From The Ring to Virgin River, the roles of Martin Henderson
There's no denying it: Martin Henderson often ends up with the ladies. From that unforgettable cameo in Britney Spears' "Toxic" video to being Meredith's post-Derek squeeze on Grey's Anatomy, Henderson has made a career out of playing graceful, romantic leads. But it still surprises him when viewers fall in love with his dreamy alter egos — like the one he currently plays on Netflix's Virgin River. "It's been really nice, the response to the show," he tells EW. "It's such a cultural phenomenon." Here, the 46-year-old New Zealand native looks back on his lifetime of playing the really good guys.
Home and Away (1996)
One of Henderson's first projects was playing Geoff Thomas in this long-running Australian soap opera. "It was a very short little stint on the show," he says. "He was a naval captain or something, or an officer, because I was dressed in navy whites. I came on to marry Isla Fisher's character [Shannon Reed], if memory serves me right."
The Ring (2002)
The production was already scouting locations in Seattle when Henderson got the call to star opposite Naomi Watts in this horror mystery. "I didn't even meet the director, Gore Verbinski, until I arrived on set. He just saw my tape and liked it, I guess. It was kind of one of the most seamless audition processes I've ever encountered." The movie, which went on to make more than $240 million worldwide, was a game-changer for Henderson. "It exceeded everyone's expectations. It's become a classic," he recalls. "It definitely put me on people's radars. Prior to that, I was still sort of running around town, desperately trying to get jobs."
Britney Spears' 'Toxic' video (2004)
Henderson is used to getting a lot of questions about his appearance as Spears' boy toy in this Joseph Khan-directed music video. It all had to do with his appearance in Torque, a 2004 action-comedy that's like Fast and Furious on motorcycles. "It was a very last-minute thing," remembers Henderson. "The director of Torque, Joseph Khan, had risen to fame, I guess, as a music video director. He was Britney's guy. So when Torque was getting ready to be released, somebody in the marketing department came up with this idea, Why don't we put Martin in Britney's music video 'Toxic'? I think they did a little MTV, making-of-the-video-type thing. So it was purely cross-promotion because Joseph went back to direct that for her. No one believes me, but I never got paid for that."
Smokin' Aces (2006)
Henderson was blown away by the all-star cast — Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Common, Jeremy Piven, and more — assembled by Joe Carnahan for this dark thriller. "My stuff was mainly with Chris Pine, whose career was just starting," Henderson says. "I remember meeting Alicia Keys, Taraji P. Henson… it was just fun, cool. And to work with Joe Carnahan, who's one of the coolest directors? He'd pump music on the set. He basically deejays throughout the whole day with a bunch of music that he's handpicked, that he thinks is good for the film and emblematic of the tone or style. It's just a really fun way to work."
Off the Map (2011)
Henderson was already on Shonda Rhimes' radar — he had shot a pilot for her years earlier — when he was cast as a sexy surgeon in this short-running series that was unfortunately nicknamed "Grey's Anatomy on an island" by irascible TV critics back in the day. "When I first sat down with Shonda and she pitched me the idea, I actually thought it was going to address in a more profound ways the polarizing issue of socialized medicine," Henderson recalls. "It was really interesting because you basically took these first-world doctors and then plop them into the jungle, into a treacherous, dangerous environment. So already you have a bunch of people that are looking for some kind of excitement. But after the show got picked up, there was a change at the top of ABC and there was definitely a shift in what they wanted the project to be. It ceased to become something that was a little more politically relevant and thought-provoking. They wanted it to be this romantic, colorful, warm, bright, tropical escape on Wednesday nights with pretty doctors doing cool stuff and having affairs. I don't think it ever got a chance to be what was supposed to be."
Secrets and Lies (2014)
Henderson is particularly proud of his work on this Australian psychological thriller (not to be confused with the short-lived ABC series of the same name that starred Ryan Phillippe). "I was in the States when I got this," he says. "It started off with a horrific crime and my character gets inadvertently caught up in something that he ultimately didn't do. It was really juicy fun, a fun thriller with a brilliant twist."
Spoiler alert! Henderson doesn't make it to the end of this movie, which dramatizes the action made famous in Jon Krakauer's 1997 book Into Thin Air. But boy, did he have fun playing an experienced (but ultimately luckless) climber. "We got to shoot in Kathmandu and the foothills of the Himalayas," he recalls. "In order to get all of the cast and equipment up to particular villages, we literally trekked and shot along the way. Severe storms came through and made filming extremely challenging. Those kinds of things bond you, in a way. Coming back from a 10-, 12-, 14-hour day, you're freezing cold. Your face is getting lacerated by real ice, and you're having trouble remembering your lines because your brain just stops working when it's that cold. But the director's urging you forward and everybody's in it together. Then you get home at the end of the day, sit by the warm fire, and have strudel with your castmates. It's just an extremely bonding experience that I've never had on a film before."
Grey's Anatomy (2015-17)
Henderson's character, Dr. Nathan Riggs, was introduced as a romantic interest for Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), even though it hadn't been that long since she lost her McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) in a fatal car accident. "It wasn't lost on me that they were extremely big shoes to fill," he says. "I think it would have been naive to think that I could have, or anybody could have on the heels of his departure. I have so much respect for what he was able to do with that role and the position he held in the hearts of fans, you know?" Though Henderson remembers it to be a "Herculean" task, he says he "made peace with the fact that I wasn't there to be Derek." He adds, "My commitment to the show was always a shorter-term thing. I didn't sign a multiyear deal. I was serving Meredith's character in this transition period in her life, as opposed to replacing Derek."
Virgin River (2019-present)
Based on the Robyn Carr novels of the same name, Virgin River has become a much-needed salve for viewers wanting a little escapism, especially during the pandemic. Now in its second season on Netflix, the show stars Henderson as Jack Sheridan, a bar owner who falls hard for the nurse practitioner (Alexandra Breckenridge) who moves into his idyllic mountain community. "There is something unusually… what's the word… comforting and cozy about it," he says. "It's refreshingly romantic, particularly in an era where so much of what we find on television, particularly on cable and on streaming, is this tendency to keep pushing the envelope toward darker, more sinister material. When I read this, I thought it would be quite nice to just play someone who is wholesome. People do still want some goodness. It feels like an honor to be bringing that to people's homes right now."