The Irrational Director On Jesse L. Martin’s Duality As Alec Mercer

October 11, 2023 - Movies

Warning: SPOILERS for season 1, episode 2 of The Irrational.


  • The Irrational’s second episode centers around journalist C.J. Wright, who reveals she is suffering from polonium-210 poisoning and enlists Alec’s help to find the culprit.
  • Jesse Warn, known for his work on DCTV programs, directs and serves as a co-executive producer for The Irrational, while Jesse L. Martin stars as Alec Mercer.
  • The episode features a complex night shoot on a dock that requires careful logistics, and Phoebe and Owen’s screen time brings levity and innocence to the show.

NBC’s new procedural, The Irrational, dropped its second episode on October 2nd, centering around the murder of journalist C.J. Wright. However, the case comes with a catch—the victim isn’t dead. C.J. reveals that she is suffering from polonium-210 poisoning, and asks Alec to help find the culprit before her inevitable passing. With the help of his research assistants, Alec dives headfirst into the investigation while attempting to reunite C.J. with her estranged daughter.

Created by Arika Lisanne Mittman, Jesse Warn serves as a director and co-executive producer for the series. Warn is most well-known for his work on DCTV programs such as Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl. He has also directed episodes of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin stars as Alec Mercer, with Maahra Hill, Travina Springer, Molly Kunz, and Arash DeMaxi completing The Irrational’s ensemble cast.

RELATED: 10 Great Procedurals That Aren’t Criminal Minds, According To Reddit

Jesse Warn chats exclusively with Screen Rant about working with Jesse L. Martin on both The Flash and The Irrational and discusses the necessary duality the actor brings to Alec Mercer. This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, and the show covered here would not exist without the labor of the actors in the union.

Jesse Warn Talks The Irrational

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Screen Rant: Since you worked on The Flash, did you get a chance to chat with Jesse L. Martin ahead of The Irrational?

Jesse Warn: It was such a great coming together of the worlds there with Jesse Martin having been involved in The Flash, and me being involved in The Flash and coming together on this. The short answer is yes, I did get a chance to chat with Jesse prior to the show kicking off. We’ve obviously worked together before and got along great. I just respect him, not only as an actor but as a person. It was just a real treat for me to be able to work with him again.

What’s been the largest difference in your work on these two series?

Jesse Warn: That superhero world is obviously very elevated. The material and the world creation is all hyperreal and fantastical—superpowers and superheroes. While the actors are, obviously, at various times, grounded, it’s larger than life, whereas something like The Irrational is much more anchored in the real world. I know that our showrunner, Arika, really wanted to showcase the world as it is. Of course, there’s a little bit of a heightened reality because that’s television. But it’s much more a world that we as the viewers recognize as our own. That was a fundamental difference.

The shootout at the dock looked as if it was a complex night shoot. Could you give some behind-the-scenes insight into that sequence?

Jesse Warn: It was very cold and it was raining. Obviously, it was quite logistically challenging. We were down on those docks, and they were slippery and very narrow. There was a lot of logistics to contend with. Jesse Martin is a total pro in those types of situations, but, obviously, we want to protect him and create the best environment possible for him to work in. Some of the things we considered were shots that we would normally maybe do from a crane, we instead did from a drone, because the docks have weight issues and they’re also very narrow. We used a lot of steadicam and handheld, and then, of course, when Jesse jumps into the water, we used a double.

I love that Phoebe and Owen had so much screen time in this episode. What do you enjoy most about the dynamic between the research assistants?

Jesse Warn: I love those guys. They have an innocent quality. They also bring a lot of levity, and they’re a nice counterpoint to Alec. He’s obviously a professor. He’s an expert in his field. He’s so knowledgeable and cerebral. In some ways, Phoebe and Rizwan are kind of representing the normal viewer like you and I, who don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of all of this behavioral psychology. They’re getting to see it firsthand, and we can kind of recognize this sort of fascination and an enjoyment of these new intellectual ideas that Alec presents to them. I think they’re great.

