Face it, no matter how old you are, no matter how many careers you’ve had or how much expertise you’ve amassed, the first day on a new job is awfully tough. So it was, more or less, for actor Jesse L. Martin when he showed up on the set of NBC’s “Law & Order” last August to begin his run as Det. Eddie Green. “I was very nervous,” he recalls. “I felt like a high school freshman new to town and with no friends.”
Martin is hardly a rookie, though. A grad of NYU’s famous Tisch School of the Arts, he has been, among other things, a member of John Houseman’s Acting Co., part of the original cast of “Rent” on Broadway, a disenfranchised alien on the “The X-Files” and the recurring love interest of Ally McBeal, Dr. Greg Butters.
“They have shooting the show down to a science,” says Martin of the “L&O” team. “If you can’t get with it, you’ll get left behind.”
In part, because he shares a theater background with co-stars Jerry Orbach, S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston, fitting in with the new cast has turned out to be a fairly painless process. That and the fact that they’re a pretty affable bunch.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie in the cast,” Martin says.
And a guest-star list that’s a who’s who of Broadway. During its 10 seasons, the show has been the weeklong home to nearly 150 Tony Award-nominees including Nancy Marchand, Philip Bosco and Christine Baranski.
“It’s probably the best part of this job. Not only do I get to live in New York City, I’m working with some of the best actors in the business.”
Landing the part of Green wasn’t as hard to achieve as one might expect, though Martin did have to get a little proactive. When he heard that Benjamin Bratt was leaving the show to pursue a film career, Martin asked his manager Bob McGowan to call executive producer Dick Wolf to see what his plans were for a new sidekick for Orbach’s Lennie Brisco. The next day, Martin was in Wolf’s Gotham office reading for the part.
“I was told that I’d have to read with Jerry before it was a done deal,” Martin recalls. But before that could happen, the show’s producers signed him up.
Upon joining the fictional 15th Precinct on “NYPD Blue” earlier this year, Henry Simmons was not intimidated. One of the main reasons for that was fellow thesp Dennis Franz.
“The guy’s a blessing,” says Simmons, whose Baldwin Jones character took the place of the departed James Martinez (played by Nicholas Turturro). “If we had the time, Dennis and I could talk about acting for hours. I learn from him all the time.”
At his final audition, Simmons had a good feeling that the part would be his, though, like any actor, he anticipated the worst.
“David (Milch) walked by when I was in the waiting room and said, ‘You know we really want this to work out,'” recalls Simmons with a chuckle. “I thought, ‘You and me both. I just hope I don’t blow it.’ ”
A one-time business major who used to sneak into Manhattan for auditions from his job at a Connecticut-based Fortune 500 company, Simmons is no neophyte thesp. After landing a small part in “Above the Rim” (1994), Simmons made numerous Gotham stage appearances (including at Ellen Stewart’s legendary Lower East Side La MaMa), did a two year gig on “Another World” and guested on “New York Undercover,” “Swift Justice” and “The Cosby Mysteries.”
“The process (on ‘NYPD Blue’) is very spontaneous,” Simmons continues. “The writers like to make changes as we go. It makes the whole thing more of a challenge and a lot more interesting.”
Adding or subtracting new characters to already established TV show cast lists is nothing new. It’s a tradition that’s been around since “I Love Lucy” introduced Little Ricky the mid-1950s.
This past year, over at CBS, producers enticed James Garner to “Chicago Hope” for the last four shows of the season. It was the first time the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nom’d actor had signed for a regular TV gig in 20 years.
Unfortunately, it was a short-lived coup. CBS canceled the hospital drama in mid-May.