Sunday, October 03, 2010

No plain (Patrick) Jane

Source : The Star Online
Date : October 3, 2010

Thanks T for the news.

Simon Baker’s titular psychic-turned-police investigator character in his hit TV show is no conventional hero.

THERE is a lot of Patrick Jane in Simon Baker. Or should it be, there’s a lot of Simon Baker in Patrick Jane? No matter, whichever way that goes, the TV crime series The Mentalist has benefited greatly from their shared traits.

The playfulness displayed by the title character in the series, his charisma, that smile, and even the way he sits on a sofa (stretched out and relaxed with his back against the seat), are all characteristics shown by the star right now as he addresses a group of international journalists in Los Angeles.

What’s different here is a pair of glasses perched on the actor’s nose. A thick, dark frame that nearly obscures those blue, blue eyes. While admittedly the spectacles do enhance the aura of intelligence about the man, they do not take away the obvious fact that he is devilishly handsome and oh-so-charming.

Patrick Jane is a role that seems tailor-made for the actor. A fact that the show creator and executive producer Bruno Heller wholeheartedly agrees. Thanks to Baker, says Heller, Patrick’s personality is so much more joyous and delightful than what he imagined him to be when he wrote the script.

“When Baker walks into a room, people smile because he’s a very handsome, charming guy who is giving in that way. So he brings that in spades to the show. It would be foolish to write a sort of Gothic character against that,” Heller says in a separate interview.

Not surprisingly, Heller credits Baker with making The Mentalist such a big hit. And that certainly is no overstatement.

Although the 41-year-old Australian-born American plays a fellow who used to con a lot of desperate people by pretending to be a psychic – and now uses his “expertise” to help the police nab the villains – and is obnoxious when dealing with rules and regulation, he makes Patrick just so darn likeable. All he has to do is flash his trademark radiant smile or do a parlour trick and everyone (including the audience) forgets that this character is flawed just like the rest of us.

Heller gushes: “He’s a genuine TV star. He has a charisma that really pops on screen. People want to watch him.”

That’s not to say the character is devoid of darkness.

Seeing red

To start with, Patrick’s reason for working for the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a consultant is highly unusual. It’s an intention based on revenge against a serial killer dubbed Red John who had murdered his wife and daughter. Burning with the desire to track down Red John and pass his own sentence on the murderer, he becomes a CBI consultant, a post that allows him access to the Red John investigation.

At the same time, it gives him a chance to use his exceptional observational and deductive skills to catch the bad guys or Red John copycats. So far no criminals have managed to outsmart Patrick … save for Red John.

Patrick works closely with Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and her team consisting of three agents, Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman).

Despite the easy demeanour he projects to those around him, there is no doubt Red John has darkened a part of this man.

Hence, whenever a Red John episode happens – and there are a couple in Season Two, which begins on Ntv7 tomorrow – the series shifts to a murkier area. It is this tricky act of pairing light and shadow that has captivated Baker about the show and the character.

“When I signed on to the show, the thing that really, really connected with me is that balance of humour and tragedy within the character,” says Baker.

Then again, the fact that Patrick is not unlike characters that Baker grew up watching on Australian television may also explain his fondness for the character that has made him famous around the world.

Baker recalls: “Where I lived we only had two TV stations at the time. One was the Australian Broadcasting Corporation service and the other had a few different shows from the main networks. So we got reruns of American shows. After school it would be Happy Days, Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart. And then after dinner if would be Bewitched ... obviously, I watched too much television ... Kojak, Streets Of San Francisco, Quincy M.E., Trapper John, M.D. and Columbo.

Drawing parallels between old crime series like Columbo and Kojak and The Mentalist, Baker points out that it’s always the characters that the audiences adore.

“You want to see them in situations; Columbo ends up here and he is going to deal with this so that should be interesting. So you get familiar with that character. And I think in a lot of ways our show is a throwback to that. We don’t use the science and the technology to solve the crimes.”

Yes, sirree, Patrick Jane is just someone who can see through lies, is able to read people really well and tells it as it is. You know, he is just a clever guy who knows more than other people. No wonder Baker is having a ball of a time playing the character because Patrick is just so much fun to portray.

Asked if he could be friends with Patrick, Baker replies without any hesitation: “Oh, I would love to be friends ... he is the kind of guy I would like to have to my house for dinner.”

Family and fame

At home, Baker is husband to fellow Australian and actress Rebecca Rigg (who guest-stars in two episodes of Season Two of The Mentalist) and father to their three children; Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman are separately godmothers to two of the kids.

Baker, the son of a high school English teacher and a mechanic, and his sister left their hometown of Launceston in Tasmania when their mother remarried after their parents’ divorce. They moved to Ballina, New South Wales, where Baker graduated and started showing interest in acting.

In the early 1990s, Baker appeared in two successful series in Australia. Soon after, he moved to the United States. In 1998’s crime thriller L.A. Confidential, he had a small but significant role that led him to many other film projects including The Devil Wears Prada and The Killer Inside Me.

On the television front, Baker is best known for his work in the US drama series The Guardian, which ran from 2001 to 2004. Prior to The Mentalist, he was in Smith, a short-lived series about a bunch of professional thieves.

The most recent development in Baker’s life is that, as of August 2010, he is an American citizen.

Having experienced the ups and downs of a fickle entertainment industry in the last two decades or so, Baker is indeed grateful for the opportunity to have a starring role in a successful TV show.

“I appreciate the fact that I have a job and there are people sitting there watching the show. I totally appreciate that every actor has done zillion jobs that you put your heart and soul into and the only person that watches it is your wife ... if you twist her arm ... or maybe your mum. My mum doesn’t even watch the ones with bad titles.

“I’m very pleased and happy that it is a big hit in a lot of different places. It is really great,” he says.

Had the series not offered something different when it premiered in the United States in 2008, it would easily have been a casualty of an ever-changing medium with a capricious following.

Baker admits that he has no idea what works and what doesn’t. In all seriousness, even Patrick Jane may have a problem seeing the future in this respect! Which brings us to another common trait between Baker and his character in The Mentalist. Like Patrick, Baker doesn’t believe in psychics, although he adds diplomatically: “But that’s not to say psychic powers don’t exist.

“Look, I believe in belief. I think that the idea of believing in something is really about focusing your energy towards something in a positive way. I believe that if you can go through committing to something with your mind and your body then it can exist for you. Do you understand what I mean? (Pause) I don’t.”

Erm, does that mean he’d never consult a psychic who can tell him if a show is a success or not?

“No. I had a gut feeling that The Mentalist was going to be a success. But then maybe that is belief and optimism?” he conjectures softly before concluding with a mischievous grin: “Maybe I am a psychic.”

The second season of ‘The Mentalist’ starts on Ntv7 at 8.30pm Monday.

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