Straight Talk from Bruno Heller and Simon Baker on Red John and THE MENTALIST
“Patrick Jane finally comes face-to-face with Red John, the serial killer he’s tracked since the madman murdered his wife and daughter.” So reads the episode logline for Season Six, episode eight of The Mentalist at cbs.com – and the guessing game begins.
What will happen? Who is Red John? After all, Jane has had five seasons to find him. Bruno Heller, Executive Producer, and series star Simon Baker held a telephone press conference this week to talk about the upcoming episode, where the series has been, and perhaps where it’s going.
Meeting Red John
Baker began, “You could look at any part of the series and analyze it til the cows come home, but, for me, I did feel a sense of pressure when Jane came face-to-face with Red John, because I’ve been working towards it for so many years and had pushed the character from the very beginning. I thought, ‘it’s got to live up to that in that one moment, and it’s also the one moment in the life of the character where he’s stepping out into the unknown. He’s been talking about it for so long.’”
Heller added, “How that scene went at that meeting was very much directed by Simon and the emotion of his character.”
A Personal Touch
Baker continued, “There’s very important elements to the character that you make a connection with immediately, so it felt incredibly personal to me. I’ve always been very vested in what my character does and how he reacts to his personal story, which is the Red John story – not as much what’s thrown at him, but his response to it and how he reacts, how he feels with it and what can best serve the story in a real way, as opposed to the character behaving a certain way because it drives the plot forward in a way we want to go.
“The challenge and the most difficult part of working on this show all along was playing this sort of tragic character that has a very rural, unprotected emotional side to him. He has this sort of whimsical, tap-dancing kind of thing going on with him, with a kind of sense of humor and bravado. To dance between the two terms of the show has always been very challenging to me, and I get very, very protective of the personal stuff with that character.”
Bruno added, “The great asset value of the show is in Baker’s head and in what he does. What I call treasures of the show are delivered by Jane and his people, not by Red John.”
The Right Time
When asked if he’d had any prior thoughts on when Jane might finally come face-to-face with Red John, Bruno said, “Early on, there were people in the first season saying, ‘Are you going to find Red John at the end of the first year or the second year?’ It’s a question that people have been asking, and we’ve been asking ourselves in the writers’ room from very early on. So, there’s no kind of functional, formal moment where we said, ‘When this happens, we will set about revealing Red John. It just seemed like from a storytelling point of view, and from the audience’s point of view, it was time to reveal him. The natural thing to do would be to work toward the end of the season, but then all those plot points become much more predictable and pro forma.”
A Balancing Act
Baker added, “There’s a lot of different ways that it could have gone from the very beginning with Red John. As a show that wasn’t procedural, I think you could have milked that Red John thing out, but we’re on CBS, and they love a procedural show, and they know how to market those. So, we did a whole dance of like crimes-of-the-week and then went back to the Red John story, and it’s always a difficult dance to balance those two things. We really love the Red John episodes, and we really love the stand-alone episodes as well that don’t pertain to Red John at all.
“I’ve made it a point not to read too far ahead on the episodes. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself at all. And, these last few months have been really exciting for me. I’ve had the sort of enthusiasm I had in the first season, because it’s new and fresh to me from week to week. Sometimes the frustration for me as an actor is that we’re not going anywhere, not moving forward. And this is definitely going somewhere, and the stakes are high, and it gives me something to do that I can really get my teeth into.”
For those fans of the series who think Jane is psychic, Baker had this to say, “I think there’s a thin line between what people think of as psychic and someone with insight & empathy, willing to look at people in terms of their personality. I would say to those people that psychics don’t exist, but a human capacity for understanding and a perception for empathizing and sympathizing with other people is not supernatural. It’s natural, and It’s an amazing power.”
Bruno added that, “The most surprising part of the journey on The Mentalist so far in this business is that we’re still on the air, and people still like the show. And the relationships and reality of the show become semi-real, even to us, with a semblance of real life.”
Watch “Red John – the Final Chapter” on The Mentalist on Sunday night, November 24 on CBS.
Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at suite101.com, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover.