The apocrypha Interview: Jesse Martin
By Kitteridge
 
Jesse L. Martin
Detective Ed Green, 1999-Present
Typical Line: "Ok, man, if you're gonna lie, be creative, otherwise we get bored."

When he joined L&O in 1999, Martin had super-hunky shoes to fill: Benjamin Bratt's (ex-Rey). But while the writers have given us little to chew on as regards his character, the actor has nonetheless endeared himself to his audience, leaving us to wonder: Is he dating the office gopher or what?

 
How did you get your role -- did you have to audition? 
No, not exactly. I heard through the grapevine that Ben Bratt was leaving the show when he did, and I was in California at the time doing Ally McBeal, and would have done anything to get out of California and come back home to New York. So when I found out that that was happening, that's the best job you could ever get, so I went to Dick Wolf [creator, EP] and begged for it. Eventually, I got it. So there was no real audition, so to speak. But I was definitely in there, working it. 
Most people -- actors -- aren't trying to get out of California.
There are actors here, there's Broadway, there's stage to do, which I'm perfectly content doing. Which I'm lucky enough to get to do. I just liked NY much better if I'm going to live somewhere. I don't necessarily want to live there. I don't mind working there, but I want to live on the East Coast. 
What did they tell you about the character?
Initially, they told me that he had a lot of problems with his anger management, and that he was made detective because he had a really good record, but he was made a detective with warnings. That if any excessive force was used, I'd be brought up. So, sort of a hothead. Kind of described him as a cosmopolitan everyman. 
And a gambling issue?
What they call a problem, I call a hobby. They're really about the stories, there's not a whole lot of time for it. When we sneak it in there, it's kind of fun, but it feels sort of indulgent, when you get into your personal life on that show, because you know it's not the norm, and it's really about the stories. 
Did they dictate the flirty relationship between Green and Anna Cordova?
Played by the lovely Andrea Novedo. It started with us just doing it on our own, and then they sort of played on it. I get a little flirty, that's as close as I'll get to having a romance kicking on Law & Order. They're not about that. 
Had you seen the show before?
Of course! 
You sound as though you're familiar with Wolf's work.
I had worked on [Wolf-created] New York Undercover, in its heyday. Law & Order is like an institution; every New York actor wants to work there, so I was one of those people who wanted to work there also. I was just vying for a guest starring role, and I never really got one. I was offered one but it was really small and I turned it down to do another job. So I thought because I turned it down I'd never get another job on Law & Order. And lo and behold.... 
What do you like about it?
First of all, that it is in New York, second of all -- I thought the idea that these were just going to be about the stories and not so much about the characters was eventually going to get hard to take, and it's become incredible for me at least. Because you're not trapped by your character so much, it's more about the stories. So your character finds a way to fit in the story as opposed to the story trying of it around the characters. 
You'd think with a dearth of personal information, there's not much to grab onto.
It's harder the other way, because you have to play all that stuff without getting the words to support it. Green can be having a bad day at home and still have to come in and tell you that story. I have to play it that way. There's no language to support my personal feelings, but I like the fact that it's all about that story. Not to mention that I get to work with some of the best actors ever. Every week. Every day. 
Do you and Jerry break out into song on the set 
It's funny, we do, all day long. That's the truth, all day long. There's not a moment -- we spend 16 hours with each other, and there's only so much you can say. So we break up the time by just singing songs. I've learned a lot of songs from him and he's certainly learned a lot of songs from me. 
What did you teach him?
He's not real hip on the pop music of the kids today, and I know all that stuff, so I hipped him to that, and he hips me to the old school. 
Do you have a favorite episode you've worked on or saw before you came to the show?
There's a couple of them. My co-star Epatha [Merkerson, Anita], before I got on the show, I saw an episode where she wasn't a lieutenant, she was just a woman that had lost her kids ["Mushrooms"] and I thought that was one of the most incredible pieces of drama I ever saw. It was one of the reasons I wanted to be on the show. But recently we did an episode where I got to work with Gregory Hines, and he's like my hero. So I was just blown away. I couldn't even believe he was there. That was one of my favorite times ever. 
How do you feel L&O deals with race relations?
They have to, because New York is a character in the show, and New York has the most diversity ever, so those issues are always going to come up, almost all the time, which means they have to be treated with a real chunk of respect. It's really important for every culture to be represented the way it is, right or wrong, the way it is, truthfully. We get into some hairy situations with that, because I don't write the show, I'm just on the show, but they give us ample opportunities to voice our opinions and it's amazing, because the minute we all start talking about it, and I bring my experience and they bring their experience, it all works out and the guest stars come in and they're going to represent where they come from, so that takes it to a whole other level. All the cultures do. 
As a viewer, it often feels as though they dealt with those kind of issues more in the past. The conflict that doesn't necessarily feel as though it's there today.
It's different today; it's not so taboo or racy or unheard of to have those conversations now, a lot of things are taken for granted now so there's no need to bring them up, and when they do come out they tend to be a little more explosive because they're rarely talked about any more. 
Did you ever sense the show would last as long as it did?
No! I'm glad it has, but no. Who would have guessed it would have lasted as long as it did before I even showed up? So this is all gravy, so to speak. I'm just so glad that there's still that show there for me to work on. If it goes on forever, I'll do it forever. 
Have you been there longer than Ben Bratt?
At this point, we're neck and neck. He did four seasons, I just finished my fourth. 
Will you break the Mike Logan record? He did five seasons, I think.
Well, I'll get up there with him sooner or later. No, I'm not going anywhere. 
Do you get to do your stage work?
I don't have a whole lot of time off -- we get about two and half months for a break, but this summer I'm actually getting to go to Williamstown, and I'm going to do The Threepenny Opera, which my pal Jerry did way back in the day on Broadway. He had a few choice pieces of advice for me. 
Such as?
Well, the one thing he said was "Get a really good knife that you can learn to throw." You know who Mack the Knife is. I'm playing Mack. 
Anything else?
It is true that nobody ever asks about the guest stars. I would like to go on record that this is what makes this the luckiest job ever, because we really do have phenomenon guest stars. They make these stories that seem like they'd be really difficult to do really easy. God bless New York actors. 

 
 

whaddya think?