In Season 3 of MR. MERCEDES, Tuesday nights on AT&T’s Audience Network, Brady Hartsfield may be dead, but he’s still wreaking havoc by appearing to Lou Linklatter (Breeda Wool), who’s on trial for Brady’s murder. However, this isn’t the only problem faced by Lou’s friends at the Finders Keepers detective agency, ex-police detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson), Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe) and Jerome Robinson (Jharrel Jerome).
The third season of MR. MERCEDES is largely based on FINDERS KEEPERS, the second book in Stephen King’s trilogy of novels with this group of characters (as the season proceeds, we see elements of the third book, END OF WATCH, come into play). Bill and company are trying to track down whoever murdered literary icon John Rothstein (Bruce Dern) and stole Rothstein’s trove of unpublished manuscripts. The culprit is Morris Bellamy, played by Gabriel Ebert. Morris has been sexually abused by his criminal mentor Alma Lane (Kate Mulgrew) since he was thirteen. Alma, a former lover of Rothstein’s, put Morris up to the robbery, which went very wrong. Morris has since killed a couple more people in his efforts to cover up the crime and find the manuscripts, which he took but lost; the writings are now in the hands of teen Peter Saubers (Rarmian Newton).
Ebert’s Morris is considerably younger than the character is in the book (Mulgrew’s Alma and their shared back story are altogether new for the TV adaptation). Ebert has an impressive Broadway background, with a Tony Award win for his featured performance in MATILDA THE MUSICAL. His film and TV credits include RICKI AND THE FLASH, THE FAMILY FANG, INSTINCT, THE GOOD FIGHT, and ELEMENTARY.
ASSIGNMENT X: You said a little earlier that you’ve known your MR. MERCEDES co-star Justine Lupe since high school. Did she tell you anything about the show before you got involved?
GABRIEL EBERT: We came up doing theatre together at this great high school, called Denver School of the Arts, and then we both ended up at Juilliard. I’ve seen her do many plays in New York. Of course, she immediately became much more successful on television, and came out to L.A. So I remember when she booked MR. MERCEDES. I didn’t watch it at the time. I don’t know – I’d like to think she put in a good word for me. But when I did my audition, and then [executive producer/director] Jack [Bender] called me, I got to talk to Justine before I talked to Jack, and she very lovingly said kind things about me, and it was a thrill to be able to come see her flourishing, and see her doing the work that I saw her do when we were twelve years old, now at this high level.
AX: Do you get to work with Justine Lupe at all in the course of the season?
EBERT: We have one of the briefest of scenes. My character is really kept away from the Hodges story, because Hodges is on the hunt for my guy. So we never really cross paths until the end, sadly. I’m a huge Brendan Gleeson fan. So they’re always in these nice courtrooms, and I’m always out in the woods, covered in mud, and running around.
AX: What would you say is Morris’s anger level, what is Morris’s shame level, and what else is going on in there?
EBERT: Guilt and shame definitely reign supreme. He’s a passionate man, and he wants deeply to know that his hero Jimmy Gold, the [fictional] protagonist in these novels written by John Rothstein, didn’t cop out at the end of his life, that he didn’t just become an ordinary money-grubbing American. [Morris] loves Jimmy Gold because he’s a maverick, because he is a trailblazer, and that’s what Morris has always been. He’s tried to shape his life around that. And to learn that, at the end of his life, Jimmy Gold does something so mundane as to go into advertising and make money, enrages my character. And so I think that he wants to be the Jimmy Gold that even Jimmy Gold couldn’t be. The quote that Jimmy lives by is, “Live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse.” And in a way, my character pridefully wants to do that. So I think that pride plays into it. He’s horrified at what he’s done, he is ashamed of what he’s becoming, but he so deeply needs to read this unpublished manuscript, because, I don’t know, [the last published Rothstein book, with Jimmy becoming mundane] is like learning that God isn’t real or something. He needs to prove to himself that Jimmy Gold is a true maverick, and he’ll stop at nothing to do that. So rage is there, but ambition is certainly one of his main attributes.
