"The Mentalist" could turn out to be a major Emmy contender for several reasons. It's the biggest breakout hit among new series debuting over the last TV season, drawing 10 million-plus viewers per episode. It gets raves from TV critics. (Entertainment Weekly cheers star Simon Baker's "mesmerizing little act.") And as for Baker, he's a veteran of the award scene, having been nominated for best TV drama actor at the Golden Globes in 2002 for "The Guardian." (He lost to "24" star Kiefer Sutherland, but so did "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini and "West Wing" Commander in Chief Martin Sheen.)
In its review of "The Mentalist" last fall, the L.A. Times noted that Baker portrays Patrick Jane, "a former phony TV psychic who perpetually amazes and infuriates his skeptical colleagues at the California Bureau of Investigation with his ability to accumulate the odds and ends of human behavior and use them to formulate incredible truths that catch criminals. Played by the virtually irresistible Baker, Jane also gets to make wiseacre comments like 'He irks me; he's irksome,' which only add to his already considerable charm."
Times writer Mary McNamara also hailed "Baker's killer smile and the nothing-left-to-lose recklessness required of today's broken hero." Instead of broken, though, Baker actually describes his character as "tortured" in our webcam chat, which he conducted with Gold Derby on Thursday while in Oklahoma filming "The Killer Inside Me," a thriller directed by Michael Winterbottom ("A Mighty Heart"). While Baker's character seems to be able to solve everyone else's mysteries with ease, Jane is frustrated and haunted by his pursuit of a diabolical serial killer named Red John, who murdered Jane's family after being taunted by Jane on TV.
"Will he ever really love again? I don't think so," Baker reflects on Jane. "It would be an enormous leap for that character to give and care about someone and overcome his own selfish fear of losing that again and the pain he would go through. It's a lot of fun being the charming, sort of raffish character. That's fun on the surface, but what I think makes the character really exciting for me to play is the balance of that with the tragedy that is his past and the true, hollow feeling he caries around with him every day."
Attention, Emmy voters: Baker would not only appreciate your vote, but he promises, in our webcam chat, that he'll deliver a case of scotch to your door personally, if you'd like. Below, Simon Baker proves that he possesses much of Patrick Jane's celebrated cheeky charm.