Jesse Lamont Martin (born Jesse Lamont Watkins) was born on January 18th, 1969 in Virginia. He relocated to Buffalo, New York at a young age following his parents divorce, at which time he adopted his stepfather’s surname. He attended high school at The Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, where he was voted “Most Talented” in his senior class. He later enrolled in New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts Theatre Program and attended Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.
He toured the United States with John Houseman’s The Acting Company, which was his first paid job as an actor. He appeared in Shakespeare’s Rock-in-Roles at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and later in The Butcher’s Daughter at the Cleveland Playhouse. He also had a few minor roles on various soap operas, including One Life to Live. He also worked at the Moondance Diner in New York City, where he met RENT composer Jonathan Larson. He made his Broadway debut in Timon of Athens as Alcibiades’ Officer/Second Masseur/Alcibiades (understudy) in 1993 , and then performed in The Government Inspector as Abdulin/Panteleyeva (understudy) in 1994. In 1994, he was also in off-Broadway production of The Arabian Nights as Prince of Fools/Clarinetist/Boy. His breakout role would come as Tom Collins in the original Broadway production of RENT. He would later recreate the role in 1998 during the West End production alongside fellow cast members Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal.
He appeared in several episodes of Ally McBeal after RENT, and would eventually land a main role on Law & Order for 9 years. During his time on Law & Order, he took time off to shoot the film version of RENT during which time he reprised his role as Tom Collins. He left Law & Order in 2008 to pursue other projects, thereafter appearing in NBC’s The Philanthropist as the business partner of Teddy Rist (James Purefoy), Philip Maidstone. After only eight episodes the show was cancelled. Martin then went on to star in the repertory performances of The Merchant of Venice (as Gratiano) and The Winter’s Tale (as King Polixenes) during the 2010 Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. He then returned to Broadway when the former of the two shows was transferred to the Great White Way and opened on November 7th, 2010. The show was to end January 9th, 2011, but it was extended until February 20th (after a three-week hiatus following January 9th), but Martin was unable to join the extension because of previous commitments.
Since then he worked on a TV pilot for Hallelujah which was not picked up by ABC, but he was recently signed to a one year talent deal with the network. He also starred in the film Puncture (released on DVD and Blu-Ray Disc January 3rd) and will be starring alongside Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in the film Joyful Noise (released on DVD and Blu-Ray Disc May 1st).