Bruno Heller Q&A: “The Mentalist”

November 29th, 2008 by


Interesting Q&A; in the James Hibbard blog “The Live Feed” with TV writer Bruno Heller. Heller, known for the HBO series “Rome”, is the creator and EP of the current hit CBS series “The Mentalist”.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview that demonstrate, once again, how a writer must know their characters on an intimate level (emphasis added):

THR: The Red John serial killer mythology. Each episode’s title has the word “red” in it. I’m assuming that’s to suggest that no matter what case Jane is working on, Red John is always on his mind?

Heller: That’s right.

THR: When do you plan to resolve that story line?

Heller: It’s something that will run throughout the series — it’s a series ender, not a season ender. There’s lot of wrinkles and twists down that path before we get to it. It’s the epic underpinning of the series that gives it weight. It’s the plot version of the darkness inside the lead character and it’s important it remain a part of the show.

THR: OK, this question is pretty fan-like, but a friend wanted me to ask this, so I am: Jane’s vests. Was that actually in the script or…

Heller: There was a lot of discussion about wardrobe that was above my pay grade. But both Simon and I knew that Jane should have a specific look. The thinking is these were the suits he used to wear as a mentalist and he would have them dry cleaned and pressed. Now he gets them out of the bottom of the cupboard. It’s also a magician thing. They wear vests because they need to be able to hide things.

The first answer: Heller notes how an elusive nemesis character — the Red John serial killer — is a projection of the series protagonist’s inner “darkness” and demonstrates how writers need to know their characters on a most intimate level. This insight is reminiscent of the point Robert Towne makes here about the best way to get at the core of a character:


“The single most important question, I think, that one must ask one’s self about a character is what are they really afraid of? What are they really afraid of? And if you ask that question, it’s probably for me the single best way of getting into a character. That finally is where stories are told… with a character that’s real.”

Heller’s second quote speaks to how profession can provide insight into a character’s habits, even down to the minutiae of what clothes they wear – in this case vests.

“The Mentalist” is one of the few new 1-hour dramas to connect with audiences this year. Do you watch the show? Your thoughts on the Protagonist Patrick Jane, played by Simon Baker.

3 thoughts on “Bruno Heller Q&A: “The Mentalist”

  1. Joshua James says:

    I watch the show, and I quite like it.

    One thing they did recently, which I thought was smart, was they had an episode where Jane didn’t know “everything” and ironically enough, it came at the expense of a medium who spoke to the dead.

    In the end, it was shown his conclusion about her to be wrong. That’s smart … we’ll be less interested in a show where the hero is ALWAYS right and ALWAYS wins … especially a guy like this … it showed his vulnerability and that was a great thing …

  2. Scott says:

    Joshua, that’s such a good point. There’s that story — not sure if it’s true or not — that Harrison Ford told George Lucas re his Indiana Jones character (this is in pre-production for Raiders of the Lost Ark) that Jones was too perfect, they had to give him some sort of flaw so the audience could have something to identify with the character. That led to Indy’s fear of snakes.

  3. Joshua James says:

    That's a great story, but … Indy also loses the statue in the first teaser act, so he fails there, too … Lawrence Kasdan wrote the script and has a fine history of writing great characters who fail at more things than they succeed … I wrote about EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (also by Kasdan) and the power of failure in great movies, it's here: http://writerjoshuajames.com/dailydojo/?p=710

    I think it's really important to have characters fail from time to time … Charlie Brown works for us so much because he's such a failure (I point out that all PEANUTS characters fail at something here: http://writerjoshuajames.com/dailydojo/?p=487)

    One reason I like LAW & ORDER so much is that you truly don't know how it will end, if the good guys will win or not … a lot of times, they don't. That makes the show very powerful, I think.

    Anyway, I'm blabbing at the mouth, but this is a subject I obsess about and write about a lot on the dear old blog.

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