AX: How was getting to work with Bruce Dern, who plays John Rothstein? You have a scene together when Morris invades Rothstein’s home …
EBERT: Wow. I had an amazing day with Bruce Dern on set. Of course, I’ve known and loved his work for years. His film COMING HOME with [director] Hal Ashby is one of my dad’s favorite movies, and stories of that have rung in my ears since I was a boy. So it was a thrill. It was one of my first days on set. It’s like my character is at 10 for the whole time. It was a great learning experience for me, because Bruce, in between takes, would love to tell stories. And he’s lying in bed [where Rothstein is for the scene]. He’d invite me to lie in bed with him, he’d tell me stories, and then it’s time to shoot again, and I’ve got to be all the way ratcheted up. So I had to find a way to balance that in my head. But it was so great, because Bruce kind of saw who I am as an actor, and who I am as a man, and I think he saw some of his young self in me. And so he took me under his wing in some ways. He said, “I see what you’re doing there, how you’re trying to amp yourself up, jumping up and down, and doing pushups. And you don’t need to do that. Do it like this.” Or, “You know what Elia Kazan told me? He said this.” So it was like being a student, and I always loved that.
AX: You have some fairly revealing sex scenes with Kate Mulgrew. Have you had to do sex scenes this extensive before?
EBERT: I had done one naked sex scene in a pilot that I made a few years back. And that was a scene in which I had to just be running around naked for maybe a three-page scene. But it was a joyous and happy occasion. The sex scenes in this season are hardly joyous or happy [laughs]. I thought it would be more uncomfortable than it was. I think the scripts are so well-written and the relationship between these two characters is so deep and so dark that we could just commit to the truth of it, and it carried us through the awkwardness.
Kate Mulgrew has never had a sex scene in her whole career. She’s had romance scenes, but she very proudly didn’t allow that to define her in her earlier years. So it was interesting, because I feel like I’m at the beginning of what I’m trying to accomplish on film and TV, she’s already this living legend. And so being thrust into these scenes together, no pun intended, was very funny. But I think we took good care of each other, we laughed through the awkwardness, and Jack made a very comfortable, safe set, in which we could tell the truth of these scenes.
AX: Did you learn anything being directed by Jack Bender?
EBERT: Oh, absolutely. I feel very humbled and blessed that my first experience doing a season-long arc on a show is under the incredible watch of Jack Bender, and with the incredible scripts of David E. Kelley [who developed MR. MERCEDES for television]. Jack has a deep love for Justine, because he loves the character of Holly on the show, and I think he really developed the character of Holly with her, and because Justine and I are like siblings in a way from our youth, I think that he also felt that way towards me. He could tell that I cared deeply, and so he was never afraid to push me to the next level. I asked him to be honest with me, and so he always was. I think, as a director, one of his great qualities is how he speaks to actors. Sometimes he could come in and do something with his hand, or just give me two words, and I knew what he meant. And on top of that, just learning about different lenses, how different things are shot, learning what a shot’s effect is. As an actor, you really want to feel it, you want to get lost in the feeling of it. And then it’s great to realize that in some shots, it’s not about getting lost in the feeling of it, it’s about executing something technical. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t feel it, but it means you have to know what framework you’re working in, and Jack is very loving and brilliant as he guides you towards that framework.
AX: So you’re not too big in the close-ups, or too small in the wide shots …
EBERT: Absolutely. Or moving too much when it’s actually someone else’s shot, or these kinds of things.
AX: With Morris, when he’s trying to intimidate somebody, does he believe he is being intimidating, or is he trying to play intimidating?
EBERT: I think he’s trying to play it, and then, as the season goes on and his desperation grows, it becomes more real. And of course, he is deeply intimidated by his own shame, and his own feelings of failure, because he had one task and he botched it so miserably.
AX: You’re working with a number of older actors whose careers you know and respect, and then you have scenes with Rarmian Newton, who plays Peter Staubers, the teen who winds up with the unpublished Rothstein manuscripts. How is it going between being the young guy and being the comparatively old guy?
EBERT: It’s very interesting. As I said, I love being a student, so it changes that dynamic a little bit. But also, by the time I come into contact with Rarmian’s character Peter, I am at the end of a long rope, and I have no more patience left. And so my scenes with Peter, I had great text. So many of my scenes with Kate Mulgrew and Bruce Dern, they have the great text, and I’m in reaction to them, and so I’m watching and listening, from these vets. And so by the time I get to work with Rarmian in these scenes with Peter, it’s my character who’s the aggressor, and he’s the one who has to sit and listen. And so I relished those opportunities. And he was such a great collaborator and such a sweet guy, I think we had a lot of fun. We had to get pretty violent at the end, but we took good care of each other, we pumped each other up. We’re two young guys, so we’re both excited to feel our hearts pumping and to get lost in the thrill of it in a way that’s maybe different from working with Bruce Dern. Not that he doesn’t get lost in the thrill of it, but he knows how to execute for the camera in a different way. So it was a joy to work with him, and to bring both of our stories to this huge apex.
