“The Mentalist’s” 100th episode has aired and the team that makes the popular Simon Baker drama has made it clear that this season, they’re going to get closer to solving the central mystery of Red John — the serial killer that took the lives of Baker’s character’s wife and child. Does all that indicate that Baker and series creator Bruno Heller are envisioning an ending for the series?
Not according to leading lady Robin Tunney.
“I think it’s a creative conversation,” she says, speaking of the show in general and the Red John storyline in particular. “I feel like they’ll go along as long as the audience wants to, as long as they keep it interesting and not too frustrating. Historically, with television, people will get on the bandwagon with something and then it’s very clearwhen they’ve given up,” she continues. “Everybody wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer in ‘Twin Peaks’ — but it went to a certain point and then everyone turned on (creator) David Lynch. I think there’s a certain point where you resolve something when the audience needs it.”
According to Tunney, Heller and the other writer-producers “read everything that’s written about the show, I think. Bruno actually reads letters that people send in. I think they are genuinely curious. Both Bruno and Simon are really into what the fans think, and sort of servicing them.”
The fans’ devotion has helped “The Mentalist” remain a strong show despite the fact, “the move to Sunday nights has been rough, because we get pre-empted by football,” Tunney acknowledges. “People can’t watch when the show starts at 11 o’clock — and they can’t even properly TiVo it, because they don’t know when it’s going to start.
The Chicago-born actress, who rose to fame as the suicidal teen who shaved her head in “Empire Records,” and as a girl with occult powers in “The Craft” — and counts the series “Prison Break” among her credits — says she is happy to continue playing Agent Teresa Lisbon of the fictional California Bureau of Investigation.
In fact, she says, “I love playing this character, and I think as far as female roles on tv, it’s one of the great ones. I feel like she’s incredibly three-dimensional. She’s strong, she’s powerful. I think she’s effective, but at the same time I think she’s human. I don’t get bored. I think that’s largely due to Simon because I do most of my scenes with him and I enjoy acting with him.
“At the same time, this has created a perfect atmosphere for me. It’s not soapy, where I have to jump into bed with men or wear negligees, or cry, or play something ridiculous, like I’m the twin,” she adds with good-natured distaste. “Or comedy like you watch sometimes and think, ‘Oh my God, this is not working’. I’ll watch a show that’s meant to be humorous and think there’s something wrong with me because the laugh track is laughing, but I don’t think it’s funny.”
Tunney, who is divorced, has a family of sorts among her “Mentalist” cast and crew mates, particularly Baker. They are close enough, as she disclosed in a CBS video, that their relationship even survived her throwing up on him one day when she was working despite a stomach virus.
“He has three children so he’s had his kids throw up on him,” she cheerily observes, when the incident is mentioned. “I think if you’re going to throw up on somebody, you should try to throw up on somebody who has children. It doesn’t freak them out quite as much.”
As far as the show’s marking of 100 episodes and what it means to her, Tunney says, “I was just reading about the 300th episode of ‘SVU.’ That just dwarfs this achievement. Television actors are sort of like athletes. You don’t admire it as much until you do it yourself. You spend your life going, ‘Oh my God, Meryl Streep is so amazing.’ And she is amazing. But Mariska Hargitay is like Muhammad Ali.“
She feels that Simon is a champ as well. “He has an abnormally strong work ethic. The fact that our show has stood up so well is really a testament to him and Bruno. They both work astonishingly hard and, you know, it all comes from the top.”