MR. MERCEDES - Season 2 key art | ©2018 AT&T Audience Network

MR. MERCEDES – Season 2 key art | ©2018 AT&T Audience Network

In Season 1 of AT&T Audience Network/DirecTV’s MR. MERCEDES, adapted for television by David E. Kelley from the Stephen King novel of the same name, innocent-looking young man Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) commits mass murder with the title vehicle. Retired Chicago police detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) and his friend Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe) track Brady down while he’s committing more homicides. Holly manages to inflict near-fatal brain damage on Brady, thwarting his plan to blow up a full auditorium.

In Season 2 of MR. MERCEDES, premiering Wednesday, August, 22 Bill and Holly have opened a private detective agency, Finders Keepers. FINDERS KEEPERS is the second book in King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, but Season 2 is actually based much more on the third installment, END OF WATCH. Although Brady is apparently comatose, Bill still keeps an eye on him. The plot develops a King-like supernatural aspect, with Brady finding that he can influence other people, even in his immobile state.

MR. MERCEDES executive producer Jack Bender, who has directed more than half of the series’ episodes, explains why this is, and much more.

ASSIGNMENT X: Are you essentially skipping the plot of the FINDERS KEEPERS novel, or does any of that eventually come into Season 2 of MR. MERCEDES?

JACK BENDER: The challenge was, in Stephen’s brilliant book FINDERS KEEPERS, the second in the Hodges trilogy, our heroes don’t come into it until page 250 or whatever. And although it’s very compelling, we introduced new characters, even though Babineau [Brady’s doctor, played by Jack Huston] and his wife [played by Tessa Ferrer] are in the book, the challenge was to activate our heroes at the beginning. So that’s why we chose to dip into Book 3, END OF WATCH, and disregard pretty much the beginning of Stephen’s second book, FINDERS KEEPERS. So we mashed them together a bit.

AX: When did you begin planning Season 2 of MR. MERCEDES? Was it when you planned Season 1, you all had some idea of, “And this is where we’ll go if we get a second season,” or did you start once it was clear that Season 1 was a success?

BENDER: I think David Kelley and I thought about it, but I don’t think we sat down and made any specific plans. We just kind of dreamed about it, planted seeds in our heads, assuming and hoping that there would be a Season 2. And then there was a lot of discussion about it, because Season 2 gets us more into Stephen King-dom, you know what I mean? It goes a little bit into that area that Stephen dives into, given the Brady of it all. And because we wanted to dip into that, we also didn’t want to fall off the focus of our show, which were characters, and people’s lives, and believable characters, struggling with their lives. So the challenge of Season 2 for us as storytellers was to figure out a way to walk that tightrope, and I’m hoping and thinking we do.

AX: Without getting too spoilery about it, did you have to train other people to play Brady, or is Harry Treadaway usually onscreen when it’s Brady doing things, regardless of what the other characters perceive to be happening?

BENDER: Yes. The answer is, we didn’t have to train other actors, or puppets to become Brady, or Harry Treadaway. Other actors helped the situation at times, not to be too spoilery, but Harry Treadaway is definitely still the other half of our show in Season 2, even though he was laying in bed a lot. But he was gracious, and terrific, and we made sure he didn’t get bedsores. Harry Treadaway does a remarkable job performing in Season 2.

AX: To ask kind of the reverse question, or did Harry Treadaway ever have to observe anybody else in order to play their mannerisms?

BENDER: No. We discussed it early on, we discussed it with actors that he was going to be involved with, and we discussed it with Harry, and played around with some of those notions, but the scripts didn’t lead us down that path, and we wanted to stay away from a show that was too gimmicky. Once again, this has always been, let’s start in the real world, with real people. Let’s portray them with whatever the plot is, and whatever their struggles are. The plot of Season 2 takes us a little more into areas that you might go, as a normal person, “How the hell is that possible?” I happen to believe it is, because I’m just that neurotic. But I do think that, once again, we walk the fine line in performance so that we didn’t have to do too much woo-woo.