AX: Did you have to learn how to do anything for MR. MERCEDES, like how to hold a gun, or how to work with the thing that you staple the guy’s head with – I’m not sure what it’s called?
EBERT: [laughs] The screw gun. I’d never done violence of any sort like this before, so it was my first time learning how to do a fight scene, working with stunt doubles, learning how to do a burn, learning how to shoot guns, certainly. The incredible props department on the show guided us through the safety of anything that has to do with guns. I think we take it for granted, because every show is filled with guns, every movie is filled with guns. Each gun has to be checked. Everyone on the set needs to be comfortable that no bullets are going to come out of these guns, when you’re using a gun that is going to fire, when you’re using a gun that’s not going to fire. I learned so much from the props department, the gaffers, the grips, I feel like I learned how to be an action guy. Which is very exciting, because I’ve loved action films since I was a boy.
AX: How much action do they let you do yourself?
EBERT: I’m the kind of actor, at least at this point in my career, that I want to do most of it myself. I realized when I couldn’t, and of course once I watched some of my stunt doubles doing stuff, I realized why I shouldn’t. But they let me do a great deal, and I was very game to do a great deal of the car crash, these kinds of things. Of course, they always made it safe, they always talked me through it, so I always felt well-taken care of. But I did a lot of my own stunts on this, yeah.
AX: Are there any authors or filmmakers, not that you would kill somebody, but that you might pull some shenanigans to see their unknown work?
EBERT: I thought about that. I thought, “Who is my Rothstein?” And I had two answers. I also wanted to pick American writers, because a big part of it is that he’s an American writer. One of my answers is Kurt Vonnegut. I love Kurt Vonnegut books, and I’ve read probably twenty-five of them. A couple of them are deeply important to me. But then I think there’s something in Kurt Vonnegut that’s a bit tongue in cheek. He has such a sense of humor in his work. The American author whose work touches my soul in a way is James Baldwin, and what a crazy person, a crazy fan, would do to meet him, or to read something unpublished by him. And every time I read a James Baldwin novel, I’m reminded as to why there’s no better writer in my view, and so he was the one I had in my mind, Baldwin.
AX: You’ve said you’re not a big horror fan, so do you feel like you’re going to be able to deal with watching MR. MERCEDES?
EBERT: I’ve watched Seasons 1 and 2, and I really love them, because the acting is so good, and the writing is so good. And because I know all the makers, it allows me to be a little calmer – “I’ve walked through that set,” or, “I know Jack directed this scene.” So I’m thinking, “How did they do that? How did they do that blood?” So maybe all horror from this point on, I can think a little more like, “Oh, I wonder how that actor made that happen.” But before I had this experience, I truly believe everything that happens [in a horror story], and it’s just too horrifying to watch. So I think I’ll be able to handle it. The thing I’ll be most horrified at is my own performance, and I hope I can stomach that [laughs].
AX: Is this season of MR. MERCEDES the most you’re going to be able to have watched yourself so far?
EBERT: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been in a couple of films that I’ve gotten to watch, I’ve gotten to watch the pilots I’ve made, but I’ve never done a season-long arc, so ten episodes will be fascinating.
AX: How is maintaining a character with different scripts coming in for each episode, versus maintaining a long stage run where you’re performing the same script every night?
EBERT: I think the main difference is, when I’m doing a play eight times a week, on a Thursday evening, I’ll think, “Oh, I missed that laugh,” or “Oh, that moment didn’t land,” I know that tomorrow night, I’m going to make sure I get that laugh, I’m going to make that moment land. Maybe it’s because somebody coughed, or a cell phone went off, but it’s also, I can make sure that I tick all these boxes, and I know I have another chance at the same thing. Whereas with this, you get one chance at everything, and then you’ve got to let it go, you’ve got to put it away. So similarly to the theatre, you’ve got to forgive yourself and move on. But differently, you get one scene, and you just commit to it as hard as you can, give it a bunch of different takes, a bunch of different reads, and then you’ve got to put it to bed, and be okay with the work that you’ve done. And I think at the end of the day, if you can put your head to pillow and say, “I’m good with what I’ve done,” then you’re in a good place.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about MR. MERCEDES Season 3?
EBERT: That the care and dedication that was put into this project by all of the makers – Jack Bender, David E. Kelley, [writer/executive producer] Jonathan Shapiro, every actor, every grip, every props person, every p.a. – I hope that that dedication and care shines through, because it was really a labor of love, and it was really a community effort.
This interview was conducted during AT&T Audience Network’s portion of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with MR. MERCEDES star Gabriel Ebert on Season 3