Jesse L. Martin has been easily been able to move from Broadway (Rent), film (Rent and the upcoming Marvin Gaye biopic) and TV (Law & Order) throughout his career. Now, he’s back on Broadway starring opposite Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice.
He talked with the AP about Law & Order, Shakespeare and the need to create his own work.
On Leaving Law & Order: “As interesting as you can be and as hard as you can work, it starts to feel the same after a while. So I knew full well that if I didn’t get out of that position and get back on stage or explore other roles, I’d be really hurting myself. I’d be really dimming myself as an actor.”
How did he get the part of Detective Green on Law & Order? He auditioned for the show as a guest star 13 times. When he was finally cast as a thief with 4 lines, he declined the part. “It was so small and I was scared that if I took that role I wouldn’t be able to be on that show again for another year or two. So I didn’t take it. I don’t know who I thought I was! I was totally broke as an actor, needed all the exposure I could possibly get. … But it turned out well because I ended up getting The Role.”
On his character, Graciano, in The Merchant of Venice: “He’s one of those guys who’d rather have a drink than be serious, who would rather laugh than not. He spends a lot of time getting encouraged and reprimanded at the same time.”
How did he get hooked on Shakespeare: “Somehow, I don’t know how or why, but I completely fell in love with Shakespeare. It was like this code. Once the code started to reveal itself, it got really, really exciting.”
On residual checks: “It’s like the gift that keeps giving.”
On creating his own work: “The older you get, the more you realize you don’t want to just sit around and wait for someone to call you. In my 20s, that’s the way it was. Even in my 30s it was kind of that way, but I did have a solid job at the time so I didn’t really worry that way. But now I can’t really sit around waiting for someone to call me or for L.A. to bring me up to the big leagues. Now it’s going to be about creating things for me to do.”
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