‘Mentalist' co-star says the mind games could go on for years to come

by Rick Bentley

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

20 March 2009


Everyone connected with the CBS series “The Mentalist” can now relax. The Tuesday night drama is one of the biggest hits of this television season.

There were some nervous moments for the cast before the show launched in September. The actors were having a good time making the show. They just didn’t know how viewers would respond.

cover art

The Mentalist

Series Premiere
Cast: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Amanda Righetti, Tim Kang, Owain Yeoman
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET

US: 23 Sep 2008

“We tried to do a grassroots movement. We all called our parents. We sent out e-mails to get people to watch,” Robin Tunney says during an interview in January on the set of the series. Only days earlier, CBS had ordered an additional nine shows to give the series a full season order of 22 episodes.

Tunney pauses. She smiles and then adds, “Like that was going to help. We don’t know that many people.”

In the end, they didn’t need to beat the drum. It has become a favorite of viewers and critics.

One of the big draws is the relationship between Tunney’s FBI agent Teresa Lisbon and psychic-turned-observer Patrick Jane (Simon Baker). Sure, she’s trying to be this tough investigator. But it’s quite obvious she’s fallen under the charm of Jane, considering how many times she has covered for him.

Tunney says that relationship is easy to play because she likes working with Baker. She’s found herself at the end of a 19-hour work day looking over at her co-star and thinking this would be a miserable job if she didn’t like him so much.

As for the relationship between the characters, Tunney says it can go on unchanged as long as series creator Bruno Heller finds interesting things for the actors to do.

“I think that if you work with somebody on a day-to-day basis, your arguments are probably fairly similar over the five years that you’ve worked together, and depending on your mood or depending on how they strike you, you react differently, and I think as long as the audience wants to watch it,” Tunney says.

On hearing Tunney mention five years, Baker smiles and suggests the relationship of the show could go on for seven years. Heller thinks it could last even longer.

That “The Mentalist” is a lock to go to a second season means it’s the longest run for Tunney on a series. She was in the opening season of the Fox series “Prison Break,” but her character was killed. The quick departure from that show opened the way for her to be in what she calls a much more fulfilling role.

“My character (in “The Mentalist”) is more dynamic because I have a lot more to do each week,” Tunney says. “That’s scary and exhausting. But I love working hard.

Tunney has done both TV and such films as “Hollywoodland,” “Vertical Limit” and “Open Window.” That she never felt comfortable in ingenue roles might explain why Tunney is more relaxed working in television.

“What I found the most solace in is that when you do a movie and you see the movie and you felt like you made the wrong choice in the scene, it’s up there forever. And I’m really critical of myself, and I go, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t believe I decided to do that. That was awful,’” Tunney says. “And on television, you can see it and go, ‘Next time I’m going to try, in that situation, to handle it differently.’

“And as an actor, you are constantly given the opportunity to hone a character and to make the right decisions. It’s a trial-and-error process. You want to make it better. So it’s been good.”

//Mixed media