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Jesse L. Martin's Career From Rent to The Irrational

From his powerhouse vocal chords to his endless empathy, the NBC star is a tour de force of talent.

By Jessica White

From its nail-biting cold cases to the characters' calculated problem-solving, there are many reasons to watch The Irrational —especially with powerhouse performer Jesse L. Martin leading the way.

How to Watch

Watch The Irrational on NBC and Peacock

Martin is an acclaimed star of stage, television, and the big screen, turning in compelling performances since his big break in the '90s. From his Broadway debut to his Law & Order days, Martin has never failed to astound audiences with his raw talent and compelling characters. 

RELATED: Meet the Cast of NBC's New Series The Irrational, Starring a Law & Order Favorite

The Irrational will be a thrilling continuation of Martin's robust acting odyssey. Below, learn about Martin's career history, from his most esteemed television series to his dynamite stage credits.

Jesse L. Martin's Broadway Career from Rent to Shakespeare

Martin's breakthrough to superstardom started on Broadway: He made his Broadway debut in 1993 as an Officer (as well as Alcibiades' understudy) in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens. In 1994, Martin kept the thespian ball rolling with his role as the shopkeeper, Abdulin, in Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector.

Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins in Rent

Martin garnered mythic status in the Broadway realm for originating the role of Tom Collins in Rent, Jonathan Larson's cherished musical about a chosen family of artists and creatives living on the Lower East Side's Alphabet CityMartin opened the 1996 off-Broadway rendition of the show and, after its smash success, debuted Rent on Broadway the same year. After two years of heart-wrenching power belts and tearful serenades, Martin and the cast took the show across the pond for the West End's 1998 run of Rent.

Martin chatted about the character of Collins in an interview with Female. “He is probably the only one that doesn’t have any real creative ambitions like striving to be the best artist or the best filmmaker. He just wants to keep his family around him," Martin revealed. "I mean, you move to New York and you basically adopt the family that you want and he found his family and he wanted to make sure he didn’t lose them, whether it be to a disease or what have you.”

Adam Pascal, Tracie Thoms, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Rosario Dawson from the movie Rent at an event.

n 2005, Martin starred as Tom Collins in the film adaptation of Rent alongside originating original Off-Broadway cast members Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Anthony Rapp, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, and Taye Diggs. In 2019, Martin and the original Rent cast made exciting cameos in the television special Rent: Live.

Jesse Martin's Later Stage Roles

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Linda Emond and Jesse L. Martin on stage looking at the audience during the curtain call for The Winter's Tale.

Outside of Rent tenure, Martin appeared in the 2003 production of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera as Mack the Knife. In 2010, he starred in Shakespeare in the Park's The Winter's Tale as King Polixenes. The same year, Martin returned to Broadway as Gratiana in The Merchant of Venice. Martin then starred in the Delacorte Theatre's 50th anniversary production of Romeo and Juliet as Friar John in 2012.

"Once you’re in the Broadway community, you’re always in the Broadway community and you’re treated as such," Martin gushed in a 2016 interview with The Actors Work. "There’s a real camaraderie, there’s a real brotherhood, real sisterhood if you need to say, and you felt it immediately. I was beyond happy." 

Martin continued, "I couldn’t even believe that A) there I was, it was all I ever wanted, I never really planned to be famous, or rich or anything like that, I always thought the big deal would be that you are a working actor and yes, you do have a Broadway career. And once I was on Broadway, and I was like, Yes, I’ve done it! I’ve made it!"

Jesse L. Martin's Television Credits from Law & Order to The Irrational

Like many budding performers, Martin got his start while grinding in New York City, auditioning for commercials, soap operas, and television projects while waiting tables to support his passion. Martin's first television credit was in a 1992 episode of the soap opera Guiding Light. He then appeared on the soap opera One Life to Live in 1995, and later appeared in two episodes of the Dick Wolf-created New York Undercover (in 1995 and 1998). 

