When many of us think of Duane Martin’s body of work, his comedic roles in various sitcoms like Out All Night and All Of Us likely come to mind. But over the last few years, he’s made a concerted effort to lean into drama.
For instance, Martin starred in the police procedural action drama L.A.’s Finest for two years, alongside Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. Though the battle to be seen outside of his ability to hit a punchline was hard fought.
“When LA’s Finest came up, the casting agent was like, ‘No, we don’t want to see him,” Martin told ESSENCE. “We know his work already.’”
A few calls were made and the casting director finally agreed to see him. After his audition, their tune changed completely.
“The casting agent called my agent and said, ‘I want to apologize. Not only did he kill it. We want to make him an offer.’”
At this point in his career, Martin simply doesn’t want to be put in a box. In the new year, he’ll tackle another dramatic role in Bel-Air, the reimagining of the beloved 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. While Martin explained that the network is holding details of the series close to the vest, he did share that he will portray Uncle Phil‘s campaign manager as he attempts to run for office.
“I’m there to be a fixer,” Martin said. “As you know, Will and Carlton are always getting in trouble. All of these things can affect his campaign. But it’s a complete hardcore drama. It’s not no laugh track. The stakes are heightened.”
Eventually, Martin, with his friend Jada Pinkett-Smith as executive producer, plans to release a show about his own life.
“I’m a sports agent,” Martin said. “A lot of people don’t know I’ve been a sports agent for over 25 years. It’s about my life growing up as a young African American in a white male dominated business, trying to be a mentor for some of these young athletes.”
Martin shared that as an agent, people have tried to dissect his contracts and disparage his character. He has decades of stories he calls “scandalous” and now he’s ready to tell them.
“I don’t want to write a book,” Martin said. “I’d rather do an episodic to tell this story to give people the visual of what that life was like.”
Martin is set to play himself in the series, the first one purchased under Pinkett-Smith’s Red Table Talk banner.
While Martin is taking on new types of roles, he has not turned his back on comedy entirely. The fake reality show Real Husbands of Hollywood is returning for a sixth season on BET +. Fans of the show may remember that the show’s stars, Kevin Hart, Boris Kodjoe, Nick Cannon, Robin Thicke, J.B. Smoove and Nelly mixed elements of their real lives with fake storylines. Quite a bit has changed in the real lives of these characters since they were last on air in 2016, including Martin’s divorce from fellow actress Tisha Campbell.
“You know on our show, we don’t hold back anything,” Martin said. “If it’s the truth, it’s fair game. So we got on Nick [Cannon] about all the babies he’s having. We got on Kevin [Hart] about his sex tape. And we got on me about my divorce.”
Martin said exposing their own stuff takes the sting out of what others might say.
“No one’s going to hit us as hard as we’re going to hit ourselves,” Martin said. “We’re taking the power away from any bloggers, anyone who’s looking to get clickbait by talking about us. I’m letting these comedic geniuses tee-off on me. I’m not worried about a journalist saying something bad, mean or untrue.”
Martin has a handful of projects in the works, all of which he developed during the early stages of the pandemic. They run the gambit in terms of subject matter. But whenever he appears on your screens, you can rest assured he’s passionate about the work.
“Any time you see me doing something, know it’s something that I love,” Martin says. “That’s the secret in anybody’s life, if you do what you love, you won’t need that extra motivation to get out of bed. That’s the secret of life. Do what you love.”