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November 2005
Rent: An Interview with Jesse L. Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia

Rent: Jesse L. Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia

By Wilson Morales


With movie musicals back in play in the Hollywood industry, it was a matter of time before the well loved and ever popular musical, "RENT", would finally make it to the big screen. Unlike "Chicago", which won the Oscar for Best Film and had Hollywood stars in the film, the film version of "Rent" will feature six of the original Broadway cast members. Jesse L. Martin, known to millions as "Detective Green" from the long running NBC drama, Law and Order, will be reprising his role as Tom Collins and Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won a Tony for his performance, is back as Angel. Together, Collins and Angel play a gay couple in the film and both Martin and Heredia spoke to blackfilm.com about coming back to the roles that started their careers.


CAN YOU MAKE A COMPARISON BETWEEN DOING LIVE AND ON FILM?

Jesse L. Martin: Well, obviously we don't have that incredible audience that we had every night, but the truth of matter is we did have a little cheering section in the Larson family. We were able to turn to them ... did you like it? ...

Wilson Jermaine Heredia: . Of course they loved it

Martin: And we had our crew who I guess uncharacteristically were very very into the movie and the story. I mean when we started filming, there was dead silence because they were pretty much wrapped in the story.(To Heredia) Am I wrong?

Heredia: No, you're absolutely right.

Martin: Oh God, yeah. You'd see them cheer up and get really excited . . . (to Heredia) I remember when you were doing Today For You, they were just blown away that he could run around all over that room with those heels on. They just couldn't believe it. they were like ... wow. We're used to him doing it ... we were like wow, Wilson, you the man!

Heredia: My cheering section.


WAS IT HARDER WITHOUT THAT AUDIENCE?

Martin: No, it wasn't, because we were so excited to be there. I can't even tell you ... I mean we went to work when we weren't working, and if you know a lot of actors, you know that people don't do that.

Heredia: No, they stay in their own places.

Martin: We would go to work ... I remember ... I think to work every day, and I certainly didn't work every day. But I wanted to see what was going on.


DID YOU GET A HIATUS FROM LAW AND ORDER?

Martin: Actually, I didn't do both. I got out of work on Law And Order a little early. I got shot. Thank god I got shot!


WERE YOU PLEASED CHRIS WENT WITH THE ORIGINAL CAST?

Heredia: Of course. We were thrilled. On top of that, the first question we had when we knew it was going to be turned into a film, we thought ... I hope that we get hired for this. But I didn't cross my fingers. I just waited until I got the call.

Martin: I was absolutely sure we weren't going to be involved. Because it is 10 years later and for whatever reasons people were sort of saying we were too old to play the parts.


NAMES LIKE JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE?

Martin: Yeah, and of course they've sold millions and millions of albums so it only made sense that Hollywood would put those people in the film as opposed to us. And, you know, statistically, when there's a Broadway cast and they make a film, they don't go. Know what I mean?

Heredia: Statistically it doesn't happen


WERE YOU EVER TOLD THAT YOU WOULD REPRISE YOUR ROLE?

Heredia: We were never really promised anything, but I know that when we had initial meetings with him, it seemed that he was really considering it and wanted to know whether ... I know with me, my meeting with him, wanted to know whether I was still up to it and whether I would be in that position again, to be that character again. Are you ready for the heels? Are you ready for the makeup? You know what? Hire me and I'll let you know. (laughter).


CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS RETURNING TO THIS MATERIAL AFTER 8 YEARS?

Martin: Sure. Obviously, when we were doing the show initially, we were doing with a whole lot of heaven and a whole lot of hell. I mean we lost Jonathan Larson before the show even got on its feet. I mean he'd only seen the production once, like one full run-through, when he passed away. And that took us all for a loop. I mean weren't sure what was happening with the production. We were doing a workshop production of Rent, which means it wasn't done. With plenty more moments to work out. Jonathan probably had a million more songs in his head because the guy came up with a new song every single day. So we weren't sure how the whole thing was going to play out. And when talked to his father the day after he passed, he said ... look, Jonathan would like you guys to continue doing the show. And that literally galvanized everybody and it became the most important story to tell. And we took it from there, and I am so glad we got to put this on film because somewhere Jonathan ... those big ears are just flapping ... and yea, the world gets to see it.

Heredia. It was a celebration and now the film will be an eternal celebration of his work and his life and the life of everyone represented in the movie, with all the issues.


JESSE, WILL YOUR FANS ON TV BE SHOCKED TO YOU SING?

Martin: Yeah, they're already letting me know how shocked they are, that I can sing. I mean, we film on the streets and people come up and they say ... Detective Green, I had no idea that you can sing. And the funny thing is that they used to say the very same thing to Jerry Orbach. You know, Jerry was the prince of New York theatre, and people didn't know Lennie Briscoe could sing. Of course, I did, because I had seen his work, and also I got to sing with him on set every single day, so it's funny that people come up and they're shocked. They're absolutely shocked that I can sing.


HAD JERRY SEEN YOU IN RENT? Martin: Yes, he's seen me in Rent


WAS THERE EVER AN AGE REQUIREMENT FOR YOUR CHARACTERS?

Heredia: I never played it age specific, even back then, it wasn't ... I was 24 back then and I really didn't play it as a 24-year-old. I just played it as a human being who happened to be a drag queen with HIV who was very generous, open and made a conscious decision to live life moment to moment as opposed to lamenting about the past, and worrying about the future. Everything that was right there in the present ... it was more about that. That was my character choice. It really had nothing to do with age. . . I'm always childish anyway.

Martin: (laughing). That's true.


WILSON, IT HAD BEEN A WHILE SINCE WE LAST SAW YOU. WHY DID YOU LEAVE THE STAGE?

Heredia: I didn't give up the stage. I just took a break for a year just cause I needed to. I think very few people take that opportunity for themselves. They identify themselves with what they do, and I knew I was identifying with what I did, and if I didn't get what I wanted at that moment, it would really tear me up. I knew I just needed a break, and it was a self-imposed vacation. I just needed that break and to be refreshed. . . I knew that if I didn't take that break, I don't think I would have been ready to do it. So I'm glad I took that year break.

I just finished in Ireland, one of which I produced myself ... one is called Johnny Was with Vinnie Jones and Roger Daltrey, and the other film is called Manwitch??? Which is sort of a horror thriller. I play the lead character and it's still up in the air, still in post production. And of course I'm just auditioning for everything that comes my way. I definitely want to do things that are completely opposite to this character ... not because I'm worried about being stereotyped. More it's just that as an actor I want to be challenged more. I've already done this. I did it on stage on and off for four years, and I did it on film, and now I want to experiment with other characters.


JESSE, THIS YOUR FIRST FILM SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN ON LAW AND ORDER?

Martin: I did an independent film, a very small role.


WILL THERE BE MORE?

Martin: I don't know. That's up to the stars. I'm certainly not leaving Law And Order any time soon. That's a great job and they'd have to kill me for real to get me off the show. It's true.


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