The estranged mother-daughter relationship ties into Phoebe’s storyline, and we learn some more about her past. Can you talk a bit about working with the actress to dive into that character?

Jesse Warn: It’s a very emotional scene, and I have to say, Molly did a fantastic job. I’ll be absolutely honest with you—she came fully loaded when she arrived into that scene. We’d had a little bit of a chat, but Molly had done so much work and put so much thought into the scene. There are certain times when you need to just stand back and let people do what they do so well. Her scene partner was Jesse Martin, who always brings so much into every scene.

When he’s in front of the camera, or when he’s behind the camera working with the actor that is in front of the camera, he always brings a lot. Molly couldn’t have had a better scene partner. Jesse is so giving and just helps to bring a lot out of the scene and bring a lot out of his scene partners. Truthfully, that particular instance is a great example of having a couple of great actors. You’re firing on all cylinders.

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The final scene between C.J. and her daughter was an emotional moment for both characters. What did you really want the actors to focus on in that instance?

Jesse Warn: It’s interesting because those scenes were part of a montage without a lot of dialogue, so we had to convey the emotional intensity of those moments without a lot of dialogue and without being able to talk a lot. It had to be in the physical performance and in the facial expressions. The palpable connection they had between each other had to do something visual. That’s what we talked about a little bit. In that particular case, you, again, have a couple of fantastic actors. They totally got it. They discussed among themselves that moment and that mother-daughter connection. We talked about that scene even as we shot throughout the episode, and it all came together really well.

Alec tries to tell his sister that he and Marisa are in as good of a place as they can be, but what are you asking for from the actors when they share these personal moments? Do you still want a bit of tension to be present between them during simple instances when Joe can’t find where Marisa moved the coffee mugs?

Jesse Warn: That’s exactly right. I think that one of the things our showrunner, Arika, really wanted to do was showcase the real world, and real dynamics. That was something that I very much kept in mind as we did things like that. In the real world, people can have split up, they can be exes, but they can still care about each other, and that can make things difficult. People can feel torn, and sometimes that can come out in different ways—in frustration or tension. I very much wanted that to read into that scene, in particular.

A lot of the time, Jesse L. Martin is playing a part within a part. Alec needs to convince whoever the criminal is that he can relate to their way of thinking. Is there any kind of balance you work with Jesse to find during these scenes where he needs to come across in exactly the right way?

Jesse Warn: That’s a really good question. The truth is, I think that’s one of the things that Jesse enjoys about the part so much. He can have this, for example, his brother-sister dynamic between him and Kylie, which is fun and a lot more casual and real. Then he gets to put on this different persona. He’s walking into a situation where he’s pretending to be someone he’s not and has an entirely different persona.

That’s something that we didn’t need to discuss specifically. It’s something that we clearly identify in the script as we go along and talk about. But, I have to say, I think that that’s one of the things Jesse Martin really honed right from the outset in the pilot—understanding that there will be that duality in his performance. My job is just to make sure those moments really pop. We get to talk together about them, but Jesse’s a pro. He’s very good at this.

Are you directing any other episodes this season?

Jesse Warn: Yes. I’ve got another one coming up in Episode 7.

About The Irrational

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“The Irrational” follows world-renowned professor of behavioral science Alec Mercer (Jesse L. Martin) as he lends his unique expertise on an array of high-stakes cases involving governments, law enforcement and corporations. His insight and unconventional approach to understanding human behavior lead him and the team on a series of intense, unexpected journeys to solve illogical puzzles and perplexing mysteries. The show is based on best-selling author Dan Ariely’s book, “Predictably Irrational.”

Check out our interviews with The Irrational production designer Eric Fraser and cinematographer Todd A. Dos Reis, ASC.

The Irrational airs Mondays at 10pm ET on NBC and is available to stream next day on Peacock.

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