LOS ANGELES — Australian actor Simon Baker tried all kinds of jobs before he mustered up the courage to be an actor. He was a brick laborer (“not even a brick-layer”), he sold time-shares, washed dishes, mowed lawns, worked in pubs for years.
“Really, what are we trying to do? As actors we’re trying to embody real people, create, fill out what is just words on a page, create a real character and a real person in all the different dimensions we have as people,” he says.
“We have so many dimensions as people we’re not even aware of them. You’re just trying to fill that out a bit. And I think that’s good for you. I think it’s good for anyone to experience different walks of life and different, varied and contrasting experiences.”
Baker considers those jobs as preambles to his work in “The Guardian” and now as the rakish Patrick Jane on CBS’ “The Mentalist.”
Jane’s a mischievous consultant to the by-the-book California Bureau of Investigation agent, Theresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney). A former psychic medium, who now debunks the field, Jane gets by on charm and keen observation. In his anachronistic three-piece suit, he manages to annoy the officers around him, but always hones in on the essence of the crime.
In a way, Baker is like that. He grew up in the country in a working-class family, but enjoyed the freedom of a childhood undisturbed by urban angst. When he headed off for Sydney, it wasn’t acting he was pursuing.
“I just wanted to go to the city because I just wanted to experience more of life, a different type of life,” he says.
“My upbringing, although I wasn’t from a wealthy family, it was a very, very working class family, but the area in which I lived was very beautiful. And it was a privileged way to grow up, with all of the natural beauty around me ... I just had this desire to want to experience more and see more. And that first trip to the city was the beginning of it, and I haven’t’ really stopped. I mean, I travel all the time. I’m always trying to go places.”
He’s going places, all right. When he aimed his compass at the U.S., it was another attempt to broaden his vistas, he says. “I’d gotten to know Sydney, worked in Sydney, done some decent stuff and some crappy stuff in Sydney, and I realized what it was and I knew it and felt confident and wanted to see more, do more. I wasn’t married but we had a kid at the time. I lived the life of an actor. I had those responsibilities in Australia and still had the same pressure of having to earn money. I could always go back. At the time it didn’t feel like a huge risk.”
Fortunately for him, his wife, Rebecca Rigg, had been a child actress and is always up to new challenges. “She is great. She likes to take risks more than I do.”
They met at a dinner party. “It was like a wake-up call,” he says, shaking his head. “It reflected well on me. It made me realize I had to snap back and become present again.” He snaps his fingers.
He doesn’t say exactly what he was snapping back from, but does volunteer that “Certain things happen in people’s lives and they tend to become absent, they choose to be absent because they don’t want to deal with certain things, and it’s easiest. She was just someone who didn’t allow me to do that, and forced me to wake up.”
Baker, who’ll b 40 on July 30, was just 24 when his first child, Stella, was born. “It was a huge change and it was an exciting time. It was really exciting because I knew nothing of what was ahead of me and I said, ‘I’ll just take this as it comes and see what happens.’ Big change! It’s harder than I thought if I wanted to maintain the way I was living, if I didn’t open myself up to change,” he says.
“Anything is going to be really hard if you go, ‘Well, I want to do this but I don’t want to change the way things are now.’ You have to be open to change and growth. If you’re open to that and go, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens.’ Then it can be really enjoyable. But when you fight it, it’s not fun.”
He and Rebecca also have two sons. Baker himself, the child of divorce, has an older sister, two half-brothers and a half-sister.
Though he was an avid surfer and successful swimmer, Baker remembers his teenage years with some despair. “Stuff was going on at home and at school and stuff was going on inside of me. I was growing, I think that everyone has a hard time. Looking back now I think that was probably the hardest part for me at that time. I always had a sunny disposition, but that was kind of to protect me,” he says.
“I was religious when I was younger. I was Catholic, raised Catholic. I had certain issues about that. I consciously lapsed. I made a conscious decision to avoid. I’m agnostic. I’m not saying I don’t have faith, I absolutely have faith, but don’t necessarily have faith in God. I have faith in humanity.”
Ron Livingston will be launched into outer space when ABC presents, “Defying Gravity,” a new series premiering Aug. 2. Eight astronauts are on a mysterious six-year space mission expedition. Livingston was last seen in the series “Stand-off,” which stood down. But most people remember him from “Office Space” and “Band of Brothers.”
As to the latter, Livingston says it wasn’t just another role to him. “I think it was a really important project for me and a life experience. It was an experience of being a little bit a student of history. That project, probably more than any other job I’ve ever had, it really felt like the Hollywood part of it was secondary to really just trying to tell a story about these real guys. It was their story. They were the stars of the thing, rather than us being the stars of the thing. I think that’s how it should be all the time.”
Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton shows up on DVD in the extortion thriller “Julia” on Aug. 18. Though you’d never guess by her work, Swinton claims she’s lazy. “I’m genuinely lazy and I’m kind of dedicated to sacred idleness in some way and have a very, very low boredom threshold and I cannot be involved with something if I’m bored. I just can’t. And so the project I choose has to be a project that keeps me thinking and keeps my curiosity alive.”
The first season of the now-classic television drama, “thirtysomething” finally arrives on DVD on Aug. 25. The show was conceived by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who both went on to produce and direct many great works.
Zwick directed “The Last Samurai,” “Legends of the Fall” and “Defiance.” He also directed an early film about two women’s adventures on a cross-country trek called “Leaving Normal.” Today he remembers, “I got offered a movie six months before that about two women that get raped and go on this spree. Ridley Scott sent it to me. I said, ‘No, people don’t want to see women like that.’ But ‘Thelma and Louise’ came out first. My image of a movie about women was that intimacies and connections and the more deep, personal wellsprings are what women are about. The culture said, ‘Ha, ha, ha. No! Women are (ticked) off and they want to blow up cars and steal things.’”