NBC Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
NBC Insider The Irrational

How Jesse L. Martin Got His Burn Scar on Irrational — and Whether or Not It's Real

A lot of thought went into the incredibly realistic burns we see on Jesse L. Martin's character Alec.

By McKenzie Jean-Philippe

As you sit down to enjoy Jesse L. Martin's return to NBC with his new procedural, The Irrational, there's no doubt that you'll quickly become a fan of his character Alec Mercer.

How to Watch

Watch The Irrational on NBC and Peacock

Alex is a renowned behavioral science professor, and uses his keen ability to pinpoint various psychological conditions to solve an array of criminal mysteries and cases. And while much of the procedural is spent on others' troubles, Alec's own past often comes to the forefront. One particular tragedy is inescapable, as it's left a prominent reminder in the form of a large burn on the right side of his face.

Below, NBC Insider explains the significance of Alec's scars and exactly how he (and Martin) got them.

RELATED: How to Tell If Someone Is Lying, Just Like Jesse L. Martin in The Irrational

How did Jesse L. Martin's character Alec get his scar on The Irrational?

In the series premiere, we learn that Alec was involved in a church bombing nearly 20 years ago that left him permanently scarred.

At the beginning of the episode he explains to his class that his experience recovering from the accident helped inspire his work as a behavioral scientist and professor.

Alec Mercer looking up with a smile on his face.

"I was burned many years ago on over 60 percent of my body, and for the better part of three years I was in the hospital with my body covered with bandages, which were changed every day," he said. "It was very painful, as you can imagine. And the nurses believed that ripping the bandages off quickly was much better than doing it slowly. I disagreed, but they wouldn't listen. I became intrigued by this idea that we repeatedly and predictably make the wrong decisions in many aspects of our lives, and research helped change these patterns. I began doing experiments, and I found the nurses were wrong."

The bombing killed 13 people, including one of Alec's close friends, and he is the only survivor. Later on in the pilot episode, Alec tells his sister that the suspected bomber is up for parole, but has only been charged with possessing explosives and building the bomb. No one saw him at the scene of the crime, and Alec was unable to identify him.

"I usually make up stories about the scars. Car accident, cooking incident, oil burner mishap, but it's just a way to avoid the truth," he said. "I can't recall a single damn thing about the bomber."

Is Jesse L. Martin's burn scar real?

No, the actor does not have scarring on his face in real life. Instead, a little Hollywood magic should take all the credit.

Alec Mercer appears in The Irrational.

RELATED: Jesse L. Martin Teases the Unfinished Love Story at the Heart of The Irrational

After working together on CW's The Flash, Martin and the head of the series' makeup department, Candice Stafford-Bridge, collaborated to make sure the scarring looked realistic for his character. 

Stafford-Bridge explained to NBC Insider that she, Martin, and executive producer Arika Lisanne Mittman spent weeks before production researching and conceptualizing Alec's burns. Details like his skin tone, age of the wounds, various lighting while filming, and Martin's own comfort were all considered. 

"There was lots of discussions between myself and Jesse," she explains. "[Finding] images from the internet, this idea, that idea, and then it gets to a digital artist ... and that digital artist will do three, four different looks."

You gotta make sure that Jesse, the person that has to actually take it from concept to an amazing speaking part, be involved and be excited to be involved.”

Candice Stafford-Bridge, Irrational's head makeup artist

While they all initially agreed on an idea that would have taken up half of Martin's face, the end result is what we now see in the series after inescapable road blocks, like facial hair and the star's ability to speak or move his mouth, became complications.

The final result is Alec's current scar on The Irrational, which is a combination of three different custom-made prosthetic pieces that cover his neck and cheek, in addition to artfully applied special affects makeup.

"It's about how we can make it all work and make it comfortable and look great and make sure the audience believes it and that it's not distracting," Stafford-Bridge said.

She tells us that she initially asked for four hours to complete the application process and have Martin camera ready, but they've since gotten it down to no more than an hour and a half.


Alec Mercer leaning against a police car in the middle of an investigation.

"It's so great to have the actors involved and then the original executive producer, somebody like Arika, where it's her concept from the beginning," Stafford-Bridge told NBC Insider. "Long before we probably do a makeup test or present some sort of rendering to the bosses, you gotta make sure that Jesse, the person that has to actually take it from concept to an amazing speaking part, be involved and be excited to be involved. It's very rewarding."

She continued, "It makes my job be more fun too. And people aren't excited about having [the prosthetic on] because as you can imagine, it's not always the nicest place to have stuff glued to your face, especially sometimes it's 4:30 in the morning. So, to have an actor like Jesse be not only excited and grateful and happy to sit down in your chair, but to be involved in the process is really great."