MR. MERCEDES - Season 2 key art | ©2018 AT&T Audience Network

MR. MERCEDES – Season 2 key art | ©2018 AT&T Audience Network

AX: Holland Taylor’s character Ida is a creation of the series. Are there any important Season 2 characters who are creations of the series?

BENDER: Yes. Maximiliano Hernandez plays Assistant District Attorney Montez, and he’s an invention, and an important character in Season 2 as we get into the politics of Brady’s crime.

AX: Does Ida’s personal life get a little fuller this season?

BENDER: I would say yes, and I would also say, not enough to satisfy some of us. And that’s something we will build upon in Season 3.

AX: Is Breeda Wool’s character Lou Linklatter, Brady’s work colleague who survives getting stabbed by him in Season 1, given a slightly larger role than she has in the books?

BENDER: Yes.

AX: Was that a plot necessity, or was that because Breeda Wool’s performance popped for you?

BENDER: It’s a combination. Not only did Breeda as an actress pop, and Lou Linklatter as a character really popped, but also, there was a way that she had to serve certain functions in the show, and she’s wonderful in Season 2, as is Justine, and all our other recurring characters, and Jack Huston and Tessa Ferrer, who are the Babineaus, who bring a lot of humanity to roles that could have been cardboard villains, and they’re not.

AX: Did you also punch up the role of Mrs. Babineau from the books?

BENDER: Oh, yeah. We wanted to stay away from the moustache-twirling Lady Macbeth thing of it all, the conniving woman behind the man, because we felt it’s clichéd, and we steered away from that in execution. At times, it was too much in the scripts.

AX: Well, there’s ambition, but there doesn’t seem to be anything inhumane about what the Babineaus are trying to do with trying to stimulate Brady’s mind …

BENDER: No, and you could argue the greater good, and all of that stuff.

AX: And obviously, the audience knows that MR. MERCEDES is a Stephen King story, but the Babineaus don’t know that. They don’t know where it could go.

BENDER: That’s right.

AX: A lot of Season 2 revolves around research into the functions of the human brain. Did the MR. MERCEDES company have to do your own research into that area of medical science?

BENDER: Yes, and once again, my approach to the show has always been, whether it’s props, or whether it’s wardrobe, or acting, or even choices in the script, I said, “Well, let’s start with reality. What does brain surgery look like, if they’re going to operate on somebody and do this kind of work, after his skull has been bashed in?” And we actually had a brain surgeon, who was our tech advisor, along with a brain surgery OR [operating room] nurse, who were with us every step of the way. Actually, the surgeon’s hands performed some of the surgeries, and we just based it all on what it would really be, and we have really brilliant technical people around me, making sure I wasn’t making stupid mistakes.

AX: In the book END OF WATCH, there’s a computer game with animated fish that is central to the story. Is that still in the show?

BENDER: Mm-hmm.

AX: So did you talk about, “Well, should we keep this, because this might be a little hard to track,” or did you think, “Oh, this could be a lot of fun,” or indeed, “We could merchandise this”?

BENDER: No, I don’t think we want people all over the world playing the fish game. The fish game actually plays a very specific, important part in Season 2, but it didn’t become a part of the climax we anticipated, because that changed along the making of this season.

AX: When did all of the working out of the plot of Season 2 take place?

BENDER: We started shooting, I think, end of February or beginning of March [2018]. Season 1 we started shooting a few weeks earlier. So the writers were getting together probably September, October [2017], around there, and starting to formulate the plan.

AX: Is your writers’ room mostly the same people from Season 1?

BENDER: No, we brought in some new writers Season 2. And Season 3, it will change again.

AX: About how big is the writers’ room?

BENDER:, Season 1, it was about four people. And Season 2, it was maybe six, and Season 3, depending on who’s involved, it could be less than that.

AX: One of your staff writers is Dennis Lehane, who’s a best-selling mystery novelist – he wrote MYSTIC RIVER and GONE, BABY, GONE, among other works. What does he bring to MR. MERCEDES? Is he more of a structure guy, or more of a character guy?

