MR. MERCEDES follows a retired detective who is tormented by a serial killer (Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr. Mercedes) through a series of letters and emails, causing him to set out on a dangerous and potentially felonious crusade to protect his loved ones and himself. In Season 3, after the beloved local author, John Rothstein, is found murdered, Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, along with local police, must track down his killer. But this case is more complex than the cold-blooded killing of an American icon. Unpublished novels of Rothstein’s were stolen from his home, and they are worth millions. As the case unfolds, the trio learns that, although Brady Hartsfield may be gone, his depravity lives on in the lives of his victims.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to speak with MR. MERCEDES Director and Executive Producer, Jack Bender. During the interview, we discussed everything from his enjoyment of adapting the work of Stephen King, the future of MR. MERCEDES, and more.
Hi Jack, it’s so great to speak with you today! To start things, can you tell us a little bit about the decision behind switching MR. MERCEDES from Direct TV to Peacock?
Jack Bender: Well, the good news about Direct TV and making the first three seasons of the show is they really gave me creative freedom to make the show I wanted to make. And it was their most popular show. Unfortunately, hardly anyone saw it because it was on Direct TV and you’re in the minority because – a couple of times I was in Europe and people were loving the show and getting it off the internet because Direct TV had such a small audience and people couldn’t find it; which is what’s great about now being on Peacock. We fulfilled our contract with Direct TV and Direct TV is no more, I guess they’re doing sports now or whatever they’re doing, but AT&T sold them. We happily got picked up by Peacock and now our audience is multiplying, which is great.
You’ve done so much in the thriller/mystery genre and also have such a love and appreciation for the work of Stephen King. What do you enjoy most about adapting his work?
Jack Bender: I will say that when Stephen first sent me the galleys, we were trying to find something to do together after I left Under the Dome, as he did too. What I responded to with MR. MERCEDES was that aside from the writing in the detective genre, it was clear to me that Stephen was writing about the monsters inside the people, as opposed to outside the people, which he also does brilliantly. I love the idea of doing a character-based show in the detective genre and the classic trope of the retired detective literally being haunted and hunted by the guy who got away, played brilliantly by Harry Treadaway, and Brendan Gleeson couldn’t have been a more brilliant Hodges. I really wanted to take time for the characters and I was fortunate enough to get brilliant actors. Everybody in the show was great, including Kate Mulgrew who came and joined us in season three, brilliant. That, I believe, was the secret to the show and the success.
I could frame it in such a way that I really could let the characters live and breathe, and then whatever the plot was in Stephen’s books is the obstacle course that these brilliant characters move through. The stuff that Harry Treadaway and I would improvise and do in the basement, even [in] season 2… I’m a painter and I told executive producer David E. Kelly that I’m always listening to music when I paint in my studio and, if it’s the right song, I’ll just start dancing around. And David Kelly said, “Oh, I don’t want to see that” and I said, “Of course you don’t! I wouldn’t ever do it with anyone else there!” But I will tell you when I told Harry, he said, “Oh, that’s great!” I told him he should be listening to some horrible song that you love and dancing your ass off. He came in one day and said, “What about this scene?” and I said, “Brilliant, what about just wearing your underwear?” and he said, “More brilliant!” The scene was improvised and it was a great collaboration. He’s brilliant.
For those who may not know that the show is now on Peacock, what would you say to them to get them excited for the series?
Jack Bender: I’m very proud of it and Stephen thinks it’s one of the best adaptations of his work, which is a huge compliment. I think the show walked a very fine line, that thin line that separates us from insanity, the dark side of our work, and the dark side of people. Look at what just went down in Boulder, Colorado. There’s no end to it. All these characters [in MR. MERCEDES] were people, they were just regular, horribly screwed up in some cases, people, but they were real. I think sadly, those are the monsters we are and we have to figure out a way not to be and to heal ourselves and to heal the world.
I just think that the show has a lot to say, not preaching because it’s wildly entertaining. It’s scary. It’s funny at times, which I love. The music I use throughout the show, that David Kelly and I came up with, was this idea to have Hodges have a vinyl collection that he loved, which wasn’t in the book, so that I could motivate music because I hate montage music. I hate when shows, even good shows that I won’t mention, suddenly pop on some pop song during the last scene to get an emotion and get a montage and it’s too easy and I said no. In the first season, which is a love/hate story between Brady and Hodges, we can contrast both of their music. Hodges can be eclectic, everything from Mississippi John Hurt to the Kinks; it doesn’t matter. He’s a guy who takes care of very few things in his life. He takes care of his vinyl records and he plays them, which allowed me to motivate music and segue it over to Brady’s world. Brady, conversely, the first time we meet him it was my idea to have him singing the Ramones’s Pet Sematary in the car, which I love that introduction to him. It was obviously an ode to the El Maestro, Stephen King, but I also thought it was a perfect song for him to be screaming. In fact, it was interesting because when Harry first did it, we were driving around and he was singing it, for some reason he had it in his head, and he was singing it nicely, like he’s got a good voice. I’m listening to it going, “Oh my god, no. No, this is Brady. You got to cut loose and just be screaming this song.” In the book, Stephen King has Brady narrating a lot so you get inside his head. We didn’t want to do narration because we felt it would be too easy, so how do we show that? And one of the ways was him singing Pet Sematary.
I would say going back to your initial question, I would tell people who haven’t seen the show that they’re in for a great ride. It’s entertaining. It is revealing. It’s got brilliant writing and acting and it looks great. If they’ve seen everything but Season 3, Stephen King thinks it’s probably our best season.
What’s the future with MR. MERCEDES? Would you like to see it go beyond three seasons? And if so, what would you like to explore?
Jack Bender: At the end of Season Three, where we thought it was most likely the end and we had worked our way through Stephen’s trilogy… We still love those characters and we still love the show. And you know what, I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve got other projects by Stephen that we’re developing and other things that are going on. If there ever was a way to explore a different version of MR. MERCEDES that would be great. I don’t know what’s going to happen but it certainly would be exciting to continue to explore the world.
MR. MERCEDES is now streaming on Peacock. Seasons one and two are available on the free tier with Season three on the premium tier.