Defending Jacob: Jaeden Martell Talks Playing a Teenage Murder Suspect, Working with Michelle Dockery and Chris Evans

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If you're looking for a new TV show to watch, then Apple TV+ might have you covered. 

Defending Jacob is a limited series focusing on the lengths two parents go to in order to save their son when he is accused of murder. 

Jaeden Martell, who plays the titular character, chatted with TV Fanatic about the new series, including how he chose to portray a teenager accused of murder and what it was like working with Michelle Dockery and Chris Evans. 

Hiding Out - Defending Jacob

What drew you to the role of Jacob?

Jaeden Martell: I think he's a very complex and interesting, but also dark character. I think I was given a lot of freedom. What's also important is that he's not just complex and dark, but he's also real. He's a real kid. 

He was super relatable, even though he was put in this very tough scenario. He was very relatable because he felt natural and real the way that he was written. He's also very interesting. 

I was given a lot of freedom to figure out who he was, and his background. 

So, within that freedom, did you choose to determine early on whether or not he was guilty or innocent, and how did you choose as an actor to play that, because that can't be easy, given how ambiguous and mysterious he was. 

Is He the Killer? - Defending Jacob

It wasn't easy, but I did, when I first met with Morton Mark before shooting, I asked Morton whether he did it or not, after reading the script and he said 'you can choose. It's not going to make a difference to me. Don't tell me, don't tell anybody. Keep it to yourself.'

And so I did. It took me a long time to decide actually, through pre-production, and even just starting shooting, I still couldn't decide whether or not he did it. But I just chose what would be more powerful for me, what would motivate me the most. 

it was a difficult decision. 

You mentioned it as a very dark character, a dark story. How do you ensure whenever you're playing these roles that you don't carry that darkness around with you? You're very young, so you're still formative. How did these not form you?

Yeah, it's never hard to get rid of it [the darkness], but I think it is important to carry that with you for a little bit. I often go through these stages before I have a scene where I'm pretty miserable on purpose, I do that to myself. 

Jaeden Martell on Defending Jacob

But it's fun, it's interesting. I enjoy doing it, but then it's really easy to forget about that and move on because, you know, I have my mom and I have people around me that I love and yeah, like you said, I'm young, and I have energy, so I'm fine afterward. 

What did you find the most challenging playing this role, compared to some other roles you've played? 

Definitely, the freedom, the independence of being able to decide whether he did it or not, and being able to figure out his past. I think overall it was definitely one of the most difficult characters I've played, but then also one of the most interesting and informative characters because, I think that freedom is really important. 

It's definitely earned in a lot of my favorite actors that I look up to. They are so internal and are able to create this whole background for their characters, and I've never done, so it was a very interesting experience doing that, and it was also very hard to get used to that.

I was mesmerized by your performance, and I think you did a really good job of teetering between seeming kinda creepy and seeming like a young boy who's really distraught over his circumstances, so that was great.

Helping Their Son - Defending Jacob

A lot of people are going to be at home watching this, given our current situation, and I would hope that families would watch this together because it is an important thing for children and their parents to communicate. 

I'm wondering what do you hope families see whenever they watch this, and people your age, and how do you hope that this role you're in can influence. 

First off, I hope that people can relate to these characters and see a real family in us. That's the most important, but then also just overall, I think this really shows the importance of communication, and while they love each other, there's a lot of secrets between all of them. 

Those secrets end up hurting them. So, if you were to take anything out of it, as a family, I think that would be it. 


Jacob and His Mother - Defending Jacob


If you found yourself in the position, god forbid, that Jacob found himself in, how would you expect your parents to act? 

I think they would do the same as Chris and Michelle's characters. They would do anything for their kid, and that's pretty apparent from the beginning. They have so much love for them, and it's almost blinding. 

That's how my mom would be, too, even if I did it or not. 

How do you think Jacob felt, because it was never really explained because it was never explained in the show when his parents asked the question about him doing it? 

Accused of Murder - Defending Jacob

That's a terrible feeling for any kid, even if he did it or not, I feel like he expected his parents to have faith in him, and if they lose that faith, it's very hard to deal with. 

I think that was difficult for him, but also, you know, he has to remember, and the audience has to remember the toll that it's taking on the parents, too, so.

Their situation is very difficult, as is his, but it's always harder because they don't know, and I don't want to spoil anything, but they don't know, and he's the only person who knows whether he did it, or not. 

That scares them because they can't be 100 percent sure. 

In this case, you are still the only person who knows for sure, because you chose his path. That's kind of cool. 

defending jacob


What was it like working with Michelle and Chris?

They are both amazing and super hardworking people that I definitely look up to. They are also very kind and welcoming on set, and it was really awesome being able to see them work and seeing how talented they are. 

Did you learn anything being on set that you hadn't learned before?

Yeah, definitely. Well, obviously, it was a new experience for me, being very internally invested in the character. 

But also watching Chris and Michelle working, seeing how they interact with Morton and the crew, and seeing how creative they are, not just as actors, but as needers on the set. 

djacob ppste

What's next for you? 

With everything going on, it's hard to tell, but I am supposed to be starting a movie called Tunnels, directed by John Crochitis, and I'll be doing it with Susan Sarandon. Hopefully, it will happen soon. 

How have you been, before we go, talking about the pandemic and how have you and your family been surviving? What's different, especially for you, who has to be out there. It's hard to work from home when you're an actor, isn't it?

The thing about being an actor is having breaks, and you have to get used to staying at home. I'm just lucky that I'm healthy, and the people around me are healthy.

I luckily don't know anybody who is sick, which is really good. It's a difficult time for everyone. I think we'll be okay though, and hopefully this unites us all. World peace. 

Defending Jacob premieres Friday, April 24 on Apple TV+. Three episodes will be available at launch, with the remaining five unspooling weekly. We will have episodic reviews each week. 

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Defending Jacob Quotes

There's nothing worse than a kid.


We're sailing towards an iceberg, this little white peak in the distance getting closer and closer, but really it's been underneath us the whole time.