Wednesday, August 04, 2010

RTÉ Guide Magazine(August 2010)

Source : RTE Ten.
Date : 3 August 2010
By Janice Butler

Like all good Australian heart-throbs, Simon Baker began his illustrious career on the golden sand dunes of 'Home & Away'. But his ambitions ran further than the surf club and caravan park of Summer Bay and after a short stint on the hit soap, he packed his bags for the bright lights of Hollywood. After appearing on two hit shows - 'The Guardian' and currently in 'The Mentalist', and being labelled the sexiest man on TV, it's fair to say, the risk has paid off.

In person, Baker's status as sex symbol is evident as he sashays into the room at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. Dressed in a tailored grey suit, black framed glasses and those perfectly styled strawberry-blond curls, he looks like he's just walked off the set of Mad Men. Despite his broad grin, Baker is a more serious character than you might imagine; his dry sense of humour has on occasion been interpreted as arrogant, especially in the enthusiastic-with-everything US, but his press agent is keen to reveal that it's all an act: "He's a nice guy. Really. He just gets his kicks out of making journalists feel uncomfortable. It's how he keeps things interesting for himself after so many years of doing this."

The 40-year-old - he could pass for a decade younger - who played a journo who nearly corrupts Anne Hathaway in 'The Devil Wears Prada', has three children with fellow Aussie actress, Rebecca Rigg. It seems his rising celebrity is a source of embarrassment for his eldest daughter Stella (almost 17).

"She's a teenage daughter, so it's mandatory for her to roll her eyes at her parents. Of course these labels as 'sexiest man' are a source of enormous embarrassment to her, which I would expect", he says.

"No matter who you are or what you do, your teenage daughter is always going to be embarrassed by you."

As fans of 'The Mentalist' will know, Baker plays Patrick Jane, who has a remarkable track record for solving serious crimes by using his razor-sharp skills of observation is an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation. Within the Bureau, Jane is notorious for his blatant lack of protocol and his semi-celebrity past as a psychic medium, an ability he now admits was feigned.

So how much of Baker's own personality is in this complex role?

"I certainly have the same subversive sense of humour", he says with a laugh.

"I do put elements of my personality in this character, but with Patrick Jane I was allowed a lot of room to expand his personality; a lot of the time on the set I will put a lot of pressure on the writers to create situations for Patrick that I think will work."

His other hit show, 'The Guardian' saw Baker play hotshot attorney Nick Fallin, who discovers his conscience after representing underprivileged children in court. How does he compare the two roles?

"Both characters are pretty complex but 'The Guardian' didn't have any humour to it, although I did try to inject a little. I guess the role of Nick was more draining as the character was more monotonous. The Mentalists is a more diverse character, there are more directions I can take with it, which keeps it refreshing and challenging for me."

Although Jane is a troubled man, in comparison, Simon seems as untroubled as they come. At the end of a working day, he reveals that the only thing he takes home with him is "the pay cheque - and the occasional suit."

Grinning like a Cheshire cat, "I have a very cunning plan at work; what I do is when I order the suits, I order one that I know I'll never wear on the show and then three months later I go to the wardrobe supervisor and say, 'I never wear this suit, maybe I should take it home'. You've got to look after yourself a little bit in this business!"

Unlike the suits, Baker never borrows Patrick Jane's iconic 1971 Citroën DS, which has become almost a character in its own right. The rare car, which is part of Jay Leno famous motor collection, was personally selected by Baker when the show's producers asked for his input. "I was involved with a lot of the development of the character and they came to me around two episodes in and said 'we think you're going to need a car, what one would you like?' I said a Citroën DS and they looked at me like I had two heads. They searched high and low to find it, but I felt he had to drive something old with lots of character."

With fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts as godmothers to two of his children and his own stock on the up, how does this devoted family man deal with the prying eyes of the media? "There are pros and cons to everything. There's a sense of acceptance but at times it can be awkward with my family but people are by and large respectful of me when I'm out with my wife and kids", he admits.

"I don't notice it as much in Los Angeles because it's a zoo for celebrities but when I'm outside of it, it becomes more prominent."
His family is now based full-time in Los Angeles, and although Baker and his wife have toyed with the idea of becoming US citizens, Australia will always be their home. "I'm incredibly proud of being Australian, and very patriotic - of course I miss home but I chose life in a profession that's nomadic so I have to move to where the work is, that's the tradition for actors", he says. "But in my heart, home for me is always Australia, but I'm comfortable relaxing wherever I feel safe."

There's no denying that Australian actors punch well above their weight in Hollywood: with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe (technically from New Zealand), Naomi Watts, Hugh Jackman and Cate Blanchett bagging leading roles. What's the Oz secret of success? "These days every second actor you run into in LA is Australian, it used to be the British", laughs Baker. "Coming up through Australian soap operas I know that it's a very small industry there and it doesn't support all the actors. It's very difficult to get work there, but Australians have a work ethic and I think that goes a long way in this business."

As my interview with Simon comes to an end, there's time for one very important question. Will the loyal viewers of The Mentalist ever get to find out who Red John is? The mysterious character has plagued Patrick Jane's life since the death of his wife and daughter. "I think the viewers have earned the right to know who Red John is", he smiles.

"But if Patrick Jane didn't have the drive to catch him I'm not sure that he would be able to exist in the world. I mean did they ever catch the one-armed guy in The Fugitive TV series?"

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