Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Mentalist's Simon Baker keen to kill off sex symbol tag

Source : The Corier Mail.
Date : August 06, 2010
By Geoff Shearer

Thanks T for the news.

THERE'S something riding on Simon Baker's shoulders and it's weighing down a tiny bit more as each year passes.

The money's rolling in; he's leading a picture-perfect family life based on a loving 11-year marriage to Gold Coast-raised actor Rebecca Rigg. He has his choice of film roles and he's riding the wave of success and fame into a third series of the hit TV series

The Mentalist

. What on earth could be a burden? Heck, this is the guy America's

TV Guide

declared the sexiest man alive last year.

But that's where the niggle sets in, the straw that teases a frown on to that smoulderingly handsome face below a mop of boyish golden curls.

It's the term "sex symbol".

He says he's comfortable enough with it. But when you've just turned 41, as Baker did last Friday, and you've got a daughter turning 17 tomorrow, the tag can drag.

"The older you get, the heavier things become to lift," the proud father of three says after a little pause to couch his answer effectively. "So it just gets a little heavier to drag around, that's all, mate.

"You know I walk through the door when I come home from work and, well . . . hey, it's in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?"

Daughter Stella is cool with it. "She understands how the whole machine works. She knows it wasn't me who came up with the tag," he smirks.

The way Baker slips out of addressing the burden of beauty and his assessment of how his family deals with life in Hollywood is refreshingly frank in a world where the trappings of fame sometimes come with unshakable consequences. He knows the lay of the land. And he knows as long as he shows his family the realistic side of things, then the entertainment industry can be safely negotiated like any other workplace.

"There is such a misconception," he says. "People are always, 'How do you stay grounded?' and 'How do you shield them?'. The reality is my family is more aware of the truth and reality of Hollywood than any member of the general public.

"The public get a kind of an idea (based on) stories that will sell magazines. If anything, the people that need shielding are the people that read the stuff in the gossip rags.

"My kids (Stella and her younger brothers, Claude, 11, and Harry, 8) see me get up and go to work. I work a 12-hour day. I work hard. I earn a decent living. They've come to work with me and they see what the work is. They don't see me get carried around in a chariot all day having grapes peeled for me. They see me work my arse off. They see the realistic side."

Baker, it seems, has managed to keep touch with his level-headed small-town upbringing. Born in Tasmania, he was raised in Lennox Head, south of Byron Bay in northern NSW. After carving out early success in Australian TV series such as E Street (which earned him a Most Popular New Talent Logie Award in 1993), Home And Away and Heartbreak High, he headed to the States in 1996 and has been in work constantly ever since. His lead role as lawyer Nick Fallin in three series of The Guardian cemented his place on US TV and ultimately led to internationally recognisable role as Patrick Jane in The Mentalist. He has mounted up an impressive series of film cameos – from 1997's LA Confidential, where he narrowly missed out on a starring role which went to Guy Pearce, to Ride With The Devil, Red Planet and The Devil Wears Prada.

With The Mentalist taking up so much of his time – 23 episodes are shot each season – Baker has specific parameters for film projects. "There's nothing that has as much limitations on it as network television in America creatively," he says. "So in my break – I don't get a big break over the summer in America – I'm always looking for something that sits in there, that is kind of totally different in tone, or just something that interests me. Creatively I've just got to keep myself in there in a way."

One project that fitted the bill in terms of commitment and challenge was the thriller The Killer Inside Me, based on Jim Thompson's 1950s pulp novel, which opens later this month with Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba.

The Michael Winterbottom-directed film details the sociopathic small town sheriff's deputy Lou Ford (Affleck) and his murderous ways. Baker plays an out-of-town detective, Howard Hendricks, sent to investigate the charming, baby-faced Lou.

"That was the side of the story I attached myself to," Baker says. "I grew up in a small town and what I took into (this role) was how far localism goes, how much it can afford you to get away with stuff – if you're a local, if you're part of the inner circle.

"I don't know that Howard necessarily gets seduced by Lou's charm, but it is hard for him to go too much against the locals of this town. As a survival instinct we all want some level of acceptance."

The role, and Baker admits it, is not too far removed from his Mentalist gig. There is a synergy to the methods of crime-solving Patrick uses to track Red John in 2010 and to how Howard goes about business in 1950s America. It is a slow approach, where it is about watching how someone acts or catching the modulation in their voice.

"The TV show is so pervasive. So many people identify immediately me with that show and that show with me. So maybe for me, perhaps not the best choice to go on and play a guy that is trying to solve a crime," he says with a soft chuckle.

"But one of the things that drew me to The Mentalist was that I have always liked stories that reveal the psychology of the killer and the unfolding of the crime. Most of the time you do some sort of test and you get the results back from the lab and you go, 'Oh, it was this person'. Really? I never found that enjoyable for the audience. And I've always been a huge fan of con movies. Another Jim Thompson novel The Grifters is one of my favourite films, so there's a parallel there."

He was also drawn to working with Winterbottom, describing his style of filmmaking as "freestyle".

"Very sort of from the hip," Baker enthuses. "He works with a small crew and very quickly. He doesn't like to call action. He doesn't like having marks on the ground. It's all very kind of fluid."

But after the thrills of tracking down serial killers on both the big and small screen, Baker is happy to settle into domestic bliss.

And that includes watching his favoured rugby league team, the Parramatta Eels, via satellite, a bit of surfing, spot of gardening and what he terms "little projects" around the house.

One of which won't be keeping the batteries charged in the front doorbell, judging by the answer he gives as to whether other Aussie actors use his and Rebecca's home as first port of call in LA.

"No," he laughs. "And don't you go putting that out there."

The Killer Inside Me opens August 26

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