On CBS’ breakout hit “The Mentalist,” Simon Baker stars as a former fake psychic who lends his expertise to murder investigations. Not even a tarot card reader, however, might have been able to anticipate Baker’s status as one of the hottest faces in all of television.
The Australian-born thesp had previously appeared on the Eye series “The Guardian” and “Smith,” but didn’t pop in viewer minds until portraying Patrick Jane, a man whose bravado led to the murder of his wife and child by a mysterious serial killer known only as Red John. Despite his tragic past, Jane exhibits a lot of cheeky wit as he tracks down bad guys.
“He’s essentially a dark character, but instead of choosing to indulge in that dark torturous side, he has an optimistic take on life,” Baker explains. “From the pilot, the key to the character is that through his tragedy he has been freed. He’s not desperately hanging on to anything material and physical things, just living moment to moment.
“He’s completely flawed as you can be,” Baker continues. “That, coupled with the vulnerability of his character and that he’s so charming and entertaining, explains why there’s more mass appeal to the character than others I’ve done.”
As the smart aleck who’s invariably the smartest guy in the room, Patrick Jane suggests what Gregory House might’ve been like were he a cop and not such a jerk.
“Hugh Laurie defined the guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. A lot of the time, audiences are used to a Harvard-type protagonist, but guys like Hugh, Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) helped redefine the archetype of protagonist as an anti-hero. My character goes along with that proud tradition.”
When Baker first moved to Los Angeles, he immediately landed a role in “L.A. Confidential.” He says that early success had him thinking his career would be smooth sailing, “only for a minute.”
“That’s the beautiful thing about Hollywood, the minute you get a leg up in confidence, you get hit over the head by something that knocks you back a few pegs,” he says. “To think, ‘This is really easy — I’ll do this movie and be successful’ — I thought like that for one job, and immediately got smacked over the head by mediocrity. I’ve been fighting back ever since. Mediocrity has the upper hand.”
What do you like most about your character?
“I like his balance of comedy and tragedy. That gives you more of a range of things to play, which is often a challenge on TV. There’s a certain bravery to him that’s very different from other characters on television. It’s not a macho bravado, it’s more in the private choices he makes to look at the more beautiful things in life. It’s a huge break for me as an actor.”