved to New York with similar acting aspirations as Sonequa. Another divine step came when Green served as the reader on Sonequa’s audition.
Actors often keep many lines in the water, hoping to hear a call back on one of their many tryouts. Martin-Green landed her big fish in 2012 when she was cast in the role of Sasha during season three of The Walking Dead. The show’s premise centers around a wounded police officer who wakes from a coma to find his hospital door barred. He breaks free to find a ruined and abandoned hospital. Streets are blanketed with debris, and abandoned vehicles and death is all around.
He soon finds out most of the world has been eliminated by flesh-eating “walkers,” or zombies. Martin-Green’s character is one of a group of survivors whose campsite was overrun by “walkers.”
In the upcoming season four, Sasha becomes a series regular.
“Did I think I’d ever be on a show about zombies? Never,” Martin-Green said. “I randomly caught the show on TV one night when my roommates were watching it. The first scene I watched was so compelling it almost ripped my heart out. Suddenly I cared about everyone I was watching. “I said ‘Wow, I have to start watching this show.’ So when the audition came around, I was already a big fan of the show.”
Martin-Green spent Monday visiting with children at New Freedom Day Care and meeting with Russellville mayor David Grissom, who spoke at Saturday’s reception.
“Sonequa is a wonderful ambassador for Russellville,” Grissom said. “She is talented, beautiful and one of the most humble people you’ll ever find, always crediting our Lord for her career accomplishments. My family and I are fans, and we’ll continue to watch her successful career grow.”