Sunday, November 20, 2005

"Law & Order Star Sings for 'Rent'

By LOUIS B. HOBSON - Calgary Sun
NEW YORK -- Jesse L. Martin is no longer using Rent to pay his rent.
Ten years ago Martin, who plays Det. Ed Green on Law & Order, was a struggling actor waiting tables in New York. Then he saw a notice requesting actors for a workshop of a new rock musical based on Puccini's opera La Boheme. Its 34-year-old creator Jonathan Larson had set his version of La Boheme in New York's East Village amongst a group of struggling artists, drug addicts, transvestites and homeless people many of whom are HIV positive. Martin, who learned to sing in his church choir, admits he didn't really think of himself as a song-and-dance man but "the darkness of Jonathan's vision really intrigued me." There was also that niggling need to get an acting job that would help pay the rent. Martin proudly announces he is now a home owner. "I own this beautiful apartment. I love to just sit in it, that's how beautiful it is." Rent also kickstarted Martin's TV career. Michelle Pfeiffer caught a performance of Rent and suggested to her producer husband David E. Kelley he cast Martin as Calista Flockhart's love interest in Ally McBeal. A year later, when Benjamin Bratt announced he was leaving Law & Order, producer Dick Wolf asked Martin to be Lenny Briscoe's new partner on Law & Order. Briscoe was played by the late Jerry Orbach, a revered Broadway song-and-dance man. "Jerry and I would sing show tunes all the time between takes on Law & Order, so I felt ready vocally to go back to Rent when I got the call from (director) Chris Columbus to revive my role for the movie," says Martin. It wasn't his voice, but his age that had Martin a bit leery. "I'm 35. Collins is in his early 20s, but Chris said they'd make me look younger as long as I could act and sing younger. "I was just so glad it was going to be my voice and not someone else's. When Spike Lee was attached to direct the movie I kept hearing they were considering Usher for my role," he says of the film which opens next Wednesday. Martin returns this year for his seventh season on Law & Order. Trailers for Rent have been running during the commercial breaks for the hit series. "(Fans) stop me and say: 'Det. Green, I'm shocked. I didn't know you could sing.' "I love that they're shocked" Martin knows his gay love scenes (with Wilson Jermaine Heredia) will also shock some. "Look, if they're not ready to acknowledge the existence of same-sex relationships, they have to get ready and I'm happy ... to help them get ready." When Martin was hired for this film version of Rent he had to ask for a sabbatical from Law & Order. "Dick Wolf gave me his blessing. They wrote in a character arc where Det. Green gets shot and has to recuperate." Even if Rent gives Martin a higher profile with feature film directors, he's not about to exit from his duties on Law & Order. "I told Dick Wolf he'd have to have me shot for real before I'd quit the show on my own."


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