Jesse L. Martin is an American actor and singer. He originated the role of Tom Collins on Broadway in the musical Rent and performed on television as NYPD Detective Ed Green on Law & Order and Captain Joe West on The Flash.
Martin, the third of four sons, was born in Rocky Mount, Virginia. His father, Jesse Reed Watkins (1943–2003), was a truck driver, and his mother, Virginia Price, a college counselor. He was born two months premature. His parents divorced when he was a child. His mother eventually remarried and Martin adopted his stepfather’s surname.
When Martin was in grade school, the family relocated to Buffalo, New York, but Martin began to dislike speaking because of his Southern accent and was often overcome with shyness. A concerned educator and mentor influenced him to join an after-school drama program and cast him as the pastor in The Golden Goose. Being from Virginia, the young Martin played the character the only way he knew how: as an inspired Southern Baptist preacher.
The act was a hit, and Martin emerged from his shell. Martin attended high school at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, where he was voted “Most Talented” in his senior class. He later enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts’ theatre program, and while at NYU he was also the popular president of Rubin Dorm, the former domain of Mark Twain.
After graduation, Martin toured the states with John Houseman’s The Acting Company. He appeared in Shakespeare’s Rock-in-Roles at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and The Butcher’s Daughter at the Cleveland Play House, and returned to Manhattan to perform in local theatre, soap operas, and commercials. Finding that auditions, regional theater, and bit parts were no way to support himself, Martin waited tables at several restaurants around the city.
He was serving a pizza when his appearance on CBS’s Guiding Light aired in the same eatery. While the show aired, the whole waitstaff gathered around the bar television to cheer his performance. Often, during the dinner rush, he broke out in song. When he gave his customers their dinner checks, he told them to “keep it, because someday I’ll be famous!”
Martin made his Broadway debut in Timon of Athens, and then performed in The Government Inspector with Lainie Kazan. While employed at the Moondance Diner, he met the playwright Jonathan Larson, who also worked on the restaurant’s staff. In 1996, Larson’s musical Rent took the theatre world by storm. And with Martin in the role of gay computer geek/philosophy professor Tom Collins.
The 1990s update of Puccini’s La Bohème earned six Drama Desk Awards, five Obie Awards, four Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1998, the West End production of Rent opened with four of the original cast members, including Martin. He played Tad in the concept album of Bright Lights, Big City.
Martin landed roles on Fox’s short-lived 413 Hope St. and Eric Bross’s independent film Restaurant (1998). Ally McBeal’s creator, David E. Kelley, attended Rent’s Broadway premiere and remembered Martin when the show needed a new boyfriend for the title character. His performance as Dr. Greg Butters on Ally McBeal caught the attention of David Duchovny, who cast Martin as a baseball-playing alien in a 1999 episode of The X-Files titled “The Unnatural” that Duchovny wrote and directed.
While still shooting Ally McBeal, Martin heard rumors that actor Benjamin Bratt planned to leave the cast of Law & Order. Martin had tried out for the show years before and won the minor role of a car-radio thief named Earl the Hamster, but decided to wait for a bigger part. With the opportunity presenting itself, Martin approached Law & Order producer Dick Wolf regarding the opening. Wolf hoped to cast him, and upon hearing that CBS and Fox both offered Martin development deals, he gave the actor the part without an audition.
On March 4, 2013, it was announced that Martin would replace Lenny Kravitz as Marvin Gaye in Sexual Healing, an upcoming biopic directed by Julien Temple, and produced by Vassal Benton and Fred Bestall. Martin had been attached to the Marvin Gaye biopic for years and had stated that it was his dream role to portray the legendary Motown singer. With only three weeks to go on a planned nine-and-a-half week shoot, it was reported that production had stopped on the biopic, primarily due to financial problems (crew members were said to have not been paid fully for their work on the film). Approximately 70% of the film had been shot.
Martin narrated the audio book The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and On the Shoulder of Giants, Volume 2: Master Intellects and Creative Giants by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He co-produced the off-Broadway production of Fully Committed with Rent co-star Adam Pascal (and two other producers).
Martin sits on the board of trustees for the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation along with Rent co-producer Kevin McCollum.
In October 2006, Martin returned to Buffalo, New York to work on an independent film (Buffalo Bushido), and was robbed two days later. Moreover, in 2018, Martin suffered a back injury during the summer, which resulted in him being unable to commit to the fifth season of The Flash. He took a medical leave of absence from the show after filming scenes for a few episodes. He is a resident of Manhattan.
- Full Name: Jesse Lamont Watkins
- Date of Birth: January 18, 1969
- Age: 51
- Birth Place: Rocky Mount, Virginia, U.S.
- Other names: Jesse Lamont Martin
- Occupation: Actor, singer
- Years active: since 1993–present
- Height: 1.88 m
- Albums: RENT (Selections from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), etc.
- Education: New York University, etc.
- Parents: Jesse Reed Watkins, Virginia Price
- Net Worth: $10 million
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