Spending Time on Mentalist Set with Simon Baker

Simon Baker‘s smiling a lot these days.

On the Warner Bros. set of The Mentalist, Baker’s relaxed and comfortable talking to the small group of reporters gathered on his home turf. It’s quite a departure from a few years ago, when Baker starred in another CBS drama The Guardian. Then, he came across as resentful and angry, much like the repressed and depressed character he played.

“(The Guardian) was a harder show emotionally, playing such a depressed character did rub off on me,” Baker says in his native Aussie accent. “I never thought I’d be the kind of actor who would be affected by the role that I’m playing, but playing it day in and day out, it does, yeah. But (Patrick Jane) is such a fun character.”

Baker says The Mentalist is all about entertainment.

“When I was doing The Guardian, I wanted to act and move people and move the world,” says Baker, 39, before breaking into a grin. “I was young.”

In the crime drama, Baker plays Patrick Jane, a man who used his powers of observation to become a celebrity psychic. When his wife and child are brutally murdered by a serial killer, he starts working with a special statewide police unit to solve crimes. While he deals with the devastating aftermath of that act and solves brutal crimes each week, there’s a playful spirit in both Jane and the show in general.

But the spector of the killer known as Red John is always there, and viewers learned recently that Jane spent time in a mental institution following the death of his family.

Creator/producer Bruno Heller says the show will stick to solving the crime of the week more than concentrating on that storyline.

“We won’t be going back to the institution much. With Red John, that’s always part of his journey, but we’ll go there sparingly,” Heller says.

The simple gray set looks like a basic office, except one wall filled with gruesome shots of a murder victim. Oddly enough, the office of Teresa Lisbon, Jane’s boss played by Robin Tunney, has not one but two doors. And in the break room, there’s an odd assortment of ads on the bulletin board including a cute picture of a horse for sale.

But the main draw on this set is the star of the show, Baker. He’s wearing gray herringbone jacket and a rumpled blue button-up shirt that looks like it’s never met an iron. On anyone else, you’d think Columbo. On Baker, he’s more dreamy, slightly eccentric, college professor with a killer smile.

“Most people under scrutiny don’t expect a policeman to be candid, genial and relaxed. If you are in a bad mood, and someone smiles at you, it’s infectious, and it can be a way to disarm a person,” Baker says. “I play around with that (as Jane).”

One of the charming aspects of the show is the easy relationships between the characters, which include Owain Yeoman as Det. Wayne Rigsby, Amanda Righetti as Det. Grace Van Pelt and Tim Kang as Det. Kimball Cho. And then there’s that sizzling connection between Jane and Lisbon.

“Some of it can be attributed to workplace banter. Also, at times it can be paternal and maternal and sometimes almost like siblings,” Baker says. “But I think my character is flirtatious just in general, so (the relationship) works on a lot of levels.”

As for Jane having something dark and twisty in his soul, Baker says dark doesn’t quite describe it.

“It’s just a painful place,” Baker says. “A sad, sorrowful place.”

And a vulnerable place that makes his character all the more intriguing, especially to woman eager to help him heal.

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