Jesse L. Martin was born in Rocky Mount, Virginia. He has four older brothers. His parents were truck driver Jesse Reed Watkins and college counselor Virginia Price. His family called him by his middle name, Lamont, to distinguish him from his father. Jesse's parents divorced while Jesse was a child and he and his brothers took his stepfather's surname. When he was in grade school, the family moved to Buffalo, New York. Jesse was embarrassed of his thick Southern accent and became painfully shy. A concerned teacher encouraged him to join an after-school drama program and cast him as the pastor in The Golden Goose
. The act was a hit and Jesse began to come out of his shell. He attended high school at The Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. Jesse was voted "Most Talented" in his senior class. For college, he enrolled in the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts Theater Program. While in college, he did bit roles on various soaps to support himself. He never graduated and toured the states with the John Houseman's The Acting Company, starring in various plays. Jesse returned to Manhattan a few years later.
Because he could not yet support himself through acting, Jesse began waiting tables at various restaurants, including the Moondance Diner. He would often burst into song during the dinner rush. He is still friends with many people from those days and keeps in contact.
Jesse made his Broadway debut in Timon of Athens
, and then performed in The Government Inspector
. Jonathon Larson, who Jesse had worked with at the Moondance Diner, approached him for a role in his new Off-Broadway show, Rent
. Jesse played Tom Collins, a gay computer geek, and the show was an instant hit, receiving six Drama Desk Awards, five Obie Awards, four Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. Jesse started to become famous and landed roles on 413 Hope St.
and an independent film Restaurant
The creator of Ally McBeal
saw the Broadway premiere of Rent
and remembered Jesse when they needed a new boyfriend for the shows main character. He was cast as Dr. Greg Butters. Many people complained that Ally was dating a black man, but he also developed a huge fan base which led to another role on the X-Files
. For a brief period, he returned to Rent
to open the London production as Tom Collins. Jesse had auditioned for Law & Order
years ago and received a small part. Preferring to wait, he now approached the producers again and was cast Det. Ed Green. He has been there ever since except for a brief hiatus at the end of the 2004–2005 season while he was filming the movie adaptation of Rent
, for which he returned to his role as Tom Collins. Jesse also performed in a 10th Anniversary Benefit for Rent
in which the entire original cast returned for one special night.
Jesse lives in New York City, near the Law & Order
studio, with his cat, Bob Marley. He does not employ a maid and cleans his own house. He is one of only four actors to play the same character (Det. Ed Green) in all four Law & Order
series: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent
, and Law & Order: Trial By Jury
. The others are Jerry Orbach
(Det. Lennie Briscoe), Fred Dalton Thompson
(D.A. Arthur Branch), and Leslie Hendrix
(Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers). Jesse is single and he refers to Law and Order
as his girlfriend. While many suspect he is gay he has neither affirmed nor denied this. His hobbies include sketching and painting.