'The Guardian' becomes 'The Mentalist' for new CBS series

Rick Bentley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

LOS ANGELES - Network lineups are loaded with television shows where bits of hair and fibers, drops of DNA and a host of other small clues are used to track down criminals. Most of the time the tests are run in police labs that look like something from the 1960s animated TV show "The Jetsons."

Simon Baker, star of the new one-hour drama "The Mentalist," says his show will different. They are going low-tech.

"On this show, we're trying to focus on finding the truth in the fabric of human nature," Baker says during an interview at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in July.

Baker's character, Patrick Jane, will be the seeker of the truth. Jane became a celebrity through his work as a mentalist before a tragedy in his life turned him from celebrity to sleuth. He has become an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation.

Jane knows he does not actually have psychic powers. His ability to help the California Bureau of Investigation comes through his well-developed abilities of observation and deduction. Think "Psyche" without the humor.

Series creator Bruno Heller explains the show does not take either side of the argument about psychic abilities.

"I think that's part of the fun of that whole world. No one can say one way or the other what's true. We're playing with that fine line in the middle," Heller says. "What's fascinating to me about that world is that the skills that fake psychics use to pretend to be psychic are in many ways more extraordinary and more fascinating than the skills they're faking.

"The human mind is an amazing thing. And what Patrick Jane does with natural abilities is more extraordinary than talking to ghosts."

It is Heller's belief that all good actors have the same skills as those trying to act like they have psychic abilities. Both have to be able to read body language. They both have to reframe reality so their audience believes what they are seeing to be true.

Baker has used that skill in a variety of acting jobs. The Aussie is best known for his role in TV series "The Guardian," but has also been in such feature films as "L.A. Confidential," "Judas Kiss" and "Book of Love."

None of his acting credits quite prepared Baker for his current role. Less than two days after meeting with Heller, Baker was on the set shooting the first scene. He still did not have a handle on how to play the character.

"We had a consultant from the Magic Castle, who was more of a sleight-of-hand guy but he had a few different hypnotizing tricks and stuff like that," Baker says. "And Bruno furnished me with a bunch of literature. Holiday reading. It's very heady stuff.

"I do consider myself reasonably observant. It's indulgent of me to say that, but I will. What these guys get into and the skills that they have and then the capacity to remember things and move forward is too much for me. I'm pretending totally 100 percent to be a mentalist."

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