BENDER: Oh, I think Dennis Lehane would say he’s more of a character guy. And he’s a brilliant writer, who brings a certain dark humor and edge and humanity to the show. And David Kelley is the sort of alchemist who knows how to mix all those ingredients together when he writes, and still have humor, still have humanity, and still have really weird shit going on. And Dennis brings a particular hardcore reality to a lot of it, and aside from his Boston Irishness, which rears its head sometimes, kind of like the shark fin in JAWS [laughs], he brings a very specific thing to the show, which is great.

AX: Speaking of Irishness, not necessarily Boston Irishness, have you made any changes in the main character, Bill Hodges, to tailor him more to Irish actor Brendan Gleeson?

BENDER: Well, he speaks with an Irish accent, which was a decision David and Brendan and I made Season 1. At first, we weren’t sure about it. David was pushing for it. As David said, “Just the way he says ‘Fook’ is musical and funny.” David really heard that. Brendan and I weren’t sure we wanted to do that, and we wanted to make him an American. It’s like when you play a detective, like IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, and he’s got a Southern accent. That brings a certain character thing with it, and we wanted this to be a very realistic portrayal of a man who is disenfranchised. But at the end of the day, Brendan started to feel really comfortable with not having to be concentrating [on maintaining an American accent]. I didn’t want to have to be doing other takes, saying, “Gee, that sounded a little Irish, Brendan.” I wanted his performance to be as brilliant and spontaneous as it is. So that was the one change, and like all great television shows, the line between the actor and the part, they start to merge, like chameleons change colors. And Brendan has done an extraordinary job steering that character with me into really rich waters. And so I would say, it wasn’t as if we had to fashion the character for Brendan, but there is a merge that happens when you cast the right person, as we did, and were lucky to.

AX: Do you have a favorite scene from MR. MERCEDES Season 1?

BENDER: I love filming. I know there are a lot of directors who love editing, because they’re not hounded by a hundred people a day asking them questions. Coming from the theatre, where I started out as a young director, I love making it with the people on the day. I love watching the actors. I get lost. Even if the day is being difficult for a million reasons, when the camera is rolling and I’m watching the actors, and especially when they’re as brilliant as they are in this show, I just get swept away. So I would say, there are so many scenes I adore from Season 1 that it’s kind of like asking me, “What’s your favorite Beatles record?” or “What are your three favorite movies?” It would change later today. Certainly, Brady in the restaurant scene where he imagines everybody getting killed, and pulls the train from mama, and the schmucky managers from Discount Electronics are there interviewing him, and then they go in the bathroom, and Robi [played by Robert Stanton] flips out – that stuff is so uncomfortable and makes me laugh so hard. Stephen King makes his appearance in that scene, with a hatchet in his head. So there are just so many – the stuff between Brady and his mother, [played by] Kelly Lynch, Harry and Kelly, and the stuff with Brendan and Holland in Season 1, and Justine’s early scenes with Brendan when they’re sitting outside the hospital, smoking. I could go on and on. So a favorite is impossible.

AX: The book END OF WATCH has a pretty definitive conclusion. Are you leaving Season 2 a little more open, in case AT&T Audience Network wants to go for Season 3?

BENDER: AT&T will want to go for Season 3. I don’t want to sound overly confident or arrogant, but we’re their most successful show, and they’re very proud of our show, and I know there will be a Season 3.

AX: Do you have any other projects going on we should know about?

BENDER: Yeah. Stephen King’s new book THE OUTSIDER we’re developing. Richard Price is writing it, and we’re doing it as an eight-part series, and that’s coming up. Richard is just about done with the pilot.

AX: THE OUTSIDER is a sort-of follow-up to END OF WATCH. If you do that, does that mean you can’t do a fourth season of MR. MERCEDES?

BENDER: Season 4, let’s talk about that down the road, but I can’t imagine not doing Season 3. So hopefully, in the universe, all schedules work out.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about Season 2 of MR. MERCEDES?

BENDER: If you liked or even loved Season 1, I believe you will love Season 2 and walk the tightrope with us.

This interview was conducted during AT&T Audience Network’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) 2018 summer press tour.

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Article: Exclusive Interview with producer-director MR. MERCEDES – Season 2

 

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