There are a string of young actors in Hollywood right now with hopeful futures, and Jaeden Martell is undoubtedly one of them. Hailing all the way from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the 19-year-old already has his career in the driver’s seat, taking home awards and securing himself back-to-back jobs for major roles.
Get to know Jaeden in the SS22 Print Issue, available for pre-order exclusively at our shop
Photography: Anthony Giovanni
Fashion: Edwin J Ortega
Grooming: Barbara Lamelza
Production Assistant Andrew Barrios
Words: Fabio Magnocavallo
There are a string of young actors in Hollywood right now with hopeful futures, and Jaeden Martell is undoubtedly one of them. Hailing all the way from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the 19-year-old already has his career in the driver’s seat, taking home awards and securing himself back-to-back jobs for major roles. But, what has become an incredible career thus far wasn’t something he ever imagined would be the case.
Martell initially sparked an interest in acting as a child after meeting a family friend and now-manager, Emily. “All her kids were acting. I was sort of curious about it. I never thought about it as a possibility,” Martell tells MOOD. “I ended up auditioning for six months, going from attending school straight to auditions.” The results weren’t immediate. The long process to book anything took a toll on both himself and his mother, and consequently, Martell nearly called it a day. “It was fun doing it, but it wasn't leading to anything,” he adds. Just weeks later, however, Martell found out that he had landed himself his first job at nine years old – a commercial for Hot Wheels. From there, he became the go-to guy for advertisements, appearing in more commercials for Google, Moneysupermarket.com, Hyundai, and Verizon Fios, to name a few.
Reflecting on that time, Martell recognizes that pursuing a career in acting was potentially going to be his calling all along. “I guess looking back in hindsight, I definitely always had an interest in being dramatic,” he says before laughing. “I was still acting out scenes in my bedroom and writing stories. But yeah, I wasn't really interested until it was right in front of me.”
Just one year after getting his foot in the door, Martell booked his first movie, the 2014 comedy-drama St. Vincent. Starring alongside A-listers Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, he still remembers that period quite vividly. “It was a pretty long audition process. I probably had three or four auditions overall,” Martell explains, adding, “They flew me to New York to audition, which was a totally foreign thing to me.” Like any 10-year-old in a similar situation, he understandably felt intimidated when meeting the director, Theodore Melfi, and describes the screening process as “overwhelming.” Nevertheless, these procedures are part and parcel of the job, and Martell has undoubtedly become accustomed to them.
St. Vincent was Martell's first-ever movie at a tender age and the young actor also had to deal with a star-studded cast. The newbie understandably felt stressed out during the filming process. Luckily, an extremely seasoned co-star dished out some incredible advice to help him find his feet. “Bill [Murray] taught me a lot about bringing energy to a set, and having fun, and letting loose and forgetting about the external pressure,” Martell says. “He understood what I was going through as it can often be stressful for him too.” Now a knowledgeable actor himself, Martell is willing to share his own guidance with those wanting to follow in his footsteps. “I really think it's about empathy and understanding. You're in a character situation and just putting yourself in their shoes,” he explains. “For me, it's always about the feeling and empathizing of my character and becoming one with him in a way. If you can't, you just gotta find your truth in it. Every scene has a certain objective, and you can't think about the lines. It's not a memory game.”
Looking back, it’s evident that St. Vincent was just the stepping stone for what was on the horizon. Martell’s acting skills have been in-demand ever since, appearing in more films on the big screen in the following years, such as Aloha, The Book of Henry, and Knives Out. The demand was so high, in fact, that he was kicked out of public school for being too busy to attend. As a result, Martell continued his education by participating in online schooling.
Many fans were introduced to Martell's talent when he starred in the 2017 coming-of-age supernatural horror, It. Furthermore, his portrayal of Bill Denbrough can easily be regarded as his most famous role. After all, the movie's box office numbers did boast $700 million. With that being said, Martell doesn’t bother to review which one of his roles is considered his breakthrough. Instead, he focuses on what they have offered him. “They've all helped me,” he says. “Each project I looked at was like a learning experience. I've definitely learned so much from each of them, and I've been really lucky to work with really incredible people who are super talented, smart, and hardworking. I’ve been modeling my life after theirs.”
