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The Irrational’s Jesse L. Martin Shares What He’s Learned From Playing a Behavioral Science Expert (Exclusive)

Portraying an expert in behavioral science wasn’t much of a stretch for The Irrational’s Jesse L. Martin.

In an exclusive interview with Us Weekly, the actor, 55, explained why taking on the role of Alec Mercer — a professor who lends his knowledge of behavioral psychology to help solve critical cases — was a perfect fit for him. “I’m brand new to the guy, so I know I have a whole lot to learn,” Martin admitted. “But what I have learned so far, is that we all have a little bit of a behavioral expert in us, [because] you observe everything from the moment you’re born.”

Being an actor — which can require replicating human behavior — also gave Martin a leg up on understanding the complex character. “I didn’t know the scientific terms for it [or] that there were certain psychoses that were based around it, but I learned that I’ve been watching things just like Alec does for a really long time,” he explained. “He’s got a lot more experience than I do, but I’ve been doing it all my life, so in a way I feel quite suited to get into these shoes.”

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For Martin, whose career began on Broadway, the NBC series resonated with him because the material revolved around “behavior and decisions that are fueled by emotion,” he shared. “Emotion means drama, [and] drama is really, really exciting, particularly, to play as an actor.”

The Irrational’s Jesse L. Martin Shares What He’s Learned From Playing a Behavioral Science Expert
Jesse L. Martin as Alec Mercer on ‘The Irrational.’ Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Another enticing component to stepping into Alec’s shoes? “I absolutely love that he has access to his emotions in a way that I hadn’t necessarily been able to play so much before, particularly when it comes to playing a detective or being someone who’s into investigation,” the Law & Order alum said. “He gets to use a little bit more of the emotional spectrum than your typical police officer or FBI agent.”

Though Alec has been involved in some compelling scenarios throughout season 1, Martin told Us one of his favorite moments thus far concerned a “profound” scene that included Alex’s student Phoebe (Molly Kunz). “She was having a difficult moment, and I got to sit and have a very simple conversation with her,” he recalled. “It was one of the first times I realized as an actor, and I think maybe she did too, where [it was like], ‘Oh, we have this kind of relationship where we can sit down and simply talk about what’s going on with us.’”

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The Irrational was renewed for a second season in November 2023, but don’t ask Martin what fans can expect in the series’ next installment. “I don’t know anything about it, and that’s on purpose — I don’t ask too much. I just trust that [the writers] are going to put us out there in the world in the best shape and form we could possibly be in,” he added. “I’m just super grateful that we’re going to be there for season 2.”

The midseason premiere of The Irrational airs on NBC Monday, January 29, at 10 p.m. ET.

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