RELATED: Jesse L. Martin Talks Character on New Show The Irrational

From there, Martin's on-screen acting credits just kept adding up. Martin scored his first leading role in the 1997 drama series 413 Hope St. as Antonio Collins. His role in Hope St. paved the way for a recurring guest role as Dr. Greg Butters in Seasons 1 and 2 of Ally McBeal (1998). The next year, Martin appeared in The X Files Season 6, Episode 19 ("The Unnatural"). In 2009, Martin also starred in the NBC action drama The Philanthropist.

Jesse L. Martin in Law & Order

Detective Ed Green opening a door in a scene from Law & Order.

Martin landed his mythic role as Detective Edward "Ed" Green in Dick Wolf's Law & Order in 1999. Green was tenacious, dedicated, and thoughtful as one of the most iconic Law & Order detectives within the sprawling franchise. Wolf saw this in Martin's performance, leading him to guest star in two episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's debut season as well as in Law & Order: Criminal Intent for Season 1, Episode 7 ("Poison").

Martin was a Law & Order fan favorite from Seasons 10-18 of the flagship series until Green's departure in 2008. As a stage actor to his core, Martin left Law & Order to explore more roles in the theatre realm.

Jesse L. Martin in Smash

Scott sitting in a theater with his arm over a chair looking at the stage.

A role that served as the perfect fusion between his stage work and his television talent was Martin's dynamite part in the musical drama series Smash. Martin played theatre producer Scott Nichols in Season 2 of the hit series, which shined a spotlight on the many peaks and pitfalls of making it big on Broadway. 

Jesse L. Martin in The Flash 

Jesse L. Martin and Grant Gustin posing for a portrait in front of a gray backdrop.

Another role that earned Martin widespread acclaim was his recurring role in The Flash (2014-2023), an action series following the hyper-fast superhero Barry Allen.

From Seasons 1-9, Martin starred as Joe West, a police captain and leader of the Anti-Meta-human Task Force. Martin's Law & Order background provided the perfect inspiration for the role, with Martin becoming a beloved fixture within the action series during its run. Martin also appeared in the 2017 Arrowverse crossover event, guest starring as Joe West in Supergirl Season 3, Episode 8 ("Crisis on Earth-X, Part 1"). 

Jesse L. Martin in The Irrational

Martin is now starring as Alec Mercer in NBC's new drama The Irrational, a cerebral remix of Martin's previous procedural roles. The official teaser reads, "Alec Mercer is a world-renowned leader in behavioral science who lends his expertise to an array of high-stakes cases involving governments, law enforcement, and corporations with his unique and unexpected approach to understanding human behavior." 

Martin's other Irrational cast members are Travina Springer, Molly Kunz, Arash DeMaxi, and Maahra Hill.

Alec Mercer (Jesse L. Martin), Phoebe (Molly Kunz), and Owen (Arash Demaxi) in a scene from The Irrational.

Martin has said he is excited to take on the role of Mercer, who will prove invaluable in several nail-biting cases.

RELATED: Everything to Know About The Irrational, New NBC Drama

“After the second read [of The Irrational's script], I was like, ‘This is absolutely brilliant,’” Martin told NBC. “What a great gift to be given, to be handed, because I’ve never been given such delicious things to do and say.”

Jesse L. Martin's Filmography from Restaurant to Joyful Noise

Chris Evans and Jesse L. Martin dressed in black suits, smiling and posing for photos at the Puncture premiere in 2011.

Martin boasts some larger-than-life talent, so it only makes sense that he made his way to the big screen outside of his mesmerizing role in Rent.

In 1998, Martin made his film debut in Restaurant as the waiter Quincy. He then appeared as Roc Williams in Season of Youth in 2003. Martin Martin's other must-watch movies include The Cake Eaters (2007), Peter and Vandy (2009), Puncture (2011) with Chris Evans, and the 2012 film Joyful Noise.

Jesse L. Martin's Awards and Recognitions

With a multi-decade career and several esteemed credits under his belt, Martin has collected several award nominations throughout the years. Martin's role as Green in Law & Order earned him four Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Martin is also the recipient of eight separate nominations at the NAACP Image Awards, seven of which were for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series in Law & Order. 

In 2017, Martin won the Leo Award for Best Musical Score in a Short Drama for The Letter Carrier, a musical short film written and directed by Martin.