It made history as the highest-grossing horror film of all time, as well as the fifth-highest-grossing R-rated film. Due to its global success, a second installment, It Chapter Two, came out in 2019. Many might wonder, did Martell have an inkling of how much of a phenomenon the movie series was going to be? “There are certain elements upfront that tell you whether or not something is going to be big in a way, but you don't know about the success and how it's going to turn out,” he explains. “With something like It, the auditioning process was unlike anything else. We were in a room full of 20 kids our age and were made to do these chemistry reads, making these groups up by mixing and matching different kids together. That process was super intense.”
Martell continues: “Everyone knew the budget was bigger than most films. Particularly with that one, there was already an established fan base, but you really don't know if people are going to like it or if you're going to be fulfilled by the end of it. Even though we had such an amazing time on that film and knew how talented the director, Andy, was, it's still a gamble.”
Proving to be a chameleon, Martell’s most recent film, Netflix’s Metal Lords, saw him switching it up once again. This time, embracing a shy teen in high school who blossoms into a confident drummer in a metal band. “I really wanted to do something fun and light. It definitely leans more to the comedy side,” he says about why he agreed to the role. “I feel like as an actor and a young person, I feel like I'm at that age where I'm just discovering myself and trying to figure out who I am socially and professionally. I've always been a more introverted person, but I wanted to play someone who was more out there and to be a part of a script that's smart, quick, and witty.”
Taking on the job required its fair share of groundwork. First up, Martell delved deeper into the metal genre, researching further into what he already knew by looking up different bands, particularly drummers, and putting their performances on repeat. “It’s cool to appreciate it as an art form, but I learned it's also like a form of energy for some people,” Martell says. “I was tapping into that as a motivator in my daily life. Listening to metal music sort of changes your whole outlook on life and the energy you bring.” Following that, he learned how to play the drums, just for the sake of the movie.
“It was definitely a challenge. I had never really touched a drum kit beforehand,” Martell admits. “When I was younger, I studied piano for years and I made zero progress. Not because my teachers were not great, but just because I had no motivation. So, I feel like I can do anything if a role calls for it because it’s like boot camp. It was the only thing that mattered for days on end. You're just focusing on one single thing.” Martell was taught by Glen Sobel, who is commonly known for serving as Alice Cooper’s drummer. The established rockstar helped Martell practice a month before shooting. Not only did he instruct the technical side of things, but his skills would help Martell gain an understanding of how to feel and put emotion into his character.
“It's a very emotional instrument, it's very physical,” Martell continues. “Everyone can take the stick to a drum, but it's about doing it with precision and rhythm. Also with metal music, you’re looking mean and angry, but sort of a majestic way.”
His upcoming project, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is also set to be distributed by Netflix and will be based on a short story of the same name. With its filming process wrapped in December 2021, the John Lee Hancock-directed horror is scheduled for release sometime this year. However, this won’t have been the first time Martell has played a role that was based on an existing story. Previously, Martell played the main role of Jacob Barber in the crime drama miniseries Defending Jacob, which is constructed around the 2012 novel by William Landay. Preparing for that role, Martell confesses he began reading the book but chose to not delve any deeper. “Defending Jacob [the book], was from the father's perspective. I didn’t want to get into that headspace,” he says. However, for Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, Martell did read the story in its entirety. “I do some narrating as well, so it just made sense to the book. I love Stephen King [the author], so it was a fun read,” he shares.
Martell avows that he is guilty of taking on roles that he’s comfortable with, admitting it’s easy to be complacent. With the goal of trying to take on more challenging jobs, he believes he has achieved that with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. “It’s the oldest character I've played,” Martell says about his portrayal of Craig. “He goes from a freshman in high school to a freshman in college. That evolution was a lot of fun to play with.”
Having social media in today’s day and age is a no-brainer for most teenagers. Especially, since they don’t remember a time when we weren’t all completely obsessed with technology and the internet. With a large following of 4 million on Instagram and a respectable 300k on what seems to be an inactive Twitter account, Martell insists there isn’t too much pressure to always be serving content. “I'm a pretty private person when it comes to my personal life,” he says. “Sometimes it's a part of the job, I think. It's also not that big of a deal, I’ll do it if I have to. It’s not my first priority, for sure. I’m pretty lucky, everyone's nice on there to me.”
Despite showing off an impressive resume that continues to expand, what is a dream role Martell has yet to conquer? “I've always wanted to play some type of arrogant menace, like the most unlikeable person you can think of,” he shares. “I want to be that guy, it would be so much fun and you know, it's a good excuse to be a jerk.” Even though Martell's personality is the complete opposite of a jerk, we're sure that like with everything else he touches, his performance will be on-point.