In February of 2008, I wrote a news item for C.H.U.D. about Lauren Goodman's Marvin Gaye biopic, SEXUAL HEALING, being on the verge of principal photography, thanks in part to James Gandolfini coming onboard to produce and play British music promoter Freddy Cousaert. At the center of this film was Jesse L. Martin, who originated the role of Tom Collins in the New York Theatre Workshop/Broadway production of RENT before going on to star in a zillion LAW & ORDER episodes as Detective Ed Green. Martin had been ferociously pursuing the role of Marvin Gaye for years. It was his dream part. But while most people believed Martin was ideal casting, it was difficult convincing financiers to invest in a music biopic starring a guy best known for busting perps on television. So the project basically fell apart, dashing Martin's dreams.
Last year, SEXUAL HEALING almost went into production with Julien Temple directing and Lenny Kravitz in the lead. No one save for the money people liked this casting, but Martin hadn't gotten any more popular in the interim, so this seemed like the best shot to get the film made. Thankfully, Gaye's son, Marvin Gaye III, pitched a fit, which evidently helped get Kravitz off the project. And now, five years later, we're back to Jesse L. Martin.
I'm still not a huge fan of a Gaye biopic focusing almost exclusively on his brief career resurgence in the early 1980s (cut short by Marvin's father, who shot and killed his own son), but I'm rooting for the very talented Martin to do do something extraordinary with this performance. Gaye's life followed an erratic trajectory: exhilarating highs, unfathomable lows and very little in between. Here's hoping they don't dwell on the misery. (And that they can get the rights to at least some of Gaye's Motown recordings from Barry Gordy, who is reportedly holding out to produce a Gaye biopic of his own.) There's a great story to be told here.