Bruno Heller, Simon Baker, and Robin Tunney Give Final Encore Salute to THE MENTALIST
It’s no secret that this season, the seventh, is the final for The Mentalist. What is a secret is how the popular series will end. Executive Producer Bruno Heller, along with actors Simon Baker (Patrick Jane) and Robin Tunney (Teresa Lisbon) aren’t saying. However, Heller confides, “You know the real secret is that it’s very, very hard to keep up a rational generous relationship with your costars on a show that runs this long. It has been a great joy to watch these two support each other, back each other up, and never turn on each other, to always be there for each other. That’s the big secret and one we are all very grateful for.”
Through a recent press call, Heller speaks for everyone when he says, “It’s tough after all these years to round out a show and to make a final statement, but we are very grateful to have that chance. You’re not often given the chance in network TV to really tell the whole story and finish it where you would like to finish it, so we are incredibly grateful to get this opportunity. This season is about what happens when life turns out the way you had hoped it would. What happens when you do have a happy ending? What happens after that? Jane and Lisbon have been engaged in an epic journey for six years, trying to capture Red John. Now that they’ve done that, how do they live again after that? How do they recreate a different kind of life? And leading on from the end of Season Six, how do they create a different relationship out of the old relationship? How can they live together? What will they do with their lives? So, it is that story. It is also an encore. It is a last hurrah for the show and for the fans. We don’t introduce a whole bunch of new characters and a whole lot of elaborate plots because it is very much about living in the moment for our two leads and living their lives as opposed to setting up stories for more stories’ sake.”
Baker agrees, “I am the luckiest man in the world to be able to be in this position, but eventually it takes its toll. It seems like it should be a nice smooth sort of running system, and, at times, it is, but at other times, it is complicated, difficult, and a struggle to keep ahead of the ball.”
Heller clarifies, “One of the things we are trying to do this season is both give viewers kind of classic Mentalist episodes, old school puzzles, old school Jane being as clever as he always has been, and, at the same time, expand the landscape somewhat. We are in Beirut for the first episode, and we go all over America for the rest of the season. I guess the big difference is there is a kind of lightness to the show and the relationships because of the fact that we are no longer chasing this evil character. It’s interesting because there isn’t this sort of ominous presence of Red John, so there is a lightness to the episodes. They’re fun.”
Heller further reveals, “The interesting thing about doing a show this long is that the characters in a very real sense become real. The cast and crew in a very real sense become family, and the show changes as the people involved change. As Baker and Tunney have changed, their relationship has changed and deepened and that has been both the challenge and the joy of doing something this long. So, actually living the show has been the most fun of anything we’ve done over the years.”
Tunney adds, “I feel like we actually got a definitive last season, and Lisbon and Jane can tie everything up. Like Bruno mentioned, it’s really unusual, and I know we are putting the show to bed in the proper way. It has been a really long run. The fans are really attached to these characters. It’s just funny the way everything turns out. I remember we had a press conference in Season One. Bruno, Simon, and I all swore up and down that there was no way these two would ever be together romantically. At the time, I think we were telling the truth. But it becomes this living, breathing thing, like Bruno said. I’m just really happy that we get to have a real ending.”
Heller is quick to give credit to Baker and Tunney, “It is a testament to what these two guys have done and the characters they’ve created that they still have a life. These are still living, breathing characters that people are interested in and want to keep watching.” He teases that the Lisbon/Jane romance is not your conventional love story. “It is a love story that is constant with the relationship they’ve had, which is the interesting thing about it. It is a kind of filial affection that over time has turned into something more, and, to a degree, that makes the romance all that much harder for both characters to negotiate. These are not fiery, passionate, crazy people. They are people who need to work their way towards seeing how this will play out in the future.”
But, life imitates art, and Heller adds, “I think when these two characters first came together, Baker and Tunney were strangers. So, the relationship was very much between two strangers who were in a transactional relationship, however intense. But, as the years go by, genuine love develops – genuine friendship, genuine understanding – and then just as in real life, what seems like not possible or plausible becomes extremely possible and completely right. There is a real basis for it. If these two actors had grown to despise each other over the years, then it would never have occurred to anyone to develop that on-screen relationship in the way that it has gone. And, beyond even that, for me one of the things I am most proud of about this show is that, after all these years, the cast, crew, directors, writers, and everyone involved with this show is going to walk away with respect and love for each other. That’s what makes the difference. That’s why you can tell these kinds of stories with truth.”
Baker adds, “We are not exploring the sort of obvious side of having a relationship in a workplace, but more the pitfalls and speed bumps that you will come up against when you know someone so well and decide to have a relationship with them. It’s also about a modern woman with a career that she loves, that she has a great talent for, and then she is confronted with a potentially completely different life path. How do you give up that career if that is the way you want to go? How do you combine love and work in this particularly intense form of work? It’s difficult.”
Tunney says, “Here are two people who don’t know how to be in a relationship. They’ve both been alone for such a long time and have only been responsible for themselves. They haven’t really shared their life with anybody in a very long time. And, I’ve got to tell you, it is a bit of a relief. You know it is sort of easier to feel light and natural in scenes when the stakes aren’t so high all the time and you can smile. In the beginning, it just seemed so inappropriate to be doing things like that over dead bodies or while somebody is in so much pain. So that change has been really fun. And, I also think, as an actor, you kind of get more comfortable in a role. I was so worried I wasn’t going to seem like an officer of the law if I smiled or whatever. I want to be taken seriously. I am supposed to be authoritative. And, the character has permission to do that now (smile), and it has been fun. I’m really proud of this season. There are a lot of places that Lisbon gets to go and different things that I get to go that are a lot less about the plot. There are feelings going on and it’s sort of fun.”
Heller won’t say never to the possibility that The Mentalist will reappear on another network for an eighth season, but he admits the need for a break. “What some people don’t understand about seven years of a show like this is that at any point in those seven years, things can fall apart and let you down. Stuff can happen. It’s very much a marathon achievement to get this far in a show and still be up and running with this kind of quality and dignity. So, I think I speak for all of us when I say we need to step back, take a look at what we’ve done, and breathe a little. Right now, I can confirm that there are no conversations about coming back anywhere for an eighth season.”
Tunney says, “We’ve made 150 episodes of television, and it is exhausting. Physically, you are so tired by the end of any season. It’s draining. And it’s wonderful to be able to get out without feeling tired. We have a whole season where we know we’re not going to have to come back and follow it up with another season. And, this is a great season. I’m really proud of it.” Tunney concedes, however, that there will be a door left open for the possibility of that eighth season.
Heller speaks for everyone when he sums up, “I want to thank everyone out there in the world for watching the show for all of these years, and we hope everyone likes the final season because we made it with love and respect for those fans that have been supporting us all of these years, so thank you very much.”
The final season of The Mentalist will air 13 episodes. The Mentalist airs on Sunday nights at 9